By some odd happenstance, I have been gifted a subscription to Details magazine as a thank you for some purchase I made. I’ve never bought or read Details in my life before flipping through the one I found in my mailbox today. I don’t imagine I’d ever have chosen to subscribe to it. It is, after all, a ‘boy’ magazine. More than that, it is so absolutely similar to all the ‘girl’ magazines. Tips on getting in shape before the end of the summer, a photo spread on celebrity man-breasts (no, I’m not kidding), fashion features with expressionless, empty-eyed, stick-figured models who are 14 if they’re a day. The one clear difference? The fluff piece on Hayden Panettiere (who, apparently, needs to walk around with a “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” sign) stretched across the page like a Vargas girl. Yes, there are good articles and an interview with the ever-adorable Jason Bateman, but the rest just gives me a stomach ache, reminds me why I stopped subscribing to the other mags years ago.
I used to get so many: Self, Shape, Elle, Glamour, Vogue, Heart and Soul. Really, such a lot of money spent over such a lot of years to be told over and over just how much I’m not ‘the norm.’ I kept a few subscriptions going because I wanted them ‘for the articles.’ I did want them for the articles, but after a while I realized that the articles weren’t worth the self esteem smack-down I got from the rest of the package. I actually wrote a letter to Vogue explaining why I’d cancelled my subscription. They’d been sending me letter after letter, certain I’d forgotten to renew, assuring me of how much they missed me and wanted me back, so finally I wrote to explain that I hadn’t forgotten, that I had made a conscious choice to stop giving my money to a publication that was so little interested in any part of who I was that I could find not one thing about me reflected in its pages. They stopped sending me notices.
Self, Shape and Heart and Soul I hung onto because they were about health and fitness, and surely that made them ok. But they got on my nerves, too. Self and Shape seemed certain that my health and fitness ideal was to be a 20-year-old white woman, while Heart and Soul seemed to think a size 18 was as ‘plus’ as any ‘plus size’ could ever be and that I might have natural hair, but I would appreciate seeing all the ways I could make it look like ‘good’ hair and hide its troubling nappiness. Again, no ‘me’ in the pages of any of these magazines.
Did I instantly go from Woefully Low Self-Esteem Girl to Arrogant Diva as soon as I let my subscriptions lapse? Of course not. Did I, over time, notice a difference in my self-perception after I stopped consciously or unconsciously comparing myself to what I saw and read in those pages? Yes. Maybe the shift also had to do with the fact that, a few years after saying goodbye to the magazines for good, I also lost broadcast TV and stopped being bombarded with those images every day.
Flipping the pages of Details today made me sad. What I saw was a level playing field of a kind I would have been much happier without. It’s ten years later and, instead of finding ways to be more inclusive, more ways to focus on intellect, humanity and compassion, the ‘you aren’t good enough’ meter has simply been recalibrated so that now everyone’s worth is called into question. Oh happy day.