An Open Letter To The Editor Of Women’s Health Magazine

The following letter was written by fellow blogger and writer Tarleisio of Scentless Sensibilities, with our input, in response to an article in Women’s Health magazine that got our attention, when Dee first blogged about it on Beauty on the Outside. See the article here.

Sadly our attention was not captured by the brilliance of the piece. We did not want this sad example of perfume journalism go by unnoticed and uncontested, so we decided on writing a letter and publishing it on our blogs. The idea is to make a statement that it is no longer necessary or acceptable to write about perfume without having the first idea about it, or any topic at that. 🙂

If you want to help in getting the word out please link to this post, copy, paste and publish it, post it on Facebook, Twitter or any other venue, where intelligent perfume afficionados are to be found.

We think it is no longer acceptable to write without either knowledge or spirit!

So, here is our letter…

To the Editor of Women’s Health Magazine:

An article in the Beauty section of the April edition of Women’s Health, entitled ‘Your Perfect Scent’ was brought to my attention by a friend and fellow blogger, and several statements in the article as well as the overall tone compelled me to write you.

The article attempts to categorize women in a range of ages – from their teens until ‘40+’ according to perfume category, arguing that throughout their lives, women prioritize their fragrance choices differently and gravitate towards the perfumes that reflect those priorities. It then proceeds to cite various perfumes currently available that might appeal, and this is where I feel compelled to protest – both at the underlying assumptions that teenagers want to impersonate walking cupcakes, that women in their thirties wear perfume to feel ‘sexy and secure’ and finally the statement that women in their forties wear perfume to feel ‘elegant’.

Women at any age read magazines such as yours for information and inspiration in their lifestyle choices, and few of them are entirely aware that for print media in a competitive digital age, advertising revenue takes pride of place over relevant content. As a consequence of perfume being formulated to target certain demographics and as a result of what you choose to advocate in your editorial pages, the perfumes sold in department stores and mall chain stores are all indistinguishable from one another. One sweet, fruity floral scent segues seamlessly into the next sweet, fruity floral, and only the name of the designer on the label is interchangeable. So women are shortchanged from both sides of that equation – by the major designer houses that are often the only luxury these women can afford, and by the very magazines they read for inspiration promoting only the brands they already advertise on their pages.

The problem is that neither your readers in general nor women in particular are thrilled about being defined in demographic terms, any more than teenaged girls can be lumped into cupcake fragrance categories, women in their thirties need to feel ‘sexy or ‘secure’ or ‘forty+’ women – a term I personally find more than slightly condescending – want to be considered ‘elegant’ above all other reasons for wearing perfume.

What surprises me more than any other aspect of a very important issue in general, namely the stereotyping of women in the media, is that we live in an individualistic age. As women and as individuals, the opportunity to make individual choices that reflect our unique selves has never been greater, and this includes the very subject matter of your article – perfume. What is more, as social media change how we are informed and entertained and inspired to make those choices, creating and maintaining a dialogue with your readers is a valuable tool to retain the very readership that underlies your role in that media landscape, whether on a newsstand or on the Web.

There is a rich and invaluable resource available to any journalist interested in her subject matter – perfume blogs. We would quite happily have participated and in the process been thrilled to share what we know – that you are not doomed to ‘elegance’ simply for a diminished sense of smell – a claim I find quite unsubstantiated by scientific evidence in the article or in my personal life, nor are you compelled to waft cupcake as a teenager, simply because there’s nothing else to choose from. There’s not too much else to choose from in the mainstream market, because a tiny number of companies determine what scents land on department store shelves, and if one sweet, fruity floral scent becomes a success, it must therefore follow – so dictate the laws of the marketing briefs of these companies promoting this or that ‘exclusive designer’ – that only sweet, fruity, floral perfumes will do.

Women’s Health is a magazine that has a broad scope – to promote a healthy, happy and fulfilled lifestyle for its readership that goes beyond the usual stereotypical ‘women’s magazines’. Even so, when you attempted to inform your readers about a very personal choice, you fell victim to that precise stereotyping, and ignored a perfect opportunity to elevate your editorial content a bit above the stereotypical content of any other women’s magazine currently available.

Which is why we read you, after all.


Birgit Oeckher, Olfactoria’s Travels

All I Am – A Redhead

Beauty on the Outside

Bloody Frida

Eyeliner On A Cat

Redolent of Spices

Scentless Sensibilities

About Olfactoria

I'm on a journey through the world of fragrance - come with me!
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26 Responses to An Open Letter To The Editor Of Women’s Health Magazine

  1. Marie says:

    I don’t have a blog, but I am in complete agreement with the post above.
    Kind regards
    Perfume lover and 40+ woman

  2. vanessa says:

    I do have a blog and I am. Bravo for taking up the cudgels!

  3. vanessa says:

    Shoot – they don’t even appear to address the scent needs of the over 50s…are we invisible/dead/beyond help – scented or otherwise – already?

    • Olfactoria says:

      You obviously are, to Women’s Health at least, astounding that you can still comment! 😉

      • Marie says:

        Judging from Women’s Health’s article women’s sense of smell past the age of 50 would be so impaired by now, that they’d be better advised to get new reading glasses and invest in a good book on gardening or origami instead 😉

      • vanessa says:

        Haha! Well, as it happens my eyesight is already on its way out, so who knows – the nose may be next…? Perhaps they were right after all not to bother with us oldies! : – )

        • vanessa says:

          LOL! – didn’t see Marie’s comment there – our minds are clearly on the same track…as in downhill… : – )

          • Marie says:

            Oh, downhill it certainly goes, with graying hair, unwanted but enthusiastic hair growth mid-face (although in my case the actions seems – oddly – to be on my forehead where also my hyperpigmentation recides – this might be worthy of a research project in the near future), arms that are getting too short for reading comfortably and a sense of smell so undiscriminating that it makes us mistake cow dung for Bal a Versailles. No wonder Women’s Health won’t touch mature women with any kind of pole. Too depressing 😉

  4. Suhayl ibn khaleel says:

    I applaud your well written letter.

    I commend the way it exposes the deliberate trend of the mass media to categorize their audience into their scripted roles in the theatre of the consumer market in which we live.

    I feel blogs like yours help to enlighten many! And is much appreciated!

    Keep up the good work!

    Many Thanks

    Suhayl ibn khaleel

  5. Liam J Moore says:

    I’m a bloke and I even feel compelled to protest alongside the writer of that letter. And very well put too!

  6. Tara says:

    I’ll always be all for making feeling known rather than not speaking up, whether it’s swimming against the tide or not. Glad you all got together to make a stand. Bet it feels good!

  7. Tulip says:

    Although I applaud your efforts at standing up for individualism, I disagree on a few points. One, WH’s target market is young women interested in a healthy lifestyle (source: WH web). That is why they end with 40+ age group, and I think that is why they use mostly pink on the covers and on the web pages. Secondly, the editor’s previous jobs were at Cosmopolitan and Teen Magazine (source: WH web) so it is not surprising they have ad driven articles. I have not read the Duke study they mention, but at least they are trying to be scientific.
    I just don’t see WH as very different than other magazine.
    I can’t resist adding my 2 cents as an older (+50) reader, and as one with too much schooling (Econ Masters & Finance PhD).
    PS Olafactoria, I think you should do a sniffapolluza (?) in Vienna!

    • Marie says:

      But I’m wondering if there’s any natural link between catering to a younger age group and using the color pink excessively? Why does young equal pink? I certainly was not “pink” when I was young. And I’m certainly not in the vicinity of being “elegant” now that I’m almost 45. And is that any reason for a slightly condescending and in any case completely outdated reference to 40+ women as “elegant”. Whether they are add driven or not, I think it’s simply a case of slopyy and unambitious journalism. Commercial articles can be done with – dare I use the term – elegance and charm. This is not. And I think women’s magazines should all in all steer clear of trying to be scientific – because they can’t. They apparently don’t have the qualified staff to interpret the data they read, and that goes for this particular case as well as health and fitness magazines that will often present contradicting information/”data” in different sections of the same issue giving it apparently no thought whatsoever. At the end of the day the scientific tid bits they present to their readers are essentially useless. In this particular case it borders on ridiculous.

      So the question remains: Should we take these magazines seriously or just write them off as harmless entertainment. That’s probably a matter of personal taste. In my opinion these magazines are too widely read and too powerful to be disregarded as trend setters and opinion makers. And while they will never be candidates for the Nobel Prize in literature, it won’t hurt to keep them on their toes – their readers are way less senseless than their articles suggest, and nothing will ever change if no one protests once in a while 🙂

    • Olfactoria says:

      Tulip, thank you for your two scents!
      WH is certainly not much different from other magazines, and by no means do we want to single it out as especially bad or worse than others. It could have been any women’s magazine really, because such articles are sadly almost the norm.
      The main point for me is the fact that beauty and perfume coverage in magazines has nothing to do with journalism, but is a thinly-veiled, pink-bordered advertisement. Is simply not buying and reading such magazines really the only measure available to us? Writing this letter seemed a bit more pro-active.

      Are you from Vienna? A Sniffapalooza inspired event here is a good idea, I will certainly give the matter some thought. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Happy Easter! Last Week In Perfumeland – Weekend Link Love | Olfactoria's Travels

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