What’s In My Bag

Self-induction into the sisterhood of women’s magazines is the same thing as writing for one, probably.

Self-induction into the sisterhood of women’s magazines is the same thing as writing for one, probably.

By Susan Anspach

Illustration by Matt Mignanelli

Sometimes, something regional magazines can be guilty of is tittering behind the backs of “women’s” magazines.

Nothing blatantly catty. If a regional magazine runs into a women’s magazine at a middle-school party, she’s not going to rig the next round of Seven Minutes In Heaven so that the women’s magazine ends up locked in the closet with her blood-relative cousin—but she might rig it so she ends up with her second blood-relative cousin.

That’s because, according to something somebody wrote on a wall of a women’s magazine bathroom one time, women’s magazines have the tendency to be tired. Uninventive. Lazy. You can pick up a women’s magazine from 2004 and never know the difference after you’ve scribbled Lindsay Lohan’s hair yellow with a marker, or blacked out the per-gallon rates in all the photos of stars pumping gas. If the bathroom graffiti’s to be believed, that type of publication relies on the same spin cycle of articles: The “Who Wore It Best.” (Leggy one; It’s the leggy one.) The “Most Dramatic Makeovers.” (Bronzer, a high belt.) The “Miracle Food You’ve Never Heard Of.” (The only miracle food I’ve never heard of is one that eats you.)

Still, you can’t so much as buy a pack of gum without walking past a parade of women’s mags spilling over themselves to give us the best celebrity sex tips and Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy spray-tan brand. And I’ll give you this, women’s magazines: big ups for effort. Your SoCal punctuation, overconfidence and garish color palettes have really paid off; if I ever run into Jessica Simpson on the street, there’s no chance I’ll recognize her without someone else running alongside her, throwing fistfuls of confetti in shades hot pink and blue.

While regionals may not exactly stand tall among the stalwarts of spray tans and sex tips, as fellow magazines, we’re in conversation with them; and women’s magazines, I want you to know that I’m listening. In the spirit of sisterhood, I hear you when you tell me to check out this week’s crazy teen mom hairstyles (so crazy!). I do intend to click through your Nicki Minaj wig photo gallery. I will provide my opinion as to who should replace Jennifer Lopez on “American Idol.”

This is me, women’s magazines, extending a hand—but it takes two to shake on it.

After all, I’m a woman, and I write for a magazine. Don’t you want to know my top summer nail trends? The sexy maternity styles I spot on the street? Don’t I get a voice in all of this? I think I do, because I’m not saying I know something about you and your second blood-relative cousin, but I’m not not saying I know something about you and your second blood-relative couin.

Make room, women’s magazines. I’m adding in.

What’s In Our Bags
So your expectations aren’t dashed when you realize I came up with this list by literally dumping the contents of my bag on the ground and not trotting off to Sephora with the company card and a stylist, here’s what’s presently not in my bag:

Two novels that won the 2011 National Book and PEN/Faulkner Awards.

A tube of “lip stain” that cost $24 because it has a name like bitten.

An iPad cover made from sustainably forested recycled wood.

A fistful of Czech crowns that I must have forgotten to take out before I knew I was doing this feature and definitely didn’t hang onto because I wanted to give off the impression I was worldly.

None of that stuff. Here’s what’s in my bag, this very second. (To give you a visual, it’s blue with white stripes and small bleach stain that was on there when I bought it for half-off. I think I paid about 10 bucks.)

A CVS-brand hairbrush. I don’t think it’s won any awards. It’s colored gray.

A receipt from lunch I think I may have blown my nose into.

An unopened packet of tissues.

A fistful of pennies that are just plain old copper/zinc pennies. I don’t do anything quirky or adorable with them, like make bangles or increase the pH in soil for hydrangeas.

Celebrities—They’re Just Like Us!
Women’s magazines, moment of truth. Am I really to believe that you just happened to bump into Drew Barrymore at the Olive Garden last week? That you just stumbled upon Suri Cruise at the 7-11? So we can skip the ethics lecture, on “celebrity photo opps” versus “celebrities, Photoshopped,” why not clear the air with some context? Tell us which Olive Garden, and was there fresh pepper involved?

Women’s magazines, we want to believe you, but you’re like that friend who has a boyfriend “at another school,” and “at the other school,” he’s on the honor roll and all the varsity teams, which is why he’s so busy, which is why the rest of us can’t ever meet him. Also, that photo you carry of him in your wallet is thinner than your pack of propagandist lies.

I’ve only had one celebrity encounter to speak of, but at least I can back it up with stone-cold fact. Fact: In Richmond, summer 2006, I ran into Steve Carell at a breakfast buffet, went into a state of mild paralysis, did a weird heavy breathing thing for a solid two to four minutes while he ate his granola and tried not to look.

Now think: When was the last time you saw a photo of Steve Carell noshing on Nature Valley in a women’s magazine? Not since 2006, at least. Obviously I ruined that man’s appetite for crunchy breakfast foods for life. Now you know why. Now you can relate.

Quiz! How Many More Women’s Magazines Should We Buy to Be Deemed Valuable in the Estimation of women’s magazines?
That was a low blow, women’s magazines, and I apologize for it. Still, you can’t slap one of three labels onto every one of your readers and expect them all to skip happily off into their new pigeonholes of Royal Flirt, Bondservant Boy Toy and Village Idiot: What Are You, Allergic to Sex?

I’ve got a quiz for you.

In the school cafeteria, you spot a women’s magazine eating lunch by herself. Do you:

A) Turn back to your own conversation about politics, the shortcomings of America’s public schools, and other topics of “substantial” reportage.

B) Step atop the women’s magazine table and read aloud to the whole room from your less-than-kind-spirited column about women’s magazines.

C) Offer the women’s magazine a Frito-Lay, from your snack bag of Frito-Lays. (She probably won’t eat it because she thinks calories are bad for her pores, but at least you can say you made the gesture.) Besides, you really do want to know who’s replacing Jennifer Lopez on the upcoming season of “American Idol.” Maybe she’ll swap what she knows for a fistful of pennies, which she’ll know are so much more than pennies! Excellent for charm jewelry and soil-acid flux alike. If anyone can dress up the net worth of something of little value, it’s a so-called women’s magazine. Maybe there’s something to be said for that.

Follow City Sprawl on Twitter! @CitySprawlNVMag


(October 2012)