Weekly Reader, 3, 2, 1 Contact, a Highlights for Children in the pediatrician’s waiting room. But I preferred grownup magazines: Reader’s Digest, which I scrutinized in the basement hallway, waiting for my mother’s piano lesson to end, and mine to begin. All those tiles with all those swiss cheese holes. And a million Reader’s Digests.
I flipped through for the funny story features, “Life in These United States,” “Laughter, the Best Medicine.” I occasionally read articles, too, but mostly I stuck with the funnies. When I didn’t get the joke, I was really curious. I took the thing apart and wondered what I didn’t know. My childhood was full of holes, things I was trying to figure out so I would get it.
I also devoured Family Circle. Sometimes my grandma had that one. I wanted all the practical tips, for cleaning and keeping house and shopping smart.
I discovered Seventeen and Cosmopolitan and Glamour and their ilk in the grocery store and at my middle school’s library. For at least a decade, such magazines were my favorite bathtime companions, my beach friends, my airplane treats. Before turning thirty, I realized I was too old to read Cosmo. Upon turning thirty-five, I realized I was too old to read Glamour, but I had already been gifted a subscription.
My father got Newsweek. That was where I learned what “conventional wisdom” meant. We got National Geographic, but only to look at the pictures (of the dressed and the naked) and to cut out images for collages.
My mother got The Atlantic when someone did a magazine sale. My stepmom got Lady’s Home Journal. I learned that few people have time to read the main piece in The Atlantic, and I learned from Heloise, more cleaning tips, and from the Miss Manners in Lady’s Home Journal, how to be appropriate and polite. It never occurred to me to ask another human any question I could get answered by a written source.
The form says: now, and it shrugs, no big deal. Magazines come and go.
I was quite fond of Mademoiselle, which got taken out in the dark fiscal times following 9/11. For years I kept a few of their issues. Marie Claire appeared, and it has slid from trashy to classy, from cheapish to rich lady. I’ve stuck with it, mostly.
Many times, I have ended up with such a huge colony of magazines in my bathroom that a full purge was required. Don’t put magazines under your claw foot tub. Don’t.
Over the years, I learned: brown eyeshadow, eyes or lips, not both. Primer before eyeshadow. I learned only one puff of perfume was sufficient. Try red lipstick, they said.
They said, shave your legs at the end of your shower.
I studied many features and looked for “boyish figure” and “flat chested” in the categories. Many horizontal stripes, a-line skirts. Many a spread of swimsuits with ruffled and padded bikinis.
What shape is your face? they would ask. Once, they advised I draw my face shape with a piece of soap, in my mirror, to see the shape. I finally decided I had an oval-shaped face, which meant everything looked fine. Was that cause for rejoicing or annoyance?
Certainly I learned more from experimenting with my looks. I try on a lot of clothes. I generally let my hair do what it wants to do. It was nice to have the silent advisors, though, in New York, where everything came from.
They also give us career stories, which have usually been about climbing and competing, not too useful for a public school teacher. I did learn assertive posture and to dress for the job I wanted.
They give us sex tales, and endless sex surveys, so that we, especially those of us who aren’t characters in obnoxious movies, a chance to compare and contrast and muse about things so private.
They have the celebrity interview. Sometimes I care. Gossip magazines, about movie stars, I have only read at the gym, and I figure the fewer people in there I know, the better a human being I must be.
And beautiful photos of women and clothes to make you wonder, could I be beautiful like that? Even, am I beautiful like that? Or, red lipstick would make me feel beautiful like that. It might.
I read Ms. and Adbusters and Utne Reader later. They are a counterweight, and as oppressive as the fashion magazines, in their own way. I eventually subscribed to The New Yorker, which meant I was a real boy.
In Style has so little text, I can’t bring myself to buy it. I am a lover of text. In Style is better for waiting at the pharmacy.
I am falling into a magazine hole, shortly. Too old for Cosmo and Glamour. Too young for the grown-up married lady magazines. And while the grown-up lady fashion magazines– Elle, Vogue– have lovely photos, the articles feel written for someone else. The articles are written for women who would consider having plastic surgery, who fly down to St. Bart’s with girlfriends, and go to spin class and drink pomegranate juice and pat lotions on different parts of their faces every night and every morning.
Never can I afford anything in their pages, and although some aspirational glitter is fun, a whole magazine chock full of things I’ll never be able to possess depresses me.
Magazines, though, I’ll find one. The awful, pinched smiles on the covers. Wonderful, unserious reading, in small pieces, only about small things. Glossy pages, smelly pages, impossible beauties, weird ideas of pretty, and although it has waned, the authoritarian voice the magazine conveys, telling you, if you want to consider it, what and who to be, what you are missing out on.