'The Book of Jezebel': An Honest Look At 'Lady Things' | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

'The Book of Jezebel': An Honest Look At 'Lady Things'

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The website Jezebel takes a unique approach to women's media — focusing on politics, entertainment and advocacy issues typically absent from so-called beauty magazines.

Now the site is making its first foray onto the bookshelves with The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things.

"I've been calling it an illustrated encyclopedia of the world," Jezebel founder Anna Holmes says. Holmes edited the new book, and warns NPR's Arun Rath that the volume isn't intended to be comprehensive.

"There is plenty of stuff that I forgot to put in there," she says. "So when I say 'encyclopedia of the world,' — it's an abridged encyclopedia."

She discusses her brainchild and some of the site's best projects to date — including a collection of unretouched photographs from popular beauty magazines.


Interview Highlights

On what Jezebel, the website, tries to reflect

"With the website, what we were trying to do, and I think we did, was to provide an alternative to traditional women's media — and by that I mean mostly women's magazines, but also some websites that existed — that I felt and the staffers felt were patronizing to young American women in that they tended to promote an obsession with romance or the acquiring of a man and the keeping of a man and the pleasing of a man, in addition to things like consumerism, buying clothes, makeup, etc.

"And it's not that we have a problem with clothes or makeup — or men — but women are much more diverse in their interests (and multifaceted) than a lot of women's media was giving them credit for."

On Jezebel's unretouched photo series

"That was, I believe, about a month and a half after we launched. We launched in May 2007 and one of the first posts that went up was a call for an unretouched cover photograph of a women's magazine. Now, these are not easy things to just get. I mean, they're kept under lock and key for a reason. I would assume that maybe five people ever see an unretouched cover photograph of, let's say, Cosmo or Glamour.

"I got a couple of submissions over the following weeks and the best one, meaning the worst one, was a cover of Redbook magazine. It was an image of Faith Hill and comparing it to the cover that was on the news stand, which was out right about that time, it was apparent that they had slimmed her down considerably. They had just done things to her limbs, her skin, her face, her body, her hair that when you compared these two photos side by side it was really quite startling.

"Because in the unretouched photograph, she looked like a regular human being. In the retouched photograph she looked like what we think of human beings who are celebrities look like. Which is to say, somewhat kind of off."

On her favorite entry from the book

"I had wanted to have an entry for the phrase 'crazy cat lady' because I think they get a bum rap. I mean, I'm an animal lover and I have a cat so I wanted someone to do an illustration, a kind of taxonomy of the crazy cat lady that was both honest but loving. So an illustrator named Wendy McNaughton did a full page illustration of the crazy cat lady and within the illustration you see a brunette woman wearing a pink bathrobe. In one of the pockets of the bath robe there is a digital camera for cat pictures.

"There are — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight — nine other cats in the illustration. One of the cats is dressed up in an outfit. I mean, I don't know anyone who actually dresses their cats up in outfits, but...

"Then at the bottom it says, 'note lack of ring,' meaning lack of wedding ring. Now, that's totally unfair, but it was hyperbole. I don't think anyone really thinks that women who love cats don't get married."

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