And--there are magazines.
That was me the other day--getting fluffed up in more ways that one.
I like magazines. They're full of colorful images of beautiful things and people. I learn new recipes, new exercises, and juicy tidbits about celebrities (and when I say 'celebrities' I mean people I've never actually heard of because I've been living under a rock called 'motherhood' for the past six years.)
I will delightfully nibble on magazines' sweet and savory delights every six to eight weeks at the hair salon, but I cannot bring myself to consume them any more frequently than that. They, and the advertisements contained therein, do such a wonderful job of showing me all the areas that are wrong with me and my world and how to fix them. They sell me all kinds of products I never knew I needed, expose flaws I never knew I had. Magazines are fun, but I'm going to go out on a limb and call them junk food for the mind. (I'm not talking about periodicals like The Economist, by the way. That's just a soporific--better than Ambien.)
Years ago, when I was young and poor and living in New York City, I consumed a steady diet of magazines. I would be stuck on a subway platform waiting for my train, and lo, there would be a newsstand decked with yummy magazines... or an enterprising homeless person selling last month's issues liberated from local recycle bins. I would inevitably succumb once the crackly voice came over the loudspeaker that the uptown local was experiencing delays. What else was I going to do? Actually chat with a fellow passenger? Please. This is New York.
But all this mental snacking came at a price. I'd look at the glossy images of beautiful people, then gaze at my own and couldn't help but be dissatisfied. I needed to be thinner. I needed better skin. I needed more stylish clothes. I needed fuller hair. There were things inherently wrong with me and my appearance, and this or that periodical promised the remedies--a veritable treasure trove of solutions--all for the low price of $3.95. That's what all the magazines told me, and on some level, I believed them.
One day I decided to start tracking my expenses because my meager paycheck wasn't stretching far enough. I needed to plug whatever leaks I could, so I began writing down every cent that left my wallet. I was fairly shocked to find that I was spending a rather alarming amount on coffee and magazines. So I gave up Starbucks and began a magazine fast.
Over the course of a very few short weeks, I found I really didn't miss them. In fact, my life was far richer without them. I was much more content--with my looks, my little fifth-floor walk-up studio, my singleness and my means. I didn't look at myself in the mirror with such a critical eye. I didn't bemoan why can't I meet a decent guy? (Turns out he was living down the street--who knew?) I didn't look at my closet full of clothes with dissatisfaction, or at least, not as much as I had before. Life without magazines was quite remarkably pleasant.
Of course, in stirring up discontentment, magazines are really just doing their job--they're trying to sell things. I can dig it. We all have to make a living. The problem is when they try to sell things that are completely unattainable.
For example, a few weeks ago, I was in the supermarket check-out line and saw this magazine cover:
The headline that stuck out for me was 'Get Legs like These!' PLEASE. People. I don't care what magic exercise they feature, I will never have legs like hers. Why? Because they're HERS. This model and I are two totally different people. Why on earth would my legs be like hers? It's absurd. Yet on some level, we internalize these messages. Magazines publish headlines like these because they work. They make a careful study of what sells, and headlines like 'Drop Two Sizes!' 'Mind-Blowing Sex!' and 'Get Legs Like These!' get the job done. They also use a lot of exclamation points! Maybe I should start using more exclamation points?! Yay!!
Really, if this model has fabulous legs, good for her. The problem is, I really don't believe this model's legs look like that in real life. Those legs have been airbrushed, at least. At worst, they've been lengthened and slimmed using artificial means. Take a minute to watch the following:
As fun as magazines are, take your psychological pulse after perusing a few. Do you feel a greater degree of dissatisfaction with your appearance? With your life? Then please, consider a magazine fast. It doesn't mean you have to give them up forever. I'm happy to say I can now enjoy the delicious nibble on a can of mental Pringles without discontentment seeping in, but it was not always so, and it took going cold turkey to realize it.
I did thoroughly enjoy my little outing the other day. I learned how to better organize my closets, a few more uses for quinoa, and that Elizabeth Taylor once melted a sweater with an iron. I'd say that was time well spent, wouldn't you?