Can Typography have a Gender? Masculinity vs. Femininity on lifestyle magazine covers

Term Paper, 2019

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents




4.1 Presentation of data following Stockl’s model
4.2 Data Analysis, Interpretation and Discussion
4.2.1 Analysis Women’s Health
4.2.2Analysis Men’s Health
4.3 Interpretation of Data
4.4 Discussion of Data



8.1 Men’s Health Magazine Covers
8.2 Women’s Health Magazine Covers

Table of figures

Figure 1: Ovierview typographic level of MH and WH covers following Stockl (2004)

Figure 2: Women's Health magazine cover 03/2011

Figure 3: Men's Health magazine cover 01/2019

1. Introduction

“The media, and lifestyle magazines in particular, play a large constituting role in the construction of gender ideology” (cf. Benwell 2003: 154). Women’s and men’s lifestyle magazines actively engage in the reproduction and strengthening of narrow and conformist versions of femininity and masculinity (cf. Beloedova et. al. 2017: 201). The possibilities of lifestyle magazines to design, portray and reinforce gender ideologies are versatile. Much research exists which examines the representation of femininity and masculinity in lifestyle magazines from different angles: grammatical aspects of gender representation, corpus linguistic methods, and sociological descriptions. However, there has been relatively little research published on actual typographic representations of gender in lifestyle magazines.

Spitzmüller (2016) argues that typography relevantly influences the way of reading and receiving a text:

“Als Mitglieder einer massenmedial geprägten Kultur sind wir von Texten umgeben, die von professionellen Textgestaltern und damit aufder Basis solcher Wirkungsannahmen geformt worden sind: In Werbeanzeigen werden gezielt Schriftarten, -großen, -färben und -formen eingesetzt, die unsere Aufmerksamkeit erregen und verkaufsfördernde Emotionen wecken sollen” (2016: 210-211).

In the course ofdigital mediazation, scriptural-graphic communication has become an everyday practice, and typography has been a fixed part of companies' corporate identity serving as a tool within written communication. Especially, in lifestyle magazines, the choice of typography as an identity-building stylistic element is not to be underestimated. The digitization allows for more choice and control of how the consumer’s text looks. Typography produced for magazine covers exists so that the reader can extract the meaning of the text in an efficient and effortless manner. However, from a sociolinguistic perspective, variations on the graphical level as well as on the social relevance of typography, can be viewed as a neglected research topic. Usually, research concerned with components of typography focuses on a semiotic point ofview (cf. ebd: 211).

In regard to lifestyle magazines it is justifiable to claim that the cover, as the magazine’s face, is the most important feature of a magazine. A magazine cover serves multiple purposes. It creates the first impression and it attracts new readers. Additionally, it is important that the magazine cover is diverse, looks appealing and distinguishes itself from the other magazine covers on the newsstand. Simultaneously, the cover must always display a certain familiarity and stay recognizable to regular readers. However, in regard to the objective of this paper, the most interesting aspect of a magazine cover is that it displays the brand’s identity. Hence, a magazine cover is suitable as an informative object of research for an analysis of typographic representations of gender in lifestyle magazines.

The aim of this paper is to analyze and describe the typography, which is employed on the lifestyle magazine covers that seems to characterize and represent the ideologies of gender roles. The material of the study will be two title giants, the Women’s Health and its male equivalent Men’s Health. Different components of the two cover’s typography and their representation of gender will be examined and compared. The covers will be analyzed using principles of the typographic communication theory by Jürgen Spitzmüller (2016) and branding to discuss the important typographic variants. Different components of typography will be examined to see whether or not typography plays a part in conveying gender roles, which would then have societal implications. If the typography on the cover is the same for the Women’s Health as for the Men’s Health and whether it represents gender ideologies will be the vital question of this paper.

2. Typography and its social relevance

“[...] there are in fact many points within writing systems where variation can occur, and where there is variation, there is in practice always social meaning” (Sebba 2009: 39).

“The way written communication looks is typography” (Duprey 2015: 9). However, the term typography can be ambiguous. Typography can describe the technical manufacturing of a printed work, the design of a printed work, the visual presentation of a printed work and the doctrine of the visual design of a printed work (cf. Spitzmüller 2016: 214). Spitzmüller (2016) agrees with Rautenberg’s (2003) general definition of typography as “die visuelle Darstellung von Schriftsprache im Druck” (Rautenberg 2003: 496) and extends the application of the term typography beyond font type and markup:

“Vielmehr umfasst der fachsprachliche Typographiebegriff, [...], auch die Anordnung der Schriftzeichen auf der Fläche, die Einbindung von Abbildungen, die Strukturierung eines Textes bis hin zur visuellen Gesamtstruktur eines Buches, die Einbandgestaltung und, in einer weiter Definition auf die Wahl des Zeichenträgers, also bspw. des Papiers, sowie bei elektronischen Dokumenten des Hintergrunds” (Spitzmüller 2016: 215).

Spitzmüller accentuates the multidimensional nature of typography that includes various components and defines different levels. However, due to the scope of this paper only the basic elements of typography will be discussed. Fundamentally, typography can be divided into two categories, which have different functions: the text­organizing category and the stylistic category. The text-organizing category refers to the fieldwork of text comprehensibility or text- and media-linguistic and mainly focuses on the readability of texts. The readability of a text is a simple yet important aspect of typography. If a written word is unreadable or has too much strain on the eye, it will affect the readers’ comprehension. The reader will look at the word, but not decode it (cf. Duprey 2015: 26). The importance of decoding typography in order to convey meaning will be addressed later on in this paper. The text organizing category can be subdivided into typographical levels. Stöckl (2004: 22-23) provides a differentiation of four typographical levels: mircotypography, mesotypography, macrotypography and paratypography. These levels focus on components such as font type, font size (microtypography), word spacing (mesotypography), footnotes, paragraphs (macrotypography), quality of paper and manufacturing process (paratypography). The stylistic category deals with broader questions, e.g. to what extent is the interpretation frame shaped by specific typography or are there signals of group membership, whether there are any kind of text type expectations and if certain design tools seem expressive or appellative (cf. ebd.: 216).

Inspired by Gerd Antos (2001), Spitzmüller describes five general functions of typography:

„(1) die ästhetische Funktion (Formwirkung derTypographie);
(2) die epistemische Funktion (Visualisierung der Wissensarchitektur eines Textes, also die Kennzeichnung verschiedener Hierarchieebenen im Text z.B. durch Überschriften, Gliederungen und Textauszeichnungen);
(3) die motivationelle Funktion (mit dem Ziel, den Blick aufden Text zu lenken, durch eine entsprechende Typographie das Lesen zu erleichtern, durch Hervorhebung den Lese- und Verstehensfokus zu lenken und den Leser an den Text zu fesseln, kurz: Aufmerksamkeit auf die Lektüre zu erzeugen und den Leser beim Lesen zu halten)
(4) die synoptische Funktion (die Funktion, verschiedene Textelemente und Text-Bild­Elemente auf einer Seite zu verknüpfen);
(5) die rekontextualisierende Funktion (die Einbettung von Elementen aus anderen Kontexten, so etwa die Platzierung von Gedichten auf T-Shirts)“ (Spitzmüller 2016: 224).

This list of functions emphasizes the multidimensional nature of typography and at the same time illustrates the communicative role of typography. In recent years typographic communication has evolved from the conception of typography as a single semiotic product. Modern sociolinguistic approaches argue that typography “is a form of communicative variation and implies that it might be socially meaningful” (Spitzmüller 2015: 131). Therefore, social meaning can be created through every typographic variant, such as color, font type and even texture. The social meaning of a typographic variant is established through ascriptions, social conventions, knowledge, experience and culture. Depending on the usage, typographic variants can index different ascriptions, practices and persona, e.g. “in Germany, Gothic (black letter) types are [...] in many contexts and by many people still closely associated with nationalism or even Nazism” (cf. Spitzmüller 2015:131). The indexicality of typography can go as far as an act of self-positioning by means of graphic ideologies, where typographic knowledge is used as social capital. According to Androutsopoulos (2001) specific typographic variants are used in pop culture as “genre cues” (Androutsopoulos 2001: 20) and symbols of scene identity. Thus, typpgraphic variants not only trigger communicative graphic knowledge about scene and its social positioning, but also are assumed to symbolize specific social values (cf. Spitzmüller 2015: 133).

3. Methodological Approach

The material ofthe study was the Women’s Health (WH) and the Men’s Health (HM)- two popular and award-winning magazines. The files of the examples analyzed, are compiled by the method of continuous sampling on the basis of Internet versions of Women’s Health (WH) and Men’s Health (MH) magazine via the app Readly1. Ten magazine covers from the MH and ten covers of the WH were selected as a sample for the inclusion of this analysis.

Firstly, the layout of the cover was examined, and the main features of the cover were identified. This was done with a quantitative data collection approach, where the layout of each magazine cover has been systematized into the following categories: Strapline, Masthead, coverlines, dateline, flash/puff, lead article (main coverline), main image. Secondly, relying on Stockl’s (2004) typographic categorization (chapter 2), the analysis of the covers is split into the four graphic categories: micro typography, meso typography, macro typography and para typography. Because typographic means are polyfunctional, this classification is not ideal, because it could implicate that the function of typography is de-contextualized. However, for the purpose of this paper, Stockl’s typographic categorization provides an overview that made it easier to compare and contrast the typographic features ofthe two magazine covers.

4. Data

4.1 Presentation ofdata following Stockl’s model

The following section will display the data of the typographic analysis of the cover of the two lifestyle magazines Women’s Health (WH) and Men’s Health (MH). As mentioned before, research subjects are ten covers from the MH and ten ofthe WH. The covers discussed and analyzed in this paper are taken from the app Readly. This is chapter is divided into two parts. The first part provides an overview of the typographic features, following Stockl’s (2004) model of typographic levels. Subsequently, in the second part, the categorized typographic features are analyzed, interpreted, and discussed following Spitzmuller’s theory of “typography as a signifier” (Spitzmuller 2016: 240).

The following figure displays the categorization of typographic variants of the MH and WH, divided into typographic levels, following Stockl’s model.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Ovierview typographic level ofMH and WH covers following Stöckl (2004)

As Figure 1 displays, it is obvious that there are many typographic similarities between the two magazines, which indicate a certain degree of relationship. However, there a few typographic differences visible, e.g. in font color, which will be further examined in the following chapters. Stockl’s (2004) division of typographic levels has two main advantages:

(1) The model displays the exact typographic level to which the individual typographic elements are referenced to.
(2) the hierarchical structure of the model, which means that the upper level includes lower levels and uses them as resources (cf. Stockl 2004: 23).

4.2 Data Analysis, Interpretation and Discussion

4.2.1 Analysis Women’s Health

Unsurprisingly, the magazine covers of the Women’s Health display a female model. Every cover presents a slim, female celebrity shown from a medium close-up. All female cover models are portrayed as normatively feminine and sexy. All models are smiling. On nine out of ten covers, the women’s stomach is exposed and on nine out often covers the model wears sportswear. In only one picture the model wears a green casual skirt. Mainly, the female models wear a sports bra or a crop top and a tight or shorts on the bottom. On one cover the model is only wearing a bikini bottom, exposing


1 Readly is an online service that provides over 3000 digital versions of print magazines through a browser and an app on the basis of a monthly subscription fee.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Can Typography have a Gender? Masculinity vs. Femininity on lifestyle magazine covers
Free University of Berlin  (Institute for English Language and Literature)
Sociolinguistics and Varieties of English: Language and/ in Society
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
typography, sociolinguistics, language and society, varieties of english, masculinity, femininity
Quote paper
Sarah Eisenfeld (Author), 2019, Can Typography have a Gender? Masculinity vs. Femininity on lifestyle magazine covers, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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