I am flipping through magazines.
I should explain.
I have this piece of poster board on my wall covered in random images torn from magazines, newspapers, old calendars, and so on. It is my Visualization Board. It is supposed to keep what I want in life constantly visible to me and on my mind, the idea being that you get what you focus on. So far I don’t have a Scottish castle or a Ducati Superbike or Liam Neeson, but I am sticking with it.
So I am flipping through fashion magazines. I hardly ever do this because it is demoralizing. I tell myself, "Don't read, don't focus. Just look for details, little details – things you can cut out and put on your board, images that symbolize love and kindness and family and faith and creativity and good times."
I do not find any of these images. Well, I take that back. I find three very small things, after 400 pages of glossy full-color madness. These three tiny images were not worth the bile I am choking on at the moment.
First, a special Vogue supplement called “Fashion Rocks!,” with J-Lo on the cover. Up-and-coming models pose with their favorite bands. In the section that disgusts me most grievously, a gaggle of leggy supermodels pose in page after page of bony tableaux, each spread representing a different musical genre.
"Punk" is my favorite: here are seven skeletal nineteen-year-old girls, each making several thousand dollars an hour, decked out in ripped fishnets and a great deal of plaid clothing that is supposed to look distressed and authentic but which actually costs about eight hundred dollars per item. They have had their makeup and wigs – my favorite is the two-foot Mohawk strapped on over a girl's peroxide-blonde ponytail – professionally applied, and they have been told by the photographer or the production designer or whoever to look surly and vicious. Their legs are spread, their spines curved, in disdain, and they are trying very hard to look anarchistic or apathetic – one even manages to stick her tongue out – but instead they look like what they are: children playing pretend, making a mockery of a movement that once meant something to working class kids.
The "goth" spread is almost as bad; it features the same models, looking how Siouxsie Sioux would have looked if she'd had a lot more money in 1979 and the means with which to drape her backyard in black gauze and lie about with wolves. That's right, wolves. Somebody rented wolves for the shoot. They look bored.
Meanwhile, on another page, Sean Lennon is frolicking with something called an "it girl" (there are a lot of those in this magazine) and on yet another page a model is demonstrating how you can capture Janis Joplin's soulfulness and spirit by choosing the right sort of shaggy coat.
I'm glad I came across this magazine, because I used to think it was David Bowie's music that made him an icon, not his orange hair and pale skin and fedora. And I'm also really glad that I know how to dress like Debbie Harry and Marianne Faithfull. I used to think that the whole point was being yourself – which is, after all, what made Marianne and Debbie's styles interesting in the first place – but apparently it is not about that at all. It is about how the right combination of skirt and tunic can make you look like Stevie Nicks, only better.
However, upon closing the pages of this magazine, I still feel a little too good about myself, so I open up Bazaar's fall fashion issue, featuring Kate Hudson on the cover, looking like a little girl playing dress-up. The first two hundred or so pages are nothing but ads. By the time I have finished looking at these ads, I feel like my handbag collection is terribly inadequate. Nevertheless, I plunge on, and I am sorry I did. Scarlett Johannson is everywhere. She is very beautiful, but is this so important? I ponder this.
I come upon an article about Courtney Love. Apparently everyone started hating her because she wore a Chanel knock-off to Paris Hilton's birthday party. I feel stupid for being so far behind the times. Here I was hating her because she is a foolish and repugnant woman, when all the time I could have been hating her for her clothes. She appears naked on one page, but in dim lighting. In the three photos, you never get to see her face, I would imagine because she has paid plastic surgeons to disfigure it beyond recognition. Throughout the interview, she talks about clothes a lot, and mentions over and over how cool it is that she is no longer a size 8. She talks about how she was unable to be anybody in the fashion world as a size 8. Everyone accepts her now, because she is a size 4 or whatever, and because the Chanel guy forgave her for the fashion faux-pas. She fired the assistant who told her that dress was real, and now her life is okay again. She can hold her head up high in public, assuming of course that she is physically capable of holding her head up.
I am flipping faster now. I am no longer concerned with cutting out images for my Visualization Board. There is nothing in here that I want. Occasionally I see a pair of cool shoes, but the amount of attention that is paid to the shoes makes me loathe to cut them out. They are not just shoes, you see. They are something more, much more. I flip even faster. A shiny top and gray trousers will take you from day to evening. Keep your quilted bags but opt for a glossy black piece this season. The talk of the runways is tailored; you can't have too many turtlenecks. Invest in a hip-length cape. Sarah Jessica Parker's new perfume is named after the least interesting of the seven deadly sins (Covet) and a Manhattan socialite talks about juggling motherhood, charity work, and shopping (her secret: two nannies).
I understand that we as humans have an aesthetic sense. We like what is beautiful, what attracts us by its form and content. I mean, Scarlett Johannson is very beautiful, but: so what? Those shoes are really cool, but: so what? Louis Vuitton bags are apparently beautifully made and stuff: so what?
It's not fashion that bothers me, the idea of making yourself look as lovely as you can just for the sake of it – I appreciate art in all its forms. It is pretension, coupled with elitism, that makes the whole thing so repulsive. There is no "otherness" in these magazines. You are thin and tall and rich or you are nothing. Period. Nothing. You are not invited in.
This is what we worship. More Americans read magazines than any printed material, even more than newspapers. This is where we get our values: shiny, expensive, gorgeous, decadent, rich, famous, modern, cool, edgy, young. These words have replaced faith, hope, love, charity, kindness, warmth, family, friends. These are the new values—how much your stuff costs, how much you own that is new and "cool," how many people recognize you, how many clubs you can get into without having to wait in line, what film director you sat next to at that bistro in Tribeca.
I feel sorry for the people in these magazines, and I feel sorry for the people who buy into what they see in these magazines. They are going to wake up one day and realize that they are 56 years old, they have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on things that mean nothing, and they are still going to die one day. They are going to die in a suite at Cedars Sinai, wearing a Gaultier kimono, but they are still going to die, and everyone at their funeral will be looking at what everyone else, including the corpse, is wearing, and dabbing at their plastic faces with couture hankies.
I will die fat and happy in my bed at home, in my Wal-Mart pee-jays, surrounded by people I love, people who do not care if I am a size 8 or 18. To me there is nothing more shiny, expensive, or gorgeous than that.