I love, love glossy magazines. I particularly love glossy fashion magazines. If I am reading a magazine I tune the rest of the world out; so please do not disturb me while I am holding a glossy fashion magazine. I began reading Teen and Seventeen in junior high and by high school I was happily reading Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. These days my two favorite glossy magazines are Allure and Lucky. I like Allure because of the make-up tips and amke-up looks, the skincare articles, and the other articles they have about beauty (or really our perceptions about beauty). I like Lucky for the clothes that are featured, the way the clothes are styled, the fashion tips, the fashion website recommendations, and the fashion trends that are predicted. The one thing I don’t care for in Lucky is the make-up and skincare advice. I consider it uninteresting and pedestrian at its worst. So it is interesting that I would chose to read and review the book featured here since it is by the Lucky beauty editor, the person who is responsible for those features that so annoy me in what is otherwise, in my opinion, a wonderful magazine. But I have always been very curious about a few things – just how to magazine beauty editors choose the products that are featured in their magazines? Do these women really know anything at all about skincare? Why should I listen to their advice? Once I became an esthetician I was pretty much no longer interested in skincare product advice from magazines. Of course, I am still interested in articles about new ingredients, formulations, and skincare discoveries, but choosing products? Thank you very much but I’ll do that on my own. (I do have to admit that I am still a complete sucker when it comes to hair care products. My shower currently has a product that Allure raved about a few issues ago. I believed everything I read and went and bought the product. Alas it does absolutely nothing for my hair.) Yet I know many women who take the skincare advice of fashion magazines very, very seriously. As such I actually see fashion magazines, at times, to be “working against” me. Not so much that they give people advice that I would wish they would only hear from me but that they give out wrong advise on so many occasions. For example, last year Jean Godfrey-June, the author of the book being reviewed here, wrote in her monthly Lucky column that she felt that too many women were doing too many unnecessary and harsh treatments to their skin (like chemical peels) and thus thinning their skin. She then recommended a cream that would be a cure-all for those woes. I disliked the tone of the piece and the message. Yet now I have just read an entire book by the same author.
I wanted to read Free Gift with Purchase: My Improbably Career in Magazines and Makeup in order to both confirm my suspicions that beauty editors – a. really know nothing about skincare and b. to find what working at a magazine is really like (and yes, of course I have read The Devil Wears Prada). I did get lots of inside information about magazines and plenty of gossip as well (if you are a fan of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York City” you will want to read the parts about Kelly Bensimon). Of course, I wish that all the people mentioned in the book were named instead of just hinted at. I want to know which famous actress lives with Godfrey-June in the suburbs of Manhattan. I want to know which famous European fashion designer has a strange and disgusting obsession. But nevertheless the book did satisfy on that end. I do wonder why Godfrey-June felt the need to devote an entire chapter to describing the suburb she lives in and how she is different, yet the same, as everyone there. And if I hear one more time that nursing makes you super skinny after pregnancy I will scream (page 196).
This book to me was a quick and easy and enjoyable read, but it was also chockfull of what I consider inane and unhelpful “advice”. For example please turn to page 53 to learn that you need to take all formal wedding photos the day BEFORE your actual wedding. Pray tell – how are you logistically supposed to pull that tip off? And what kind of tip is that anyway? Or see page 163 in the book to learn that you should only use Creme de la Mar (an extraordinarily expensive face cream) on your radiation burns while undergoing cancer treatments. Or to buy nail polishes, lipsticks, lotions, and perfumes to hand out to hospital and nursing home staff in order to bribe them into giving you (or your loved one) better care – see page 35 for that tip. But for all of those ridiculous tips Godfrey-June does make a number of important points in the book: nothing gets rid of cellulite (page 86), her list of skincare ingredients that actually work is very up to date (pages 228-229), and finally her advice that the best present you could ever give a new mother would be to hold her baby so she can sleep is very, very true (page 196).
I appreciated Godfrey-June’s honesty in describing her awkward physical stages, her failed beauty experiments, and embarrassing moments while doing her job, but really I read this book to have my curiosity satisfied about how exactly beauty editors go about their jobs. And indeed my curiosity was satisfied. According to the book beauty editors receive an enormous amount of free make-up and skincare products (Godfrey-June estimates that she receives between 50 to 200 free products a day), are wined and dined all the time by make-up and skincare companies, and receive on top of all the free products numerous free gifts from these companies. Doesn’t sound like a bad job, right? At least Godfrey-June recognizes that she has a job many, many people see as either frivolous and silly or enviable (it all depends on how you feel about beauty products). So does Godfrey-June really know all that much about skincare? Not really – she is a journalist who has always written about the beauty industry so yes, she definitely knows more than your average joe about make-up and face creams but her advice, or that of any other beauty editor, should not be substituted for the knowledge of a trained individual (such as an esthetician or a doctor). Godfrey-June says that the products that make it into fashion magazines are the best products, as decided by the beauty editor, and no amount of free gifts or meals will bribe them into endorsing something they do not love. She does point out though that instead of sending beauty editors lots of free gifts if you will really want to get their attention buy lots of ad space in their magazines.
On a personal note I had to cringe when I read three times in this book variations on the theme that facials are unnecessary, estheticians only try to sell you products, and facials just stress Godfrey-June out (pages 227, 203, and 202 respectively). Though Godfrey-June does point out that a good esthetician can make a world of difference for a person’s skin (pages 226-227) I was upset, once again, to see my profession derided in print. I am not the type of person to tell you that every esthetician is a miracle worker, but I can tell you that the vast majority of us take our profession very seriously and are knowledgable and capable people who can greatly help our clients improve the look and health of their skin. And we certainly don’t receive the freebies that Godfrey-June does in order to recommend products.
Bottom Line: If you are a glossy fashion magazine devotee or simply love creams and make-up you’ll enjoy this book. If you watch any sort of reality show on Bravo you’ll definitely enjoy this inside look into the world of celebrity make-up artists and hair stylists.
- This is a column of Jean Godfrey-June’s from Lucky so if you’ve never read her work now you can
- This is an article from The New York Times about the book