May 2, 2012

The Devil Wears Periodicals: Is Your Favorite Magazine Conducting a War Against You?

Flickr: jpockele

Who hasn’t, at one time or another, been captivated by the periodicals in the grocery store check-out line?

Maybe you’re having what you believe to be a bad day. You were fired, your boyfriend vanished to Bora Bora with your neighbor and you were looking forward to driving home in your vehicle, if it hadn’t been loaded onto the tow truck.

Your defenses, my friend, are down.

The guy in front is forking over an Extreme Couponers level stash and, suddenly, everything from aisle six needs price-checked. Maybe the other woman has decided to scavenge her purse, her pockets, her shoes for exact change.

You are bored. You do realize that patience is a virtue (and one of the yamas).

But just not now.

You tap your feet. You check the time.

And then, from the great void, springs eternal hope.

The magazines seductively beckon.

From Star to Cosmopolitan, you glance at the headlines. You gulp the Kool-Aid with gusto.

It goes down sweet, cool, refreshing at first, but it soon sours.

Oh, wacky Star.

Who knew that Cher and Elton John have a love child who, somewhat disturbingly, looks like a collie ‘s head photoshopped onto David Hasselhoff’s body? Or that the entire cast of Lost were spotted conducting a seance on Rodeo drive?

Or, Cosmo (or Elle or Glamor et all) where everything—and I mean everything—is a spin-off on three themes:

1.  How to Meet a Man

2.  How to Lose More Weight

3.  How To Buy the Right Kind of Stuff So People Will Want To Be Your Friend

The constant search for approval and affirmation is enough to make anybody feel neurotic, yet you persist. Maybe you feel conflicted in your reading, like Arjuna on the eve of the great battle.

I want to improve myself, dear readers, I really do. I partake of quizzes like_

-Are You Assertive Enough?

-Is Your Style a Turnoff?”

-Do People Really Hate You or Do You Just Have Spinach in Your Teeth?

I carry a little tablet in my purse, so I can mark down the As, Bs, Cs and Ds and score them up.

Publishers employ a team of mad scientists, you know? More stealthy than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld  together, these scientists inhabit a secret bunker where they subsist entirely on fluorescent light, Diet Cokes and pizza-flavored Combos. Using a complex system of algorithms, they create the kinds of headlines which create the conditions for an impulse buy.

In the post-post modern era of feminism, why do I allow myself to be transfixed and ultimately troubled by this kind of tripe? 

I have a theory.

While modern women definitely have many advantages when compared to our sisters of generations past (penicillin and modern dentistry and the right to vote come to mind) we strain under a new kind of psychic weight, the weight of the technology age, the “Me! Me! Me!‘I want it all now! I want to shop online and buy my sushi at 3 a.m.” age.

We are led to believe we must have it all—a great career, a loving, supportive partner, a perfect body, a circle of devoted friends, a great relationship with family. These relationships and states of being are treated like consumer goods by our culture, to be acquired or maintained through sheer force of will (or some really good Botox).

Rather than self-empowerment and self-acceptance, American culture preaches self-improvement. The focus of control proves to be external rather than internal. Happiness, success and love, according to popular media, are outside jobs, a collection of things or people or states of being. Buy this! Buy that!

Many of us find our way onto the yoga mat as a way of turning back to ourselves, our feelings and our intuition.

On an intrinsic level, I know that I do not need a man, a never-ending diet, or a pile of clothes to value myself as a person.

Yet, when I am feeling down, I am more likely to absorb these old messages back into my body, my mind, my cells. Like a magical talisman, Cosmo ends up in my grocery basket where it swims along, like a poisonous oil slick, against the tide of organic yogurt, kale and kombucha tea.

If I am feeling strong and empowered (like after a great yoga class) stretchy and bendy and detoxed, I theorize.

Let’s imagine for a minute that, in the immortal words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

And let’s change our headlines.


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Editor: Tanya Lee Markul


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