(originally pubished here http://vagendamag.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-mid-life-crisis-of-womens-magazines.html)
There comes a point in every woman’s life when she tires of reading about blow jobs (like, tell me something I don’t know) and yearns instead to read of paint jobs. The questions that keep you awake at night are no longer, What does he really think of my new leather hotpants? or, Is it possible the G-spot is just an elaborate con?, but rather, Should I paint my new sideboard duck egg blue or crushed biscuit beige?, and, Why can’t I get my home-made chutney to set?
For a while you carry on with your usual reading material – Glamour and Cosmo and Company, with an occasional side of Heat. But you know it’s not the same. They no longer fulfil you. You want something bigger, longer. A magazine that costs more than a Starbucks coffee. Then it happens. You pick up a copy of Easy Living at your mother-in-law’s (you have also somehow acquired a mother-in-law) and think – finally! The article on knitting your own pants that I’ve been waiting for! Those sensible navy trousers from Jigsaw look just the ticket! Wait, I’m not the only one with a raging crush on Jeremy Paxman? Congratulations, you’re now in the world of grown-up womags.
Understanding this marks a transition in your life. It’s a bit like that sad day, aged fourteen, when you realised you knew all the answers to the anguished questions posed by Sugar magazine, e.g Why does he ignore me at the bus stop? A: Because he’s a douche. Why is my friend so mean to me? A: Because she’s jealous. Also, she’s a douche. You’d graduated from the Junior High of Feminine Inadequacy and were ready for the next test. It was time to open your question paper and learn to worry about such things as: Should I let my boyfriend touch me down there? If I do, will I get pregnant? If I get pregnant, can I keep my Saturday job in Woolworth’s? What will happen if there’s a global recession and Woolworth’s ceases to exist? (No, even in our darkest hours we never worried about that. How horribly naive.)
Grown-up mags like Red, Easy Living, and Marie Claire are the Graduate School of Inadequacy. They need to be smart to catch us out. We’ve come up via Bunty to Sugar to Mizz to Cosmo and shaken off those anxieties (e.g Does my scrunchie match my socks? I snogged Phil at the bus stop, will I get syphilis? etc, etc.) We’ve mastered the dialectic of empowerment. We know it doesn’t matter if we stay home on Saturday nights and watch Mad Men instead of downing Rohypnol cocktails in a dodgy backstreet club in SoHo. We know that if a man doesn’t call, he’s Just Not That Into You, and we don’t really care. Surely no magazine can make us feel bad, awesome liberated women that we are, who can drive and use eye-liner and understand how the stock exchange works? (OK, I can’t, but I’m pretty sure someone else has got that covered).
I was initially delighted to find these magazines. They dealt with interesting topics for the mature woman – cooking not cunnilingus, furniture not fingering. Holidays, decoration, family, gardens, books. They know not everyone wants to spend five grand on a skirt (take note, Glamour). But gradually I realised that I was reading them with a little notebook, so I could write down all the new things I now needed to worry about. We were way past the ‘does he like me/if not, why not?’ school of worry. Inadequacy could now be found in the simplest everyday acts. To prove my point, here is my list from my last perusal of such a magazine.
–If I occasionally eat a burger, will I dry up and age overnight like the dude at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? I didn’t realise it before I read these helpful magazines, but every food I’m eating is likely to cause cancer/give me wrinkles/make me barren. Avocados are now a source of deep anxiety. Do I eat enough? Is eating sufficient, or should I be smearing them on my hair/face/nether regions? Does guacamole count? Should I paint my sideboard a shade of avocado? And so on. See also green tea. It tastes like rancid grass, but since the deluge of articles linking it to everything from smoother skin to cloning dinosaurs, I feel I should start drinking it. Or maybe put it on my hair?
-Are his sperm Just Not That Into Me? In my twenties, I thought the only food that could possibly cause pregnancy was the suspicious late-night kebab I had after ten pints of Snakebite. But I was wrong. Apparently, there’s a whole conception diet we ought to be following, and guess what, it seems to involve a lot of avocados (does someone out there have shares in these things?) Such articles reflect the subtle shift in the anxiety market as you move from your twenties to thirties. Should you be pregnant by now? What if all your eggs have dried out and died willingly with small subsonic cries of ‘that’s it, we give up!’? You begin to lose confidence in sperm. You spent your twenties imagining them bearing down upon your cervix like a ravening horde, but now you wonder if in fact they’re wandering about your uterus, as lost as a tour group in Leicester Square. Did they even bother to leave the testes, or was there a marathon of Men Behaving Badly on Dave? Would your uterus be more inviting if you accessorised it up with home-knitted cushions?
–Do I need more sperm on my face? I’m 30. I don’t use face cream and I still get ID’ed in Sainsbury’s. Should I be paying £150 for a pot of something made of whale sperm? Is it really good to rub sperm on your face? (Clearly, there are some crossovers with the magazines of your twenties.) Should I rub avocados on instead? If I do, will I get pregnant?
–What do your cushions say about you? Ah, the decoration articles. The grown-up equivalent of the free posters in Just Seventeen, except once you’re past sixteen it’s not OK to have pictures of topless boy bands in your bedroom (apparently). A rich vein of inadequacy, provoking questions such as: Do I need to get a sideboard and paint it myself? What if I already quite like the colour? In that case should I deliberately make it look crap, like with a blow torch or something? You must also never ‘buy’ your interior furnishings. You must ‘source’ them. ‘Darling, I’m off out to source a new light bulb, this one’s blown.’ ‘That’s nice, darling. I remember the days when I was blown.’ ‘Sorry, I don’t have time, these cushions won’t knit themselves, you know.’ In this manner you may possibly keep up with the hat designer/accessories buyer/retired model whose house they have profiled (and probably decorated themselves) in the magazine. You can also worry about why your house is so much dirtier than hers, even though she claims to have four children called Miffy, Ophelia, Jago, and Tarquin.
–Should I be dressing up more to do the school run? I’m a freelance writer and as such I tend to accessorise with biscuit crumbs, dog hair, and free-floating despair, but I now know I must instead go around in knee-boots, gilets, and ‘statement’ jewellery. The only statement my clothes usually make is ‘could get a second job as a bag lady.’ Big mistake. There is also the slight problem of not actually having any children. (See previous anxiety). If I were to use avocados/sperm to their full advantage and finally acquire a child of the school-age variety, I would then have to compete with other mums, fashion-wise, at the school gates (it’s never dads. Despite paying lip service to feminism and equality and loving ourselves, this article is still about feeling inadequate if you pick up your kids in a tracksuit.)
–What does my husband think about my sideboard? These magazines thrive on articles which fail the ‘who gives a fuck’ test, i.e. if you could replace the entire article by scrawling those four words over the page instead. Past gems include: What does your husband think of your wardrobe? What does your husband think of the fact you didn’t take his name? What does your husband think about avocados? I would suggest many of these Level 5 Anxiety Questions could be answered thus: ‘He doesn’t. He is thinking about his fantasy football team/something in real life that makes some sort of logical sense.’
To summarise, the womags have failed to come up trumps in the ‘not tearing your life apart with insecurities’ stakes. Things I now worry about: the antioxidants in green tea. Sideboards. Husbands. Gilets. When it’s time to have just a small touch of Botox. Cushion covers. School runs. Our ovarian reserve. The aching void in our lives that used to be filled with booze and bonking, and is now only assuaged with antique fairs and vintage Cheddar. The existential fear that we didn’t have enough fun in our youth. The knowledge that every day moves us closer to death (actually, this one was just a wild card slipped in from Sartre.)
In other words, does Easy Living make living any easier? Au contraire, my friends. Au contraire.