Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Guest Post: The things you learn about people... or don't.

One of my livejournal friends, shaysdays, had a wonderful post today, and I was generously granted her permission to post it here.

My first issue of "Good Housekeeping" arrived today. It's a gift from my mom- a whole year of the magazine she says I always flip through at her house. I probably do, but that's because I read like people watch TV- if it's there, I will look at it.

There is something vaguely creepy about this magazine. Creepy besides Dr Phil snuggling his rather diamond-bedecked wife while offering marriage advice. Let me give you the headlines:

The Makeover Issue- 122 Quick Changes for your health, body, home and happiness

Lose 30+ lbs Without Trying 9 Easy Food Changes

Save $100s on heating bills (and stay cozy)

ReDo a Room in 48 Hours On The Cheap

Look 5 Years Younger, Fast! No Diet, No Surgery

Dr Phil and Robin Share 5 Secrets of Happy Couples (Yes, you can fall in love again!)

In other words- you can totally be someone better, thinner, younger, and more organized... without any investment of real time or effort.

But well, it was a present. And so I sat down to read it.

Every article is telling yoiu you're not _____ enough, or that you need to ______. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't really call them articles, for the most part. They're bossy advice pieces.This magazine is so insidiously horrible I'm amazed women don't burn it in effigy so they don't have to actually touch one.

This is a direct quote from "5 years younger:"

Look closer- who's that lurking under all those dark, shapeless layers? "It's sort of an unwritten rule in New York that you wear black," says Linda, and this self-described utilitarian is totally with the program (we didn't try to talk her out of it- just persuaded her her to go for a tp with a little more shape, opposite). More colorphobia: she never wanted to cover her gray hairs, even though they made her mane frizzy and unmanageable, and had never been big on color cosmetics, tending to leave her beautiful face bare."

Y'ALL I AM SMACKING MY HEAD AGAINST THE PIANO. (I moved the computer to on top of the piano for Superbowl.)

Let me reword that paragraph the way it plays in my head:
Who's that frumpy little thing? Awww... look! You picked up one style trend, let's work with that so it looks like you're actually dictating things. Now, that streak of gray hair in front you've got? That's making your hair unmanageable. It's not that you have naturally curly hair. (Let's straighten that, which takes about 10 minutes, add some hair color, that's an hour and half every few weeks) Also, we'll give you props for having a beautiful face, but no makeup? That is a crime against nature (and our advertisers) so let's slap some pigment on your beautiful (BARE!) face.

Seriously, this magazine is like an abusive boyfriend- it gives you just enough compliments to build you up, then with the other hand, whallops you with diet, 'fashion' tips to 'minimize your figure,' and a healthy helping of, "relationships, home, and children are pretty much all on you." At least Cosmo has the decency to give tips on orgasms. The closest thing to sex here is a note about their new (online) sex columnist talking about how she'd rather have a good night's sleep than sex.

NEXT MONTH IN GOOD HOUSEKEEPING: How to vacuum in pearls.

Okay, it's not all bad- I found three things I like. One, is a nice picture of Jaimie Lee Curtis with a haircut I'm going to steal. (A gray haircut, by the way! How they didn't airbrush it blonde is beyond me) A recipe for Balsamic Chicken and Pears that looks really good. And there was a piece on how to stop procrastinating, which, although it didn't actually include the phrase, "Limit Livejournal Time," was still relevant to my interests.

So I don't think I'll cancel the subscription. I'm sure my mom meant well. I just can't help but be angry that Cosmo gets blamed for making women hate their bodies and change their lives to fit some gender construct, when they're not actually giving you tips on how and why to do it- all these housekeeping magazines seem to be less about the house and more about the keeping- a man, your 'figure,' your sanity,' and most importantly- your status quo.


kellycoxsemple said...

Long ago, I heard a famous person say, "beauty magazines only make you feel ugly." (I think that sage person was Whoopi Goldberg.) It struck me because it so succinctly expressed that which I couldn't understand. I read those magazines like all my friends did, but was always uncomfortable. It was that sentence that made it all clear to me, and I haven't read a single one since. Ever. Not even in the hair salon.

Sad that so many things which are proported to be beneficial to women are often quite the opposite. I mean, have you ever watched Lifetime TV? Why are all those shows about women being victimized?!

Anyway, would love it if you shared the Balsamic Chicken and Pears recipe! ;-)

Shay said...

Basically it's this recipe:

Plus green beans and couscous. :)

(Hi, Bot!)

Jessie said...

Seriously, this magazine is like an abusive boyfriend- it gives you just enough compliments to build you up, then with the other hand, whallops you with diet, 'fashion' tips to 'minimize your figure,' and a healthy helping of, "relationships, home, and children are pretty much all on you."

I think most of them are. (Just like the ones with the "love your body" articles always feature someone superskinny standing next to them, and airbrushed and makeuped within an inch of her life... or the token "plus size" model who isn't seen anywhere else in the magazine for a few issues.)

Shay said...

AAAARGH okay I 'm so with you on that. There is actually an article on 'loving your body' in this thing I didn't other mentioning because it's like putting, "Female body hair is AWESOME!" in the middle of a Playboy. It might have good advice (although that particular one was more, "Hey you have a body! Love it! You'll get old and saggy one day! And you have arms and legs!" and was basically the most insipid 'love thyself' piece ever) but anything it's got is waaaay overshadowed by it's surroundings.

However, you might like this:

AnnieMcPhee said...

It's been a pretty long time since I've read women's magazines with any regularity. How could I have (and I really almost have) forgotten that makeup is so *essential* to life? To the degree that they act like it's *bad grooming/hygiene* not to wear any? As though not wearing makeup is akin to not bathing or brushing your teeth for weeks at a time, or wearing filthy ripped-up clothes to work? Same with coloring your hair apparently. You know, that's a message I can live without. Same as I can live without makeup or hair dye. Or waxing my pubes. What ever happened to good old soap, water, toothbrushes and hairbrushes?

AnnieMcPhee said...

By the way, Shay, your link above isn't working for me - what's it supposed to go to?

miriam.heddy said...

You say that you don't think you'll cancel because your mother "meant well." Yet by keeping the subscription, you're voluntarily bringing something into your house that, on a monthly basis will, by definition, tell you all the ways you should change to become more acceptable.

Sure, our moms mean well, most of the time. But when they mean well as they berate us (and here, your mother has a nice proxy for that), how can we accept that as a "gift" without being masochistic?

I'm not speaking just about your individual decision, but more generally, because I think your reaction and decision and rationalization are ones lots of fat women use to not defend ourselves when other people hurt us with "kindness."

Shay said...

Well, I do like the recipes. And I've been doing the same thing with these magazines for years- I sit down, page through, and rip out the two or three things I like and then the rest gets used for arts and crafts by the Brownies or my son's scissor practice or whatever. I just never sat down to read one cover to cover before.

(Plus, on the embarrassing side- I'm worried if I cancel it and they call my mom, she'll get upset, and this was a present she gave me out of the blue because she noticed something I was doing, so I really don't want to hurt her feelings. This is where my activist, strident side squares up against my polite, indulgent daughter side, you know?)

AnnieMcPhee said...

For what it's worth, I agree Shay. Your mom gets a refund and then wonders why you refused the gift, when she didn't mean anything by it. Tear out what you like and disregard the rest. In the meantime it was enlightening to see that magazines are still doing the same old, same old. Selling insecurity and non self-acceptance.