February 23rd, 2012
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: email@example.com
Buying a magazine was not just about reading what was inside, after all — it was also an opportunity to define yourself by its niche, and to be influenced by the tastemakers who created it. And so if you read Vogue you were a certain kind of woman; if Cosmo, another. But all of these magazines, if they had a visual component, sold something. Not just through their advertisements, but through their features and editorials. Sometimes they sold actual things, like clothes, makeup, books, accessories, and home goods. But the products were often astronomically priced, far out of reach for most people. Though the magazine layouts featured salable goods, mostly they sold a lifestyle. They sold feelings and beliefs, ideals and values. They sold romance, and they sold dreams.
Like many of you, I grew up reading women’s magazines. There was a brief golden period of frequent flier miles when you could trade in miles for magazine subscriptions. Through this I got Vanity Fair, Vogue, Food and Wine, and InStyle delivered to my house at one time or another. I supplemented these with a heavy rotation of grocery-store impulse buys: Jane was my favorite, but I’d settle for Seventeen or Cosmopolitan in a pinch. (I still have all of these magazines shoved into a closet in my parents’ house. It’s a surprisingly comprehensive timeline of the decline of women’s magazines, from 1998 to 2004.)
By the time I was in high school, the way I would read these was almost formulaic. I’d settle down in front of the television, rewatching a Julia Roberts movie, and I would tear an entire magazine apart. I might give it a quick scan first, but the point of having the magazine was to cut it into pieces. I’d rip out interesting articles from time to time, but it was far more important to tear out pictures: fashion shoots, travel destinations, interior design, food porn. Pull-quotes overlaid prettily on charming photos of Europe. Advertisements and original content were equally interesting, if they caught the eye. When the process was over, the magazine was just binding, glue, and discarded images. I’d harvested what was most important into a pile of my own pictures, which often included the cover.
Very representative of the type of advertisement I would pull from a magazine. (Fatima Siad for BCBG Max Azria)
In my experience, the girls I knew had different ways of handling their hoard of clips. Some might go into scrapbooks or inside lockers. I knew some people who would modge-podge magazine cutouts onto their class notebooks. My clippings went on my walls. I’d never thought about it this way before, but you could even argue that I had different boards, because different sections of my room were devoted to different topics. There was a whole section of anime, of course. In high school, the wall over my dresser became a Hollywood board, with movie stars and stills from film. The back of my door ended up becoming eye-catching magazine photography. My closet doors were almost entirely interesting advertisements. I had a few smaller collections: people who I thought looked like fictional characters, the Backstreet Boys, the Lord of the Rings (yikes). I even had a whole section from bridal magazines. Neither the clipping nor the organizing itself was well thought-out. In fact, the more I did think it through, the less my clips meant to me. I was looking for something, and I found it in that moment.
What was I looking for? It could have been anything, really. The way a dress draped over a model’s body. Black-and-white photos of starlets in exotic locales. Interesting one-page columns, like “How to dress like Alias’ Sydney Bristow” or “Silver bracelets from around the world.” “57 Things Every Woman Should Know” — written by a man, of course. Candid photographs of Johnny Depp. Stills from my favorite movies. I was looking for photos, layouts, or quotes that would strike a chord within me — that would resonate with some romantic idea of who I wanted to be. Because I was 15 or 16 when I was going through these magazines, when I saw a photo of a model ascending an airstair wearing a voluminous Michael Kors violet gown, I knew that someday my life would look like that. I wasn’t sure how or when, but it was very clear to me that this vision of femininity was what I wanted. It was the same feeling I got watching Friends or listening to Enya (double yikes) or reading Marian Keyes books. A vision of being an older, more capable woman, financially comfortable, drinking cocktails and going on dates and decorating my apartment in Manhattan.
Fast-forward ten years, and the realities of the economy and rents in Manhattan made much of this vision not true. But that was okay. Because magazines were so passé, anyway. This packaged lifestyle they were selling us — whose life was that, really? Could anyone afford any of these clothes? Was anyone so privileged as to be walking up an airstair in a Michael Kors gown at the age of 22? Was it even possible to clamber up those stairs in a ball gown? As I grew up, magazines could no longer sustain those lifestyle fantasy.