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By Debbie Shave
We've all been there:
you're standing in the grocery store checkout line, waiting for the person
with the thirty-seven separate cans of cat food (and matching coupon for
each one) to complete his transaction so you can buy your eggs and get
on with your life. You look up from the semi-hypnotic motion of the conveyor
and there it is.
"Lose 10 Pound in 10 Days on Our Super Summer Diet."
Intrigued, you begin to reach for the magazine nestled in its wire rack. But another headline screams for your attention.
to Make Blueberry Cheesecake!"
A picture of a large, creamy wedge of cheesecake topped with freshly washed blueberries leers at you from behind the bright yellow caption.
Your hand hovers over this tantalizing image but a flash of hot pink from another publication catches your eye.
"Is Cheesecake Linked to Breast Cancer?" it asks solemnly. Is it, you wonder? Your hand darts to the new magazine but now you are helplessly reading the entire array of covers as fast as you can.
"My Boss Wants to Marry Me! How to Tell a Career Mistake from Opportunity."
"Single and Loving It Your Guide to Blissful One-ness."
"Never, Ever Be Alone Again - How to Get Your Children To Move Back Home."
"Fashion Musts - Wear These or Be a Social Leper."
"Your Style, Your Way You-nique Styles for a Unique "U"!"
"Anti-oxidant Brownie Recipe."
"Chocolate What You Don't Know."
Reeling, you purchase two, maybe three of the magazines. Or you buy the one that seems to promise the most information, the most help. Or the most cheesecake.
But what happens when the mind consumes so many seemingly contradictory messages in one sitting?
expert and headline analyst, Marilyn Barlette, is a professor at the Institute
for Supermarket Literature in Dayton, Ohio. She has made a career studying
the effect of tabloid newspapers, women's magazines, pocket astrology
guides and delicious cheesecake recipes on the lives of women. The findings
are grim: women's magazine covers are the leading cause of stress in American
"Say you have purchased only a single magazine," says Ms. Barlette. "Over the course of a week you read all the articles the diet, the recipes, the relationship quizzes, the career tips. And you feel pretty good because you think you've taken time to put some control in your life. And maybe make some nice desserts."
"But next week at that grocery line, there are new messages. The diet you were on is harmful. The clothes you bought last week are sooo last week. No one's eating cheesecake anymore. And then there are those exclamation points! I'm sorry exclamation points. Each exclamation point and completely capitalized word has been found to raise a person's blood pressure by HALF A POINT! Sorry half a point."
Lured and lulled by the pastel glow of friendly headlines, many women are helpless in the face of fonts such as humorous Comic Sans or confidence building Courier. And theirs aren't the only lives affected once the headline has hooked them.
"Magazine headlines promise a better life only to snatch it away next month." Ms. Barlette says, shaking her head sadly. "You end up with a woman with terrific abs and whiter teeth. But at what price? A husband and children fattened to the point of obesity on fabulous cheesecake, seven layer lasagnas and thrifty three-bean salad? An engagement broken off when this month's relationship quiz shows that a woman's fiancé scores four points less than "Perfect 4 U"?
"Next comes the purchase of magazines to find a new man, to whittle down the overweight kids. You can see how this vicious cycle rarely results in anything but frustration and guilt."
"Of course," concedes Ms. Barlette, "advances in cheesecake technology have been tremendous."
So what can you do when tempted by tantalizing headlines?
"It's O.K. to want to be "thin by Spring" or learn "what your throw pillows say about you." But a promising headline should be viewed with the same caution as store-bought sushi: it has a limited shelf life. Like changing your underwear, a new magazine cover should be viewed as refreshing, fun and unrestrictive."
Should you find yourself seriously questioning your lifestyle based on the cover of a women's magazine, a more clinical approach is suggested to resist the harmful effects of demanding, commanding headlines.
"We've found that test subjects who cover their face with the magazine and breath deeply
of the news print and/or perfume inserts quickly become dizzy and nauseated, creating a negative association with this type of publication. Yes, you look a little strange to those around you. But better to look foolish for a moment than agonize for weeks over how your 'Amazing Bedroom Makeover' cancelled out your 'Ten Minute Feng Shui Magic.'"
©2005 Debbie Shave
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Debbie Shave lives in New Paltz, NY. She dabbles in science-fiction, humorous essays and poems that rhyme just a little too much. An aspiring sommelier and author, Debbie enjoys wine, cheese and cats very much but not for the same reasons.