My question is: Should I renew my subscription to O, The Oprah Magazine?
I’m serious. And it’s not just about the money, although there is that. It’s about my head space and who I let into it.
My history with so-called “women’s magazines” is long, varied and fraught. I started reading Seventeen when I was 12. I was so infatuated with the teenage world I’d glimpsed that I borrowed stacks and stacks of back issues from the library and hauled them home in the back of a little red wagon. Digest that image for a moment. I was an innocent, but I wanted to be sophisticated, and in my preteen mind, Seventeen was the height of sophistication.
And on many levels it was a safe introduction to a more grown-up milieu. Friends and boyfriends and Fall Fashions(!). And even poetry. Yes, Seventeen had a poetry section back then, and it published the work of young writers. A year later, in fact, I submitted some of my poetry, and the magazine bought three of the poems and actually paid me for them. It was heady stuff–my first professional experience as a writer. When two of the poems (the magazine never published the third) were published some months later, I briefly became an extremely minor local celebrity, even causing mutterings from some of my peers. I was the object of envy! Me!
Yet there was a down side, and it was not inconsiderable. My exposure to images of beautiful, slender models was teaching me to become dissatisfied with my body, even as it was growing and changing. The summer of my 14th year I went on my first diet. I drank unsweetened tea, I ate dry toast, I biked a lot, and I took tennis lessons. I returned to school, a high school freshman, and a size 10, barely. Considering I was 5’8″ and still growing in every direction, it was a satisfying result to me, if not particularly healthy.
Before I turned 17, I graduated from Seventeen to Mademoiselle, to Glamour, Elle, and finally Vogue. I’ve since had subscriptions to Mirabella (which I still miss), Bust and More. (And I’ve certainly read others, though I never committed to a subscription. I had a longtime fascination with the Can This Marriage Be Saved? column in Ladies’ Home Journal, decades before I was ever married myself.)
I’m not sure when I connected my persistent sense of insecurity with my brother’s exasperated admonition that I read “too many fashion magazines.” But it began to dawn on me in my 20s that the notion that I was “not okay” partly sprang from the relentless and repetitive articles about losing weight, getting fit, having fun at parties, finding and properly applying makeup, discovering the “right” haircut for my face, and on and on. And though the fashions in Vogue were 100 percent ridiculous for my small-scale, small-income lifestyle, the assault of even that exotic book’s words and images probably shaped me in ways I’m still not aware of. After all, the women’s magazines aim to be “taste makers.” They set the standards for everything.
Cut to the recent past: I’d been nearly “off” fashion magazines for a few years when I got hooked on O. It started–as it often does–with an inexpensive year-long subscription. I loved seeing the glossy, colorful cover in my mailbox every month. I enjoyed all the book reviews, and many of the critics’ recommendations pointed me to delightful novels I might not have discovered on my own. The layouts of lovely if useless items like sleek place mats and brightly colored rubber watches made me salivate with desire. (I’m a sucker for a beautiful layout with a lot of white space.)
And every issue contains content about an important and serious issue–finding and cooking with sustainably harvested seafood; or an intriguing essay about a female author’s romance with a transman. The writing is often compelling and insightful, and I admire (and envy) many of the contributors.
On the other hand, every month without fail, the magazine delivers pages and pages of self-help. Because who doesn’t need some help with relationships, health, finances, diet, exercise, hormone replacement therapy, spirituality, or finding the “perfect” pair of jeans for a wide bottom?
I need all of that stuff–or, if I don’t now, I will someday soon. At the same time, I’m not sure I need it all, every month. And given my own tendencies toward self-analysis and obsession, I’m not sure it’s wise for me to allow Oprah and her self-helping helpers into my home 12 months a year. I don’t know if I want to spend quite so much time with Martha Beck, Dr. Phil, Suze Orman and the rest. Can I cull the good (those reviews of novels I want to know about) and leave the bad (the exhortation to create a vision map I don’t have time for)?
I’m just not sure.
What do you think? Should I renew my subscription to O? Or do you have another magazine to recommend? (Any Redbook readers out there?)