Monday, November 16, 2009

The Chicken or the Egg?

Is it just me or does every women's magazine from Parents and Family Circle to Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan feature the same articles over and over again?

They all fall into 8 basic categories.

1. The Five Minute Health or Beauty Tips. This is the part of the magazine that shares such valuable nuggets as: "Don't have time to work out? Lug out that vacuum and give your carpets a good cleaning! It could work off up to 100 calories and as a bonus, your house will be clean!" Also, "We all want to take care of our skin, but who has time? Our experts give you the 5 MUSTS for healthy skin!" (article will then proceed to detail a nightly skincare routine that takes $50 worth of creams and 30 minutes a night).

2. Recipes. They will all be some variation on chicken and pasta with an added ethnic spice ("Spicy Saffron Rice Bowl!")or some type of disgusting looking mini-pizza ("You can't get much simpler than an English muffin with Spaghetti-O's and spinach! Your kids will beg for seconds on these fun (and healthy!) little pizzas!")

3. Kids Say the Darndest Things/Revolting and Humiliating Tales. In mommy magazines like Parents and Women's Day, it's the former. You know, "My Aunt Linda came over for Thanksgiving dinner and my four year old son, Java (always an ambiguous or feminine name for a boy) said "Mommy, why can't I put my teeth in a glass of water by my bed like Aunt Linda?" In the young women's magazines, it's the Revolting and Humiliating Tales, which I won't even put an example of because most of them are gross and involve people getting their period on things.

4. Household Organization. This section is all about stating the obvious. "Cut the clutter! Go through your closets, cabinets and garage. Take everything you don't need out for an impromptu yard sale! You'll clean your house and maybe even make enough to take your family out to dinner!" And often it includes the sneak sales pitch, "Stow your stuff! These colorful bins, $24 at The Great Indoors, are big enough to hold Johnny's soccer cleats AND class science project, plus they add sophistication and fun to your entryway!"

5. The Sob Story Article. This is the closest thing in a women's magazine to real journalism. Usually, this is a good, in-depth article that tells a story we often have already heard on CNN or read about in a paper or heard from a friend of a friend, but at least it's well-written and touching. For the mommy mags, autism, SIDS, dealing with divorce are classic topics. For the young women's mags, anorexia, alcoholism, and abusive relationships are common.

6. The More Light-hearted But Still Serious Article. As the holidays approach, the More Light-hearted But Still Serious Article will be Holiday themed- how to have a "simpler" holiday, avoid excessive materialism and credit card debt, and get along with relatives always works at this time of year. The rest of the year it will be articles on playdates, birthday parties, politeness, safety and enjoying motherhood for the mommy mags, blind dates, being single, being in a couple, weekend getaways for the YM's.

7. Sex. In the young women's magazines, this section is far more extensive, and gives plenty of quotes from 'real' men about what they REALLY want in bed, and what they think is attractive in a woman. In the mommy magazines, the poor men only get a page or two and the tone of them is a complete downer- "We know you don't feel attractive after nursing a newborn all night, but experts say sex will bring you and your spouse closer!" or "Take 5 minutes for sex!" - as if sex in any form would be a miracle.

8. Crafts That You Will Not Do. Halloween costumes you will not sew, cupcakes you will not bake, candlesticks you will not cover in glittery pipe cleaners, no matter how cool it looks in the picture. 'Nuff said.

Each magazine has between a year and two year's worth of material in each of the 8 Basic Categories, which are rotated and recycled over and over again, so that by the time you have subscribed to any of them for about 18 months, you already feel like you pretty much "get" everything any of them has to say.

That being said, I continue to read them. I usually flip right to the Household Organization category, as if simply by reading a couple of tips on how to organize that are more commonsense than anything else my house will suddenly be clean and organized. I sob over the Sob Story Articles. I sometimes even buy the materials for the Crafts I Will Not Do, even though I know I will not do them.

I can't figure out if it's because that's what they print, or if they print what I secretly want to read... I guess that's a chicken and egg question, like that of the Paparazzi. Are they worse for taking those pictures or are we worse for gawking at them? (I'll admit I wanted to read about ANGELINA'S LIES today while I was in line at Ralph's...)

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