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Ask Away

By Ashleigh Smollet

Upon first glance, Pamela Anderson and the late Anne Landers may not have much in common. Landers was known as the sister of Dear Abbey, and Anderson is known for… well, you know.

Actually, the two have more in common than you may think. Both have been writing columns, dishing out advice to the confused, lost and misguided.

Anderson writes a hugely successful monthly advice column for Jane magazine, which has helped to spawn the hybrid creation of the celebrity advice columnist. In our celeb-obsessed culture, where Madonna imparts spiritual advice and Britney Spears readily spouts off child-raising tips, it was only a matter of time before the media decided to cash in.

The advice column itself is certainly not a new concept – it’s older than Anne Landers and Dear Abbey combined (hard to imagine I know). But, what makes the advice column such a staple in newspapers and magazines?

Catherine Dunwoody, lifelong advice columnist and West Coast beauty editor for Lou Lou magazine, understands the appeal of such columns.

“People like to read questions that they may not have the courage to ask themselves, or perhaps the experts available to get answers from. How many people have a fashion stylist or make-up artist in their lives to give them sound advice?”

Advice columnists are not always professional gurus. Many, like Dunwoody, got their start in fashion journalism, and simply fell into writing advice columns.

“I started 20 years ago. I was a fashion director at a major department store, and a local newspaper invited me to write a fashion column monthly. I proceeded to gain experience as a writer and editor with numerous magazines and newspapers.”

Let’s be honest. When reading advice columns, we often think to ourselves “Who would actually write in and ask these questions?”

In fact, advice columns are big business and many people rely on them for help.
A Girl’s World, a monthly international on-line magazine that features advice columns ranging in topics from relationships and family, to fashion and make-up, gets over six million visitors a month. There is clearly a huge market out there for anonymous advice.

While it is certainly true that we appreciate the expert advice, it’s also true that we enjoy a little titillation to go along with it.

“Sex with Sue” starring Sue Johansen is a Canadian institution. On the program, viewers call in with their most embarrassing (and often hilarious) sexual problems. Listeners can also visit the website to ask Sue questions.

This program has been on the air for over 30 years, and is seen by many as a rite of passage for young adults. Often, this is where adolescents get their sexual information.

From Anne Landers all the way to Pamela Anderson, advice columnists realize their impact on, and responsibility to, readers. However, that is not to say that every question is taken so seriously.

“Safe ways to dye pubic hair would have to be up there with the strangest letters I’ve ever received,” says Dunwoody.