God, I love magazines. I know I shouldn’t but I really do. Even in the knowledge that most of them are simply vehicles for adverts, many with recycled content, I love them. I love the little nuggets of information, the aspirational photos, the smooth and shiny pages. I’ve loved them for as long as I remember, starting with my cousin’s Beano magazine, continuing with Quiz Kids and Fast Forward sent to me by my grandmother. If there is one thing better than a magazine, it’s a magazine that comes through the post.
My periodical love was nurtured by a two year stint in a newsagents, where not only could I read all the magazines for free, I got to keep all the free gifts off the unsold magazines before they were returned to the supplier. My choice then was Just Seventeen, Mizz, Smash Hits, oh and a dalliance with Chelsea Magazine, but that was really just to impress a boy.
I don’t really buy magazines any more, at least not in the volumes that I used to. I don’t go in for the glossy so called ‘women’s magazines’ that suckered me in during my teenage years and early twenties, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, nor the celebrity rags, Grazia, OK etc. The former prey on women’s insecurities to sell overpriced cosmetics, and the latter merely prey on vaguely famous people and their need for validation. And I have never gone in for the real magazines touting stories of rape, incest and murder, where voyeuristic vultures pick over the remnants of people’s shattered lives.
My bent nowadays tends more towards craft magazines, dream homes and design, and self improvement. The only magazine I now regularly buy, when I can justify it, is Psychologies Magazine. It’s full of pop psychology, and self improvement articles articles that just about hit that self development spot. Marginally more academic is Psychology Today, though it is American and therefore harder to get hold of. I have recently subscribed to Simply Crochet Magazine which I infinitely prefer to its sister magazine Mollie Makes, but I only for 3 issues on a 3 for £5 introductory offer. I just can’t justify £5 a go for a single magazine, especially when for a little more I could get a full on book.
However, since we are speaking about money for magazines, I thought I would mention a interesting blog article I saw on Twitter from News Stand. They note that it is hard to find a decent card for under £2.99 when it is someone’s birthday, or anniversary or <fill in your card industry invented occasion here>. With magazines costing only a little more than that why not try giving one instead of a card and give a couple of hours’ entertainment instead of a fleeting moment of pleasure. Sure, News Stand, an online magazine retailer, has a vested interest in presenting this view. But they have a point. I am fairly ambivalent about cards myself. I don’t send Christmas cards, and equally don’t get upset if people don’t send me one. DH and I don’t exchange Valentine’s or anniversary cards; it just seems quite a waste of money that could be better spent on chocolate. Or magazines. Cards get read once or twice, displayed for a few days, cluttering up the place. The odd really beautiful one might get a permanent position on a shelf or in a frame. A few with very special messages might get put away to be read again once or twice before getting lost in a move, but most have a fairly perfunctory message. In fact most of my in laws can barely spare more than a ‘To’ and a ‘From’ in their cards.
Wouldn’t a far more pleasurable and longer lasting product of the same money be a magazine? It doesn’t have to be offensive, anti-feminist, clap trap like Glamour or Company. What about The Week, for the busy person to keep up with current affairs? Or the Writers’ Forum for the wordsmith in your life? Always full of excellent recipes Good Food Magazine might be the perfect card substitute for the resident cook. And eclectic lifestyle magazine Oh Comely will inspires those with curious dispositions.
So next time you are in a paper shop looking for a last minute birthday cards, give the faux arty shots and lame jokes a miss and check out the news stand instead. You never know what you might find to delight that special friend or family member…
It occurred to me the other day that I spend a lot of my life ‘shoulding’ myself. There are all manner of things I think I should do or should be, area in which I am not living up to expectations (mine? Who knows.) The following list is not even nearly exhaustive. I should:
ride my bike, especially with the kids on the back
have my own crochet business
be a better read feminist
in fact be better read altogether (the list of books I should read would merit a blog post of its own)
only feed my family home baked bread
have a tidier/cleaner house
be a better parent
be more well groomed
have better hair
know more history
be more frugal
write beautiful hand lettering or just have better handwriting
be able to touch type
remember everyone’s birthdays and send them all cards
make presents for people
write real letters to my friends
blog more often
have cooler fashion sense
grow my own veg
speak another language properly
stop buying things at the supermarket and Amazon and buy local instead
be better at my sewing machine
write a book, have already written one preferably
take my kids on nature walks
have a finance spreadsheet and keep to it
be cool enough to carry off a wink
customise my clothes
The list goes on…There are a whole heap of things that I feel like I should be doing. The ‘shoulds’ come from a few sources, the main one being me and my perfectionist, aspiring personality. Combine that with a distinct lack of completer-finisher in me, and well, you have a recipe for disaster, guilt, and of course dilettantism. The second source of shoulds come from the mass media. I very rarely by glossy magazines any more, but do indulge in a spot of Psychologies, and craft magazines. Even they, rather more benignly contribute to the idea of doing more, being more and having more. Whether that is £145 face serum (thanks for the recommendation Psychologies) or my own off beat craft business (Mollie Makes). Having children is no longer an excuse not to be successful either, thanks to the rise of kitchen table businesses, where mothers of young children create business from nothing, selling too-cute-for-words accessories or cupcakes with a nattily dressed baby on their hips. Do you detect a little envy in this post? Damn right you do! I’m unashamedly envious of these people, and attribute my lack of similar success to just not trying hard enough.
The third source of my attack of the shoulds is social media. Social media I love you, but you show me glimpses of worlds I can only dream of. By nature social media is very self selecting. I follow people, through blogs or twitter etc., who do stuff I am interested in. And I order for me to follow them and be interested they probably do it quite well. Hence with my varied interests I am following writers, journalists, psychologists, crafters and artists, and wondering why I am not as successful as all these people. Social media is also rather deceptive. It gives the illusion of reality, following people’s real lives, seeing their homes, their studios and their work. However it is barely more real life than a magazine spread. Of course people are selective about what they post. They leave out the bad bits, and we never see homes with laundry spilling out of the basket or kitchen tables still covered in this morning’s breakfast paraphernalia. Despite my awareness of this, my illogical brain just notes how much better everyone else is than me.
I also need to remind myself of the financial and time constraints of my life. If you devote yourself to a single cause or career you are going to be better at it. My problem is I want to devote myself to lots of causes, careers an activities.
In concerning myself with all the things I’m not or that I don’t do I forget all the things I am or that I actually do. So I am going to list them, to prove to myself and to everyone else that my life is actually full of value, even if that value is not equal to everyone else’s.
So these are the things I do and can do:
Raise 2 young children, who are polite and sociable (to other people anyway!)
Speak passable French and Spanish
Create home cooked meals for my children, they even eat some of them
Bake nice cakes for my family and colleagues
Run 2-3 miles about twice a week
Study for a part time Masters Degree in Occupational Psychology
Work 4 days a week
Have 2 degrees in psychology with the highest grade in each
Take Betty swimming every Saturday morning
Run a crochet class
Bake bread occasionally, by hand
Write a blog
Know all the names of the New Testament books (I learned them at Brownies)
Make cakes for the school fetes
Sit down an eat dinner with my kids everyday, and ask them how their days were
Find the end of the sellotape without fail, within seconds
Ran a yarn bombing workshop
Make my own granola (sometimes)
And do you know what, even if this list was half or as third as long it should still be enough. I work enough so that we can afford to live (just about!) and raise 2 kids, who are only semi feral and are usually fed and dressed (even if fed does mean Coco Pops for breakfast, and if dressed means wearing Buzz Lightyear and pirate outfits).
I am slowly coming around to the realisation that I can’t do everything, and should stop comparing myself to others. I’m not quite there yet, but this post a step forwards.
Do you have a list of shoulds and how do you get past them?
First let me preface this post with the admission that I used to be a complete magazine junkie. Since my grandma used to send me Fast Forward in the post when I was younger I have devoured magazines. I worked in a newsagents for a couple of years when I was younger too which gave me even greater access to all the latest magazines, Mizz, More, J17, 19, Cosmo, Company, Elle, Eve, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, Easy Living, Red. I’ve dabbled in them all. I’d even occasionally be tempted by Woman and Home, but that just made me feel really old. And yes, I am ashamed to admit my habit stretched to Heat, Closer, and other gratuitous tabloid type magazines. Mine and DH’s favourite pre-children weekend activity was to go to the newsagents and pick up stacks of weekend papers and magazines and spend the weekend lazing around reading them.
But even at the height of my addiction the gorging of the magazines would inevitably be followed by that slightly nauseous feeling. I’d keep ploughing through, even when I’d had my fill, like being at an all-you-can-eat restaurant where you are so full, but you want to get your money’s worth so you plough through yet another plate of noodles and stir fry chicken. Somehow though, I managed to break the habit. I’m not sure which came first, finances or children, but I realised that I wasn’t getting anything out out of the magazines. I was reading the same old articles, sometimes even seeing the same pictures, and spending a small fortune. I also found as I got more into reading Mumsnet and blogs I didn’t need magazines. Online I get beauty tips, real fashion ideas, I learned about other people’s families and careers. I get news and opinions, humour and reality. Most of all I get community and interaction.
This weekend I succumbed to the draw of the magazine again. However this time my motives were more mercenary. Inspired by a thread on Mumsnet I checked out the glossy mags for the freebies and picked up Marie Claire: £3.70 with a free full sized Neal’s Yard Remedies Rose Moisturiser; and Glamour: £2 with a free 100ml tube of Percy and Reed Hair Mask. I thought I’d have a flick, for old time’s sake. As I flicked I got more and more frustrated and cross, and after firing off a couple of indignant Tweets that were duly ignored I thought I would distil my grievances into a blog post.
So I flicked. And I flicked. And I flicked and I flicked. And 38 pages of adverts and publishing credits later I got to my first page of content in Marie Claire: Best High St Buys, some lovely looking women in some seriously unflattering and disgusting outfits. 6 pages of more ads and there is a page on the Marie Claire Runway Launch Party, a new magazine that Marie Claire is launching. Because that’s what we need, more trees felled for a vacuous, narcissistic, masochistic, misogynistic industry. Another 6 pages and it’s the letters page. Surprisingly none of the letters are asking why the reader bothered to fork out money on this crap. More adverts and women in ridiculous outfits, then there is the spread on the 1950’s housewife look. The geometric prints and tailored styles are gorgeous actually, but the spread shows the model in various poses, alone by the pool, alone drinking cocktails, alone sitting in various retro chairs. I don’t know if the model is a good actress but she is certainly pulling off that lonely housewife look; a woman who’s only occupation in life was to bear children and have dinner on the table. Maybe modelling is also a lonely business.
The 1950s is fairly unique in that it is the only era that is ever used to qualify the word housewife. I think that is because the 1950s epitomises housewifeliness. The decades before were marred by World Wars, and few people’s sole job was to look after the home. Women took in evacuees, they worked the fields and the factories. Before the wars the rich women had servants to do housewifely work like cleaning and cooking and looking after the children, while poorer housewives were literally on their hands and knees scrubbing, mangling, cooking, growing veg, while older siblings tended to the younger ones. This vision of the housewife is not nearly quite as romantic and involves fewer cute outfits than the 1950s, and almost no pastel cake stands. The 1950s saw the rise of domestic appliances, which in theory saved the time of housewives and saved them from manual labour, but in reality just raised standards and in fact barely dented the time spent on housework.
But enough talk of frivolities, back to the serious topic of Marie Claire, where on page 167 Christian Louboutin tells us the 10 shoes every woman should have in her wardrobe. He “knows best” apparently. In case you were uninformed as I was, some of the shoes you must own include a high heeled peep-toe nude shoe, an evening boot (which presumably can’t double as the Classic Boot at no.8, or the ankle boot at no.9), and finally at no.10 The Uber Heel. For this shoe Mr Louboutin recommends one of his own which stands at a towering 16cm. It shows toe cleavage, which is supposed to remind people (I assume by “people” he means men) of the boob cleavage and the arse cleavage. Now his shoe – the Daffodil it is called – is perfect, not because of the toe cleavage but because if you are bored “you can stare deeply into the crystals for hours!” Yes, that is really what it [he] said. Put down your Proust girls, stop bothering your pretty head about world affairs, or coming up with ideas for female domination; stare at the shiny, shiny shoes instead.
Now there are so many things wrong with this I don’t know where to start. Don’t get me wrong, I love shoes, tall ones, shiny ones, comfy ones, red ones, classic Mary Janes, and a good ol’ ballet pump. But I resent being told what shoes I and all women should be wearing by a man, and a man with an agenda at that. Of course he’s telling women they absolutely must have three different types of boot as a minimum, he bloody sells them for a living! But the real kick in the fanjo for me is that he is telling me I am not a true woman without 16cm heel. You know, no-one is telling men they need to risk their necks, backs, bunions and basically torture their feet into submission all for a bit of toe cleavage! Marie Claire, you are facilitating this misogynistic bollocks.
Now, let’s have a look at the adverts in this magazine. Obviously there is the plethora of designer brands flogging ugly, over priced clothes, and perfume. I don’t understand this craze of scrubbing away our natural smells which aid in bonding with our partners and children, and replacing them with synthetic copies of natural smells. Oh, and in case you were in any doubt that you smell, lady, there is an advert for breath freshener. My hair, the adverts tell me, is either too straight, or not straight enough. But it is ok, I can buy various products to counter whichever aspect at being a woman my hair is failing at. I am also reminded that my skin should be soft and wrinkle free. There are also products for this that I must buy.
But the real gems are the adverts for various cleaning products in this magazine; dishwasher tablets, washing detergent, fabric softener. A gentle reminder, women, not to neglect your domestic duties. But, don’t worry, I’m sure your husbands are being subjected to similar adverts as they flick through GQ and Men’s Health magazines.
What did I expect, you could ask me? Well, perhaps not much given that the Executive Director and Deputy Director of Marie Claire International are both men. But this is the 21st Century and I expect a little bit more than this. I’m not the only one. There is a whole marvellous blog called Glossed Over which highlights the crap spewing from these magazines.
When not angrily reading these magazines this weekend, I have also been reading a book I picked up in a charity shop yesterday called Strong Minded Women & Other Lost Voices from 19th Century England, an anthology of writings, by both men and women, from the 19th Century. I am barely a few pages in, but the first chapter is devoted to Woman’s Mission. One writer, Sarah Lewis, who wrote a book called Woman’s Mission, puts forward her argument thus: men are clearly inferior to women. They cannot keep their tempers, they are profligate and they are selfish. It is a failing in their education. It is our job as Good Women to quietly influence our husbands and sons. We are morally superior to men, even if we cannot equal them in social and political status. So we must quietly, and selflessly do God’s bidding; influencing the men, though we must be sure not to do it a way that they will notice.
Harriet Taylor Mill, in The Emancipation of Women, vociferously repudiates this view, stating that it very much suits men for women to be mere appendages to men. “It is agreeable to them that men should live for their own sake, women for the sake of men; and the qualities and conduct in subjects which are agreeable to rules, they succeed for a long time in making the subjects themselves consider as their appropriate virtues…” Lewis’s pro-female but anti-feminist stance just did the men’s work for them. Yes, we know we are better than men, so let us just suffer in silence in a goodly way, which makes us even more selfless and morally superior.
And yet nearly 200 years on from Lewis’s work we are still doing men’s work for them in repressing ourselves and creating virtuous, smooth, wrinkle-free, uber heeled women who believe they are better than men but are powerless to do anything about it. And while a woman trapped in an abusive marriage, or a young vulnerable teenager may be powerless, YOU MARIE CLAIRE are not. And not just Marie Claire, the media all over. You have unlimited power, you have the ear of women young and old, and you choose to waste it on instructing them on the must have shoes or how to mask their natural beauty with aspirational cosmetics. Shame on you. And shame on me for buying them just for the products that I feel I need in order to smooth soft skin and shiny hair. I will not have my young daughters influenced in the same way that I have been for the last 20 years. My love affair with magazines has been over for a long time. This last fling just reminded me how disgusting and disgusted they make me feel.