Over the weekend a friend sent me a link to the New York Times article “Finding Satisfaction in Second Best.” It’s a compelling interview with Debra Spar about her new book ”Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.”
Debra Spar is endorsing a concept called “Satisficing” or settling for second best. The argument is that second best is often pretty damn good. We don’t have to be the best at everything. In fact, we can’t and it’s bound to end in misery. So yay! Be exceptional without being the best!
Who wants to be the best at making themselves crazy? Well… me.
I want to be the best Ciaran I can be. The thinnest, prettiest, healthiest, wealthiest, best entertaining, best decorating, most well traveled, most well read, most financially savvy, cleanest eating and best housekeeping version of Ciaran.
Excuse me as I cast on some hand spun yarn for a sweater I probably won’t finish.
This is the problem. I really can’t research, conceive, plan and do it all. Like Debra Spar I’ve given up on several of my aspirations. I will never be a room mom again. I didn’t even join the PTSO at one of my four kids’ schools this year. I’m not-so-secretly relieved my kids aren’t sporty so I don’t have to go to games and practices on top of all the other crap I do. I forfeit and “Surrender Dorothy” when it comes to my drumstick shaped thighs.
Does second best me = #FAIL?
It’s hard to accept second best, particularly when you’re not second best to some celebrity with a spectacular support system. It’s worst when you are second best to some unrealistic time-and-money-are-no-object projection of yourself.
So why are we so driven? Are magazines making us crazy or do we do it to ourselves?
Debra points a finger at the magazines. Not just the oft criticized women’s magazines that promise us thinner! sexier! richer! now! on a monthly basis. She’s taking exception with shelter magazines as well. The quest for perfection is not limited to personhood. It’s your home, your diet, your vacation, your everything.
Men’s magazines, she suggested, aren’t pushing this same call to perfection.
This made me wonder. I’m a magazine addict. I see right through the headlines in the beauty rags and read them anyways. It never occurred to me that House Beautiful was possibly giving me a complex. And I’ve never examined the headlines on men’s mags. So I headed to the supermarket checkout where my first revelation was huge, and yet not shocking. Practically all the magazines on sale WERE women’s magazines.
The men’s mags definitely had a different vibe. Compare and see!
I may have to settle for second best Ciaran, but something still makes me keep dreaming of and striving for the first place me. Scroll through to see which magazines I ended up coming home to cuddle up and satisfice with.
Are Magazines Making us Crazy? 1 of 19
This is life in the checkout aisle. From clean eating to productive parenting, we are barraged with messages at how we can win at every aspect of life. Cautionary tales peek out from the tabloids. I set out to document the difference between women's and mens' magazines.
Right From The Start 2 of 19
I cannot think of a time when a woman is more vulnerable that during pregnancy. The stakes are higher. You must make your perfect home perfectly safe. The wrong kind of sandwich could kill and you'd better take better care of the planet if you want your kid to have a future.
Have More Fun 3 of 19
Debra Spar also mentioned that the focus in men's mags was more about having a good time and I think this cover illustrates that. There's a mix of news and fun stuff. Good coffee at home? Yay! Beach getaways? Sure! Bikes and hikes? You betcha!
"Men’s" Health? 4 of 19
I just don't see my man buying this for himself. Maybe it defies the dude magazine rule but based on placement smack dab in the middle of the women's mag section, next to the almost identical women's issue, I got the feeling that this magazine is meant to be bought by well meaning women, for their dudes.
Are we Healthy Yet? 5 of 19
Does this cover look familiar? Yup. It's pretty much the same as the Men's Health version. Less stress, better sex. Swap gut for boobs and thighs for hair loss and Pink for Joseph Gordon Levitt and you basically have the same cover.
Fashion for the People 6 of 19
Kudos to Marie Claire for bucking the competitive trend. There is something refreshingly egalitarian about this cover. Products chosen by the people for the people? Practically communist! Plus, isn't it a relief to know that your zip code that's making you fat? It's not your fault! I'm subscribing.
Portrait of the American Man’s Magazine 7 of 19
Here we have an assortment of men pictured. Many ages, stages, colors, sizes. Unshaven and wrinkled even. A portrait of "who we are". When was the last time I saw a mosaic like this on a popular mainstream women's magazine? Never.
But Now I’m Sad 8 of 19
Here's what being female today is all about: Worrying about being cheated on and losing five lbs . Glamour is giving you 367 ways to transform everything about yourself. How can you still be ugly after 367 attempts? In your spare time you can try on 50 outfits , get some "awesome" life advice and possibly outwit cancer. This cover is like a frenemy that gives you back handed compliments while spilling a drink on you.
Cheap, Fun, Simple, NOT 9 of 19
I'm onto you Martha. I've got boxes and drawers of expensive craft supplies for "simple" holiday decor projects that ended in #fail tweets. Still... I like that someone, somewhere, actually made these things without needing stitches.
Effortlessly Having it All 10 of 19
Why do I love a magazine about shopping? I love stuff. To me stuff is personal and has meaning. Even when it is not my stuff. I like the stories behind the designs, the care that goes into creation. I like to hear how someone saved for a special item. I adore the carefully preserved beauty of a grandmother's favorite dress that was the inspiration for a designer collection. Take all that care away and it's blech. Conspicuous consumption. If having it all is so effortless, then "it all" loses meaning.
Disclosure: And yet I'm still wondering what the editor tested clear skin fix was.
Balance. Ba Ha Ha! 11 of 19
I love Drew, but if I see another headline about a new mom celeb talking about "Babies, Beauty and Balance?" I hear screechy sounds whenever that word is applied in print to a famous new mom. Drew looks fabulous, doesn't she? I'd much rather read about her clothes, or her acting and directing work than some bs about "balance".
Be Your Bad Self 12 of 19
So what we have here on this decidedly marketed-at-men magazine are book reviews, movie reviews, pop culture commentary, photo essays, political interviews and some travel stuff. No self help! Huh.
Kate is blowing that candle out for the man that buys this magazine. It doesn't matter if he's fat or balding. Huh.
Immediately after I set this back on the news stand I searched for a smart magazine with a cover of Ryan Gosling in some boxers, holding a container of Talenti gelato and a tiny spoon. I couldn't find it.
The Beat Goes On 13 of 19
I want Elle to be like Vanity Fair. Look they have Kate Upton too! But between the lines are the same old adjectives ending in "est." Prettiest, best. We aim to be BEST. To win.
Vogue Leans In 14 of 19
Having it all again... From Marisa Mayer to Jennifer Lawrence to The Wedding of the Year. And 700 MILLION views? Who is this blogger? She's perfect right. She's winning?
I'm setting down the mag and satisficing here. Real hard.
Note to SELF 15 of 19
Shakira is not a human being. She got those abs from her alien creator on the Planet Zzyxxx. They can make your legs longer and leaner there, but first you'll have to have your memory wiped. At which point you will be instantly inspired and believe you can do anything!
My orthodontist has a subscription. If I read it there, it doesn't count, does it?
Better Light 16 of 19
Redbook's cover seems a little more jaded. Like it's wagging a finger at me and saying "Honey, you probably should put a little something away for retirement before you buy another face cream or take another trip to Home Goods."
It’s Complicated 17 of 19
Real Simple magazine is one of the ones that Debra Spar seemed to refer to as escalating our expectations. The gorgeously organized spaces in this magazine are often out of my reach. They require specialty paints that are a bazillion bucks a gallon.
It doesn't matter. I like leafing through this magazine like junkies like their crack. It's perfect escapism and every once in while there's an idea I can execute or a recipe that I try that actually works.
Sailing Into the Sunset of Perfection 18 of 19
Even Sunset Magazine has gone the route of Easy, Best, Bargain. Life, at least for women, has become a competitive sport.
My Guilty Pleasure 19 of 19
I bought these.
- I cannot resist Real Simple, any more than I can resist gelato and a tiny spoon (I'm not actually a Ryan Gosling fan as it turns out).
- I got a local mag for the lists of places to try
- I fell for the Halloween costume inspiration mag because I love to make costumes and often refer to other projects.
- The HGTV one is for ideas how to spruce up my home before we sell it.
Those were my choices. I'm hoping they won't make me crazier than I already am!