I wrote this some 6 years ago…
I’ve never really liked beauty magazines. I never liked magazines at all, really, because when I used to spend a few hours perusing them, I’d end up feeling a bit disgusting, like I’d just eaten two entire meals comprised of nothing but gumdrops: time had passed, but had passed in an utterly useless way. (This, in fact, is one of my biggest hang-ups: I can’t stand to feel as though I’m wasting time. I worship efficiency, and as a result, I am most depressed when I can’t think of anything valuable to do with my time. I choose my daily activities, subconsciously of course, on a sort of value point system: the more points I earn in a given day, the better I feel about myself. It used to be that studying ranked above darn near everything else, but now that studying does not accomplish anything quantifiable — there’s no grade that I’m working towards – studying is no longer worth nearly as much. This has upset my point system quite substantially, and as a result, I got very depressed when I first got out of school. I had nothing to replace it with, and so I saw the cure to my depression to be — but of course! — another degree program.)
Beauty magazines do the same thing, I think, but in a more obvious way than my point system (or more obvious to me, anyway): ostensibly selling mere clothing and makeup, the magazines are really selling an entire life. It’s about beauty and glamour… but then again, it’s not, because beauty and glamour are not the ends in themselves. I can remember nights when I thought I looked perfect, and several of those were (for independent reasons) some of the most miserable nights of my life. In fact, I had tried so hard to look perfect on those nights because it was the one thing I could control; I was really trying to affect external events by how I looked, and it could not be done. What does the beauty magazine say? Try harder. Buy this shade of lip gloss, and everyone will want you. If you just buy these clothes, you, too, can look like this woman; but, no, there’s a deeper message: you can have her life, this life of romance and adventure promised only to those with a poreless complexion. It’s what I try to do with my efficiency game, only a different tack on the same problem. It’s all about control. Arranging for the life you want, which (let’s face it) will always elude you, sometimes lingering tantalizingly close, so close that you think you’ll have it if you just reach out one more time, and sometimes slipping through your fingers so effectively and with such finality that you abandon all hope and reach for the tub of Ben and Jerry’s (if you’re most girls) or a mocha and a nearby journal (if you’re me).
I had a bad day today. Most of it was in my head, but I felt the need to go be alone with God, and for some inexplicable reason, I felt the urge to buy a beauty magazine. Why? I’m still not sure. I was re-watching “Elizabethtown”, one of my now-favorite movies, and flipping through “Elle”, and searching for something, but for something that I knew could not be found there. It’s almost ridiculous, the contrast between high fashion magazines like that and the real world, where people wear sweatpants to the grocery store (uh, me included) and don’t even bother to hide their flaws because they’ve come to the point of either acceptance or resignation. The images in magazines like that awaken desires that they cannot fulfill — desires to be that beautiful, sure, but more than that, because I know that that wouldn’t be enough, wouldn’t come nearly close to what it is that I’m actually seeking.
And what is that? Life as it’s meant to be, of course – a world where everyone really is that beautiful, where youth springs eternal and girls twirl barefoot in the waves of the ocean in the arms of their dearest love, where everyone is elegant and wealthy (and HAPPY as a result – the message is really about happiness,) a world where every moment is spent and spent well, where there is purpose and fulfillment in our every activity, where we are doing precisely what we are meant to do. And so the covers of these magazines promise things like “get gorgeous in 30 days!”, “win back your ex!”, “take control of your life!”, “lose that flab!”, and “land your dream job!” And it works; people buy, because writers are playing on one of the most universal truths about mankind.
We are all searching for heaven.