Culture

The Dramatic Decline Of Women’s Magazine Covers Over The Last Few Years—What Has Changed?

By Alyssa Vandermeulen
·  6 min read
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You’ve probably noticed that women’s magazine covers today look nothing like the ones you remember from years ago. The radical change in cover art, models, and other features says a lot about the direction of the industry and our culture as a whole.

There are so many factors that have caused the decline, especially in recent years. The inclusion of transgender men on the covers of women’s magazines, for instance, has created a statement that is not at all reminiscent of the past. As we step farther and farther away from reality and increasingly focus on political correctness, we also step away from the femininity we crave on the covers of women’s magazines that made them so popular in the first place. 

Past magazine covers show us actually how much has changed, as many of the ideas, outfits, and makeup looks are nothing like the current grocery store checkout rack. The 1980s covers were fun and feminine, with bright makeup looks and an overall emphasis on feminine features. A woman’s face and hair were the prominent aspects, as they typically took over most of the available space on the cover, often with flirty facial expressions and the right amount of skin. 

Take this Cosmopolitan cover, for instance. The style and color of the sweater are on-trend for the ‘80s, and her makeup features a bold red lip and a smokey eye. Her pose is feminine and confident, and there is still much left to the imagination. The cover is stunning! 

The ‘90s feature a sort of attainable beauty standard when it comes to hair and makeup. The models are pretty, but not overly done up, and the cover art is full of bright pink and reds. Eye-catching for women, these covers show classic, casual beauty without overly sexualizing the female body. And, if you noticed, the fashion element shows off the feminine shape, while still being interesting on the style scale. Overall, these covers aren’t out of touch with the average woman. 

The 2000s had a wide range of different styles and cover themes, as beauty standards and trends stretched beyond one thing at a time! Womanly shapes and natural coloring were highlights of some covers, while dark, sultry makeup was a major component of other publications. Either way, the overall emphasis was on beauty – sleek straight hair, full eyeliner looks, and the perfect lip color. Teen pop culture was of high importance, as this age range was some publications' largest reader base, and the covers demonstrated a knowledge and acceptance of the best trends in the industry. 

Now that we’ve established what magazine covers used to look like, we can compare them more specifically with the covers on popular publications today. Ready to see how much has changed? 

2017

Magazines feature a few models of color, but not without loudly proclaiming that they feature models of color. True diversity shouldn’t need to be announced! The emphasis on minority populations of women in these magazines shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the virtue signaling of major publications can be frustrating to those same minority populations. Moral correctness in this political environment means money, and magazines play this game well. 

2018

Here in 2018, the trend for natural beauty and body-loving messages is all over the magazine scene. An attempt at unity and reaching people from all walks of life, these magazine covers had potential, but instead illustrate the general beige-bland direction of graphic art. 

2019

In 2019, there was a general darkness in magazine covers. Moody cover shoots were replaced with dark imagery, questionable facial expressions, and a lack of feminine gentleness. The emphasis on baggy clothing and oversized outfits is expected of artists like Billie Elish, but this trend would take over much of the fashion industry for the next few years. 

2020

2020 was a rough year for the magazine industry, as each publication scrambled to publish a politically correct take on the country’s expectations during quarantine. Take Harry Styles, for instance. Whether you like his music or not, his sense of style portrays exactly where society is heading. And no, it’s not “just a dress.” This kind of feminized male magazine cover is incredibly damaging to both men and women who consume this kind of content. 

As if Harry Styles in a dress weren’t enough, the acceptance of near nudity on the covers of magazines is another striking example of this decline. Subtle and sexy are not words that can be used to describe most magazine covers, as there isn’t much left to the imagination anymore. Even on covers from Elle and Allure, the Playboy-like cover shoot is becoming increasingly popular and far less mysteriously feminine than covers in the past.  

2021

Virtue signaling is also another sign of the times. An emphasis on minority populations arose because of the Black Lives Matter movement, and for no other reason. The use of politically correct trigger words such as “Black Beauty” is a great example of the politically correct angle on the industry and the money grab for using these terms in bold print. 

During this year, the first cover of a transgender woman made its debut in a major publication. The pushing of normalcy for transgender people is a major component of the magazine and fashion industries, as these types of covers get a lot of attention on all sides of the political spectrum. Sports Illustrated set a precedence in their publication that has been and will continue to be repeated as time progresses. 

2022

In 2022, we see the oversized trend at a new level. The traditionally beautiful models are left in the past, and instead, magazine covers show stunning women stripped of their beauty, in baggy clothes that distort the feminine silhouette and presence. Intense facial expressions, disguised feminine features, and pulled-back hair give off a masculine vibe on the covers.

Adding to the country’s increasing polarization, popular magazine covers also feature major political players, such as First Lady Jill Biden or AOC, to promote political affiliations and topics such as the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Gone are the days of makeup tips, relationship columns, and fashion spreads. Not all first ladies have been given this opportunity, as you may remember. 

Closing Thoughts

Missing the soft femininity of magazines from decades ago? Wishing you could flip through a beautiful, fun, and engaging magazine without any of the current politics? Order the Second Limited Edition Evie Print Magazine for everything you miss about women’s magazines!

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