Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mental Health Magazines

An old boyfriend once idly ran his finger against the edges of a magazine on my nightstand and looked amused.

"Fashion magazines," I said, a bit defensive.  "Beauty magazines.  I love them, ok?"

"But to what end?" He asked. 

"They just make me happy, "  I rolled my eyes, because if we were going to start talking about to what end I did things, we were going to have to rethink the entire relationship.

I read about Cathy Alter's new book, Up for Renewal: what magazines taught me about love, sex and starting over.  I haven't read it, but it sounds like an Eat, Pray, Love-style how-I-changed-my life with a zany but earnest, year-long-project book, which is a genre I enjoy.  I read some snarky reactions to the book, and was not at all surprised that people consider girly magazines far too vapid and insidious to change any one's life in a good way.

Once I was walking in the city with a friend who said she felt scattered and on the verge of a panic attack.  I saw a newsstand suggested we buy a stack of dumb magazines and go relax in a coffee shop for a while.  She was not at all in the habit of reading them, and looked wary.  Didn't I think they would make the situation worse, she asked.  Aren't these the magazines that erode people's body images and make everyone feel inadequate?  

For me they mildly promote mental health; I just zone out and enjoy all the pretty pictures.  Instead of developing an inferiority complex over the jewelery, couture dresses, and vacations that don't belong to me, I feel more like, I could wear my hair like that;  I could go there, I could have that pretty thing.  Like I am browsing through an upscale life catalog.  I'm not sure my friend S ended up agreeing with me, but ever since that day we've referred to the publications as Mental Health Magazines.  

Recently, I've noticed that some others do seem to agree.  Surely, you've noticed the Law of Attraction fad that's swept the nation with the help of The Secret and Oprah.  I keep coming across articles in that vein that recommend making a "vision board" or "treasure map" by tearing out pictures from magazines of the life you want and the person you want to be.  (I suspect that Oprah shows up in a lot of these collages).  I had never thought about it in new-agey terms, but I believe there is an element of truth to it.  Sure the magazines can be very junky.  Like candy.  Candy* has no nutritional value, but the joy you get eating it is real.

*Here in the Berkshires, my friend M and I held a late-night raid on the hotel vending machine.  I gleefully chose bull's eye caramels, a treat I hadn't come across since I used to eat them at the town pool as a child.  I forced one on M, and after likening the cream center to "Crisco, literally," she discarded the rest of her share.  I couldn't argue.  It was disgusting, but I loved it so much that I think it turned into something good for me.