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Putting the sparkle in Christmas - do women's magazines really reflect the truth about the magic of Christmas

New research explores how women's portrayal in the media at Christmas has changed over the last 20 years - read it for free this December

United Kingdom, 9 December 2013 – Who puts the magic in your Christmas?  A quick glance at the newspaper stands, magazine racks and television adverts – you would pretty much guess it’s the woman in your life.  But new research published this month in Qualitative Market Research suggests that women’s magazines and their readers are not completely in harmony at this time of the year. Is the nostalgic view of Christmas festivities, with images of extended family around a laden table, still  as appealing and relevant to women today as it was to past generations?

Yes it is, according to the authors of the article, “Women’s magazines as facilitators of Christmas rituals”.  The study focused on the editorial content, during the Christmas period, of monthly women’s magazines over the last 20 years, and how food features in particular have adapted, or not, to the changes in women’s lifestyles.  The article is available to read online for free throughout December by visiting http://www.emeraldinsight.com/tk/sparkle

By comparing both the text and imagery across the magazines and across the years, two interesting themes emerged from the study.  Firstly, the depiction of women as the homemaker and the hostess hasn’t changed - the challenge to present a “magical” Christmas remains, regardless of the time or skill that women have available.  Interestingly, the research found that women feel that the responsibility of putting the “magic” in Christmas still lies firmly with them, and to aim for the work/life balance promoted the rest of the year is to cheat the family of a “magical Christmas”.  Regardless of employment status, women still use this holiday season to reaffirm their position at the centre of the family. 

But it is the rise of celebrity chefs, particularly male chefs - starting with Gordon Ramsey in 2004 – which has resulted in a contradictory (and threatening) shift away from the images in magazines of nostalgic family festivities - Christmas had started to belong to a celebrity.

These conflicting messages have had a significant impact on the way women are depicted in the media.  Visually, still acknowledged as the likely cook for the day, serving the food and looking after the family, women are now positioned as the background social connectors who make it all happen, with the male celebrity now acknowledged as the “hero of the day” and the one bringing the magic to the Christmas feast.

Lynne Freeman and Susan Bell, who co-authored the paper, conclude, “Significant rituals have to involve effort to be meaningful.  This research has demonstrated how complex and important Christmas rituals are now for women; keeping the “magic” in Christmas is part of our self-image”. 

“Women’s magazines as facilitators of Christmas rituals” is published in the latest issue of Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, Volume 16, No 3, and forms part of a special issue which examines “The Female Consumer in the 21st Century”.  Published by Emerald Group Publishing, the journal publishes scholarly research from around the world that aims to further the frontiers of knowledge and understanding of qualitative market research and its applications.  For more information, visit www.emeraldinsight.com/qmr.htm

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