Guest post by Jennifer Nelson, single mom of two and author of Airbrushed Nation: The Lure & Loathing of Women’s Magazines, which was recently optioned by NBC/Universal.
In my book, Airbrushed Nation: The Lure & Loathing of Women’s Magazines, I focus a lot on women’s self esteem. In fact, much of the research concluded one giant fact: That exposure to both the negative messaging the women’s glossies brandy about and the airbrushed images they’re notorious for affect women negatively. One study found that after just 1 to 3 minutes of paging through a chick slick, young women hate themselves more than they already did. One researcher’s analysis found that three-quarters of the cover lines on magazines suggest at least one comment about altering your body or appearance via diet, exercise, beauty products or cosmetic surgery. Not exactly a recipe for healthy self esteem, right?
The topic of money is not immune from this shame fest. Many chick slicks run a personal finance story each month with the exact same formula they run dieting and anti-aging articles. For starters, they assume that all women are the same with similar goals. In the money columns, every woman has a husband and 3.4 children, and her financial goals can be achieved by coupon cutting and renting free DVDs from the library. Clearly not everyone’s situation.
Both the beauty and money stories share a similar premise: Women don’t know what they’re doing. The stories teach women how to budget, how to invest, how to get out of debt, how to determine good debt vs. bad debt and a million other topics related to saving and spending smartly. While the information may be dead-on, the tone of the stories drives home the message that women need to improve who they are – not accept their situations for what they are.
Indeed, the message is always one of lack—lack of knowledge, lack of savings, lack of knowing theright thing to do with your money. And if you’re recently divorced, that message can be a particularly bitter pill. Problem is, divorced women often take an even harder hit to their financial self esteem from reading the money messages in the glossies because their financial situation has likely changed drastically and suddenly – for the worse. And there is little amount of budgeting or investing that will fix your finances overnight.
Getting used to living on less than your previous income means a host of life changes that may range from no longer buying organic and curtailing shoe shopping, to taking a second job, moving in to a far smaller home and raising children alone. But the glossies wouldn’t dare cover that non-Pollyanna angle. It is nearly impossible to airbrush these harsh life changes, so the glossies rarely try.
All the life changes that come with divorce might make it feel like your financial self worth—and by proxy your very self image has tanked. After all, how are you a successful, empowered woman of the world if you can’t shoe shop on a dime, splurge on gourmet coffee or have trouble making bills? But women should remember that it takes time adjusting to their new single budget just as it takes time getting over your relationship and embracing your new singleton life.
Make peace with your money early on. Get financial help from a savvy accountant or financial planner. Assess your earnings, debt and savings. Be realistic. And most importantly, don’t let your financial picture determine your self-worth. Accept your economic situation as it is and seek happiness in friendships, kids, work, hobbies and other outlets. If you need to improve your situation, get started. Meanwhile, focus on what you do have, rather than harbor negative feelings of financial loss. Don’t give the chick slicks—or anyone for that matter—the power to make you feel less financially.
Since her divorce, Jennifer has curtailed her shoe habit—a little. She lives in Neptune Beach, Fla.
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