Reading skills – do magazines dumb us down?

Drawing of an owl - illustrating an article about reading skills and how magazines dumb us downReading skills are essential – no matter what we do in life.

The importance of reading is impressed on us in school.

If our school was any good it would have taught us that reading is not just an important life skill – it is a source of pleasure.

If we learned this, then as we move through life our reading skills should improve.

The improvement should stem from our increased experience of reading.

The pleasure and escapism of reading should inspire us to read even more, so that the older we get, the more notches we have on our book shelves.

However, it appear that this is not the case. One study showed that 27% of Americans had not read a book in the previous year.

drawing of woman reading illustrating an article about reading skills and how magazines dumb us downSo what do they do with their free time?

Perhaps they read magazines.

I was in the hair salon yesterday. I had my kindle with me, but it was hard to concentrate on my book amidst the noise of the hair dryers, clattering of scissors and general chatter of the salon.

As the hairdresser began working on my hair she handed me a pile of magazines.

I gave up reading magazines years ago when I realized that books were better value for money and gave me much more pleasure.

All magazines I was given were aimed at women. The last ones I read were rubbish, but I was curious to see if they had improved so I put away my kindle.


As I leafed through them the first thing I noticed was the lack of text.

They were all picture based.

Pictures of celebrities either posing, or caught unawares. They were usually photographed as they did something normal, like swimming, or daring to go shopping without full make up and designer clothes.

The purpose of these pictures was painfully obvious – to attack women’s bodies, weight, dress sense and make up etc.

One of the magazines contained only one interview. It was with a former actor and recovering drug addict.

In the ‘interview’ she lamented the loss of her figure, face and teeth.

There was little context, or narrative in the article.

All that seemed to matter to the writer was how this woman’s addiction had affected her looks.

Hardly any mention of her health, career or her family.

This woman and the other women featured only seemed to be there to be taken apart –  physical feature by physical feature.


The message came across loud and clear – you are how you look and nothing else is worth writing about.

Even though I no longer read magazines I haven’t been able to avoid them.

Like a glossy, parasitic epidemic they are everywhere, and this is the problem.

If you find yourself stuck in a doctors, dentists or hospital waiting room you will be met with a glossy pile of these spineless pages.


The faces of the celebrities are interchangeable and the accompanying text exists only to point a finger at their ‘faults.’

The magazines don’t just point the finger either.

In case you don’t quite get it some of the photographs literally have rings with pointers drawn around these so-called bodily flaws, whether it be fat, cellulite or god forbid, a stretch mark.

I flicked through the other magazines in the pile but they were all the same.

I soon dumped them and retrieved my kindle.

But it got me thinking.

If like many, you stop reading books after leaving school and only read magazines, how are your reading skills going to improve?

If you are a young woman, how are you going to be inspired to achieve something, or do something with your life – something other than a flat stomach or glossy lips?

One of the magazines I looked at was so short on words there couldn’t have been more than a thousand non-advertising words in the whole publication.


Magazines now are little more picture books, with no opportunities for getting stuck into an article and nothing to entice you to read further on any subject.

Although if you wanted to learn how dumbing down works, you could do no better than to skim through a few of these magazines.

This continual dumbing down is bad for all of us, but if you are serious about being a writer – you have to be serious about reading books and improving your writing and reading skills

Writers need to be inspired and young women need to learn that we are more than the sum of our physical features.

An hour spent being brainwashed into feeling insecure about your body is an hour you could have spent improving and entertaining your mind.


If you really want to avoid this constant world of dumb and don’t want to lose your reading skills in the poisonous pit that is magazine world then don’t buy them.

Simply boycott these magazines – if we don’t buy them they can’t sell them.


Instead, bring your books to the hair salon, the doctor’s waiting room and anywhere else you have time to kill.

If you have some books you are planning to get rid of why not ask if you can leave them in the waiting rooms you visit.

If we all did this those boring waiting rooms could become little libraries. People could be free to take home a book they are interested in.

We could develop something along the lines of leave a book take a book.

Wouldn’t that be better for us all?

Pass it on.

Grace Jolliffe

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