all of the selves we Have ever been
I return home from work to find a bag hanging from my doorknob. I know what’s in there, and I hurry to enter the house, tossing my keys to the table and my work bag to the floor.
A fresh crop of magazines! I have always loved them, but they have become too expensive to purchase often. Some now top $12.99 per issue with not much content, a real budget buster. There have been times when I considered selling my plasma in order to acquire a beautiful, fresh edition, but, thankfully, I have a magazine-loving neighbor, and we chase down back issues and re-circulate them. We don’t care if they are a few months out of date. They don’t spoil. Now and then, I leave a bag for her, and she returns a bag to me. It’s my bag now, and I can’t wait to see what’s inside.
I spill the contents of the bag onto the coffee table and study my options. Should I consume it all at once, or dole it out a day at a time? I brew some tea and settle in for a late night.
Magazines were a much bigger deal before the internet, and I became conditioned like Pavlov’s dog. Throw a magazine on the table, and I start salivating. I grew up with magazines piling up around the house—my father’s National Geographic and Popular Mechanics, Look, and Life, and my mother’s Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, and McCall’s. Magazines were meatier back then: beautiful photographs, informative articles, great short stories, recipes, and coupons! As I got older, I added my own favorites: Tiger Beat, Seventeen, Mademoiselle, and Glamour. I could spend hours on the phone turning the pages while my friend on the other end of the line did the same as we studied the magazine together, an early preview of the now popular Zoom call.
In 2020 when Oprah announced she would no longer produce her monthly print magazine O!, I mourned the death of magazines. If Oprah couldn’t make a go of it, what hope could there be for any others? Look was long out of sight, departing in 1971, with Life expiring in 2000. Mademoiselle said au revoir in 2001 and Teen in 2009. Most shocking of all was when US News & World Report ceased publication in 2010. Was there ever a high school report or a school debate that did not rely upon the facts in US News & World Report? No wonder no one trusts the news any more.
But back to the payload at hand. I begin sorting. I have before me now a familiar title that has managed to hang around since 1937: Woman’s Day, and a few relatively newer ones: Real Simple and Health. A couple of Vogue magazines are at the bottom of the heap. Vogue is the oracle of fashion and began as a newspaper in 1892 with a cover price of 10 cents. I stare at the December 2021 edition with a newsstand price of $7.99. I always thought Vogue was as out of my league. There is nothing haute about my couture, and so I have never been a subscriber or reader. But, hey, today’s price is right! And expensive magazines can afford to pay for good writing. I dig in.
I turn back the cover and my eyes fall upon a very slender woman dressed in a pair of…well, I’m not sure what to call them…Pants? Leggings? Tights? Spanx? Whatever they are, they cover her high-heeled shoes as well. They are…? Again, I am not sure what the word is for that color—somewhere on the spectrum of very old and worn cardboard boxes with the deep green Gucci logo all over. Complementing these, for a lack of proper vocabulary, these bottoms, is a long-sleeved shirred purple top with a thick diagonal red and black stripe. At the midriff is a large jewelry-like piece holding the shirring together. The outfit is accessorized with elbow-length metallic gold gloves, a purple #10 baseball cap, and a large dangling nose ring that covers the model’s lips. It hangs down like a long, thick, and sparkling booger. If I had more class, I would say, “a piece of dried nasal mucous.”
This is called high fashion. Perhaps that is because a person must be high in order to wear it. I come from the low place where young women match their purses to their shoes and jewelry only finds its way up the noses of curious toddlers who get expensive trips to the emergency room. I shake my head. I could never carry this off. I would be picked up immediately for prostitution, a mental health assessment, or a stay in a homeless shelter. My mind drifts to the image of a coffee cup I once saw in a Spencer’s gift catalog when I was still a high schooler. It featured a drawing by a kindergartner with the words: “Your face is ugly and your mother dresses you funny.”
But that’s the first page. Maybe the editor is just trying to get my attention. A few more pages in and I see an ad for Valentino. Three strikingly slender and beautiful people lounge on a red leather sofa. The female models are wearing what appear to be oversized blouses, but they don’t appear to be wearing pants. Perhaps in high society, pants are optional.
I study a multi-page ad for a high-fashion line of purses, something I understand. The bags look sturdy and reasonable, but reasonable ends at the price tag. They run from $328 a piece to $568. Since the price is shown for each bag, I am assuming that, in the Vogue circle, these are considered a real bargain. But I cannot afford the purse or a security detail to follow me around just to protect my bag.
I continue flipping pages. I see an ad for a skin care line I’ve never heard of. It is a two-page spread. The left page features a picture of the very fit and handsome founder and CEO. How come he gets to wear pants? And not just pants, but some comfortable blue jeans and a plain old white t-shirt? He looks handsome instead of ridiculous. I check him out online. If I stick with him, I can remove my eye make-up for $30.00 which is more than my monthly water bill. This makes me think he can afford a better t-shirt.
The next article is about “fringe benefits.” The fringe is four-inch eyelashes “for everyone.” Apparently, eyelashes are “rewriting the rules of who gets to be glamorous.” Uh-oh! More bitter confirmation that I am not in that club either. Even if I wanted to be a member, I would have to trade my vision for glamour. I would not be able to fit my glasses over those lashes. Perhaps it is true at a certain level of society that “men never make passes at girls who wear glasses,” but I’ve grown partial to my eyesight. I favor it over fringe benefits.
Another article describes a new class of at-home devices that lift, smooth, de-puff, re-plump, and revive pandemic-weary complexions. This silver bullet we’ve all been waiting for costs $2,499.00, but don’t think that will save the female consumer from the need for micro-current…and you do also have to be “reasonable” in your expectations: “No device can turn back the clock.” Well, maybe not, but it can certainly set back the 401(k).
Now in a low mood, I close the book on high fashion. It is confirmed: I do not own the right bag; I am not glamorous; I cannot afford silver bullets. But I sulk only for a moment because those are not the things I wish for or dream about.
I return to my familiar magazines, to my life of soap and water--sans electric current, and I put on some pants.