We’ve got two copies of Lindsey’s debut novel, PRETTY IN INK, a satire of the women’s magazine industry, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.
I had the privilege of meeting today’s guest last month in New York during an event at Housing Works Bookstore. Our panel, moderated by Liz Egan–Books Editor for Glamor Magazine, featured six women discussing debut publishing. Lindsey (second from left, above) kindly invited me to participate and my time spent with these lovely women was one of the highlights of my publishing journey so far. So it with great pleasure that I introduce you to Lindsey Palmer, author of PRETTY IN INK:
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There’s plenty of stuff to hate in everyday life: flight delays; the common cold; cilantro. These things are inarguably the worst (I know, I know, some people supposedly love cilantro—weirdos). And yet, it’s rare to encounter articles about how horrible this stuff is.
Not so with women’s magazines. In fact, it’s become the hobby of almost anyone with an Internet connection to hate on them. I just Googled “I hate women’s magazines,” and got 5.3 million results. This begs the question: Why are women’s magazine the target of so much animosity, and do they really deserve it?
Having worked at several women’s mags for seven-plus years, and then written a satirical novel about the industry (Pretty in Ink), I know from the inside that glossies can stir up a lot of controversy. You’d think, with so much public rancor directed at them, women’s magazines would’ve gone belly up by now. And yet, despite all the disses, the industry is thriving, valued at $30 billion. So why the disconnect?
Let’s start with the coverlines, those pretty promises that inside these particular pages lies the secret to losing 10 pounds within a week, and those all-caps shrieks that if you don’t drop everything to read this article on hidden toxins in your kitchen, you might perish by sundown. We know the teases are cheap ploys to get us to pick up the product; but still we fall for them, hoping the promises aren’t actually too good to be true, worrying that maybe there is a silent killer in our kitchen. I wrote coverlines for years, and I still fall for them: “End emotional eating forever!” The idea that perhaps, after all the same old useless advice (distract yourself by knitting!), this story might permanently zap my desire to demolish a cake after a rough day is just too tempting to pass up. An interesting fact: At many magazines, the cover is the only page not rigorously scrutinized by fact-checkers.
So the magazines lure us in despite ourselves. Turn to the table of contents and, depending on whether it’s a fitness mag or a fashion mag or a parenting mag, it seems you’ll find the secrets to attain Beyonce’s butt, or become a runway model look-alike, or raise the smartest, happiest, most well-adjusted brood in the history of parenting. But start flipping through, and by about page 15, you may start to feel like a lazy slob, or like your wardrobe has more in common with a bag lady than a fashionista, or worried that Child Services might show up to cart away your kids.
Because: all those tips! To have 25 orgasms a day, to get organized once and for all, to whip up delicious hors d’oeuvres for surprise guests in a jiffy. On its own, each tip is usually pretty great. As both a magazine reader and writer, I’ve picked up a lot of super-helpful advice over the years, on fitness and relationships and work-life balance and you-name-it. I regularly received reader mail about particular tips they found to be life-changing.
But en masse, these tips can come to feel like expectations. And then you feel bad about the fact that you only have 24 daily orgasms, or that what you’d considered your quirky reluctance to throw out catalogs is actually a shameful habit, or you’re panicked that friends might suddenly appear on your doorstep expecting gourmet finger foods (I’d drop those friends in a jiffy). I can’t tell you how many “experts” told me about a “life-changing” activity that you could complete in only 5 minutes—“do it right after you wake up!” It would be noon by the time you got through all those “just 5 minutes” routines—meditation and Kegels and exfoliation and squats, and on and on. I find it hard enough to get up with enough time to brush both teeth and hair before racing off to work.
Once you make it past the tips, many magazines run substantial articles about inspiring women or serious investigations that impact our health. But these stories are rarely the ones that sell ads, particularly to the very companies that prey on women’s insecurities created by all the tips. So, after a piece on “How to fix your 52 problem areas,” you’ll find a story about some awesome woman who’s too busy fighting discrimination at her company to worry about laugh lines. Or an article about the insanely unregulated plastic surgery industry. These can be fascinating, worthwhile pieces. But by the time you arrive to them, you’ve first had to wade through the tips, so you may feel like, “I don’t care if my plastic surgeon is an untrained hack; I sure could use some liposuction.”
Sometimes women’s mags do make an effort to temper their more destructive elements. They’ll throw in a normal-sized person along with the size-0 models, or run a photo that hasn’t been digitally altered. But then they call so much attention to it, like, Look, aren’t we so progressive to feature a bit of belly pudge alongside all the svelte abs? Or, How brave we are to expose you to this model’s horrifying zit, when what’s obviously normal is flawless skin! Which, of course, is worse.
A lot of the criticism hurled at women’s magazines is legitimate. But, these magazines are also in a tough spot of wanting to be empowering and inspiring for women while simultaneously being profitable businesses. We may complain about the images that promote unrealistic standards of beauty, but we also probably wouldn’t buy a magazine full of regular people with all their regular-people flaws. We may gripe about not wanting to be told all the ways our lives need improving, but we’re also hungry for the magic bullets that will make us happier, fitter, richer, etc. Perhaps we’re ashamed of this ambivalence, and so we lash out.
Another major appeal of women’s magazines is the fantasy. It’s fun to escape into the glossy pages where everything looks just so. I believe this is truly why women’s magazines haven’t disappeared, despite competition from so many lifestyle blogs and web sites. My rule is, as long as you’re reading other things—a New Yorker or a novel for every glossy—you’re good. Learn how to make a quinoa-açaí berry facemask for smooth skin, but then go read about our country’s illegal immigrant policy and its effect on families. I felt quite mixed about women’s mags throughout my time working for them, and this ambivalence is what spurred me to write a book about the industry, what became Pretty in Ink. You’ll still catch me picking up a glossy at the gym. Because I might just discover the secret to achieving a salon blowout at home—and it might totally transform my life.
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“A sharp, hilarious romp through a spot-on believable women’s magazine.” –Sally Koslow, former Editor-in-Chief of McCall’s
For years, Hers magazine has been a fixture on newsstands–relatable, reliable, and ever-so-slightly frumpy. But with sales slumping, Hers‘ editor-in-chief soon finds a pink slip in her inbox. And her ruthless, blisteringly high-heeled replacement may not be finished cleaning house yet. . .
Leah Brenner suspects she won’t be on the payroll much longer either. A telecommuting, breast milk-pumping mom of three doesn’t mesh with her new boss Mimi’s vision of a sleeker, younger-skewing Hers. Not content with nabbing Leah’s office, Mimi’s protégée, Victoria, is itching to take over Leah’s duties too–and she’s not alone. As the summer rolls out, and staffers are asked to give up even their sexiest secrets to save the brand, everyone at Hers–the sycophantic new assistant; the photo editor who’s sleeping with her boss; the Ivy League intern with oversized aspirations–will fight to keep her career, and some shred of dignity, intact.
Smart, perceptive, and hilarious, Lindsey J. Palmer’s debut delivers an all too true-to-life tale of very different women faced with high-stakes choices in a rapidly changing–yet utterly familiar–world.