5 minutes into this, grist came past and said "Ooh, what are you buying?" "A sewing machine." I replied. "Oh, I've got one of those," he said, "Would you like me to go dig it out?" So he did. And Lo! There will be sewing (when I figure out what all the knobs and levers do, that is).
The next part of the plan involved finding pictures (on the advice of my seamstress friend) of things I'd like to make. She's one of those people who can look at a picture and make a pattern in her head, so she said "Bring me a picture and start with something simple." Out came the women's magazines, ostensibly for a quick skim through the pictures. And that's where it got interesting.
And Jez, before you grab your precision laser and head round to quell the alien invasion - herein lies a rant, k?
Open magazine. Turn to first page. An ad for lipstick. You know the one - glossy, sparkly-lipped woman pouting into camera, tagline that says Provocative Shine! Natural Looking Sensual Lips! And Sheer Perfection! If you look closely, you can see it's been photoshopped. But anyway, basically it's Buy This Lipstick And You'll Look Like This Hot Model. Mmm hmm... to be expected, right?
Next four pages, same stuff, different product. Lipstick, foundation, hair dye, more foundation. Lots of pretty women pouting. At least Dior's honest about it - "Airbrushed Perfection In A Flash!" Heh.
I'd just like to say here that although I've been peripherally aware of the 'image of perfection' thing that's portrayed in women's magazines, I haven't actually read one for over a year and so I ended up approaching this one with a kind of David Attenborough Watching The Natives objectivity. And I was shocked at what I saw.
Finally, several pages in, I found the contents page. "Shamelessly obsessed with the stars!" "You could have a body like Eva with this fab diet!" "What his body language says about him!" "Would you sleep with a married man for a handbag?" OK. I know these things are held responsible for women feeling bad about themselves, but I was starting to notice something else - there is a certain kind of woman who's portrayed in them as a kind of ideal reader.
This woman either has a perfect body (which is, apparently, one that is constantly getting smaller) or is aiming for one. She has a makeup budget. She cares about what celebrities are doing and what they wear, and wants to be like them (or at least look like them). She watches Sex and the City for both life advice and fashion tips, and probably bought the same vibrator that Carrie or Samantha has (I kid you not - it's a Phenomenon), on their advice. She feels as if she's her own woman because she's ok with casual sex ("Sex Without Emotion - It's Not Just For Men!") and has a good job ("10 Ways To Spice Up Your CV!") which supplies money for things such as clothes, makeup, magazines and dating. I'm assuming she's also single, from all the stuff about how to attract and keep men. She has an inner-city apartment, doesn't cook much, and is, apparently, obsessed with shoes.
Her opinion of herself is based on comparisons with what's in the magazine. And a lot of what's in the magazine is advice on how to be, well.. fake. Not only in looks - after all, most of us dress and groom ourselves to portray an image. But stuff like, how to manipulate situations (and men) to your advantage, how to assume an air of culture ("Best Places to Meet Intelligent Men!" "10 Art Gallery Conversation Starters!"), how to be Now ("Hot Spots to Be Seen This Month and What To Wear To Them!"). Much of her existence is about marketing herself. And, we all know marketing is about portraying an image that makes something appear desirable, regardless of the reality of the product. Apparently, this woman really exists. And from the tone of the magazine, we should all try to be like her.
Anyway, flick a few pages further. Pictures of 5 celebrities, all female. Someone's gone out and found copies of what they are wearing, put them together, photographed them and added prices. Sarah Jessica Parker gets a two-page spread ("Copy Sarah's Look For A Fraction Of What She Spent!"). Copy? WTF? At this point I started laughing at the thought of all these women rushing out to buy the same top so they can have that unique style like Jessica. Then it struck me that that actually happens and I stopped laughing.
Couple more pages. "Look inside Sarah Jessica Parker's Real-Life Wardrobe!" What's up with this SJP thing? Is she the only woman with style around? Well, apparently so. Advice in this bit says - and I quote - "If you see SJP wearing something, go out and buy it now. You'll be wearing it next season." *blink* I will? Um, ok. Never mind that SJP and I are a different height, with different personalities, different body shape, hair colour, features, budget and attitude. Nono, I really should rush out and buy a cropped wing-collared mandarin orange tailored jacket and a floaty pink floral dress - and never mind those $500 shoes with Ridiculously Pointy Toes Of Extreme Silliness.
As an added bonus, photos of five other celebrities wearing red lipstick and telling me I should do the same because they dare to be different and so should I.
By this time I'd had enough of being told that I should wear all these super-trendy, unflattering clothes in colours that make me look like a cancer victim, so I flicked a bit further in (Who, me? glutton for punishment? Nah).
OOH! Problem page! Usual stuff - "My boyfriend stole some of my undies and sniffs them, what should I do?" - etc. As I read through this page, I started to notice the formulaic way in which the answers were provided. The formula goes something like this: Reassure, Boost, Advise, Now Here's The Reason Why You Should Be Insecure About This. For example, with the panty-sniffer, the writer was told that people are aroused by the senses and that all animals use the sense of smell as a sexual stimulator, that it's not such a bad thing and actually kind of cool that BF gets turned on by her scent when she's not there. BUT he might be a pervert. Does he have other women's undies too? Or, are the undies more important to him than you are?
I especially liked the way that the Reassurance bit had the undies being 'used', and the You Should Worry bit had them being 'soiled.' Subtle, but effective, use of language.
Nothing like planting that seed of doubt to make people rush out and buy more makeup and lingerie, eh? And all of the replies followed the same formula. Things may be ok, but you should worry about This. There may be something wrong with You.
OK, I needed an article by now. "What His Body Language Says About Him." Well, the body language stuff was pretty accurate - the typical signs that someone's lying, nervous etc. BUT. It had a bunch of photos of a nice-looking guy in his twenties in various poses (obviously staged - again with the fakery). Each photo was accompanied by a statement. The statements were: He's Lying. He's Stressed. He Wants To Break Up. He's Done Something Bad And Doesn't Know How To Tell You.
You Should Be Insecure About Your Relationship And On The Lookout For Every Little Sign That He's A Lying, Cheating, Womanising Scumbag.
(ok that wasn't in there but hello?)
Also, there's not only something wrong with you, it would seem that there's something wrong with him, too.
But, all is not lost, because under the wonderful headings, there is advice on how to read Your Man like a book and either deal with it in any one of These Ways that The Perfect Girlfirend would use, or manipulate the situation so that you Have Him Eating Out Of Your Hand.
There were also One Size Fits All Sex Tips. News Flash, ladies. One size does not fit all. Tats Top Tip for sex - enjoy it, show it. That simple. The rest is wrapped up in those four little words, including the bit where it gets your partner off to see you enjoying yourself.
I'd seen enough. One last, quick glimpse revealed this snippet - ".. after all, who are you more impressed by, the guy who picks you up in a sports car and takes you to the theatre, or the one who meets you in the local dive cafe, sits for hours on one coffee and splits the bill with you at the end?"
Um, I'll take Cafe Guy, thanks. Less likelihood of pretentious wankiness, more likely not to be a FAKE, amongst other things.
So I have developed a new appreciation of the magazine industry. I mean, I knew all that stuff existed, but this is the first time I've realised just how insidiously the writers and editors sneak the barbs and manipulation into everything they publish. I was utterly gobsmacked. I'm not even going to go into what it must do to a person to sit there dreaming this stuff up for a living. Are they aware of it, or are they so wrapped up in the whole lifestyle portrayed that they just don't see it?
Yes, I'll probably keep buying the occasional women's magazine, when I need a good laugh or some complete escapism - or when I just Have To Know what SJP's wearing so I can copy it. Oh Yeah..
So did I find any pictures to take to my friend? Well, no. Pretty much everything in there was Teh Trendeeezz. And following trends despite the fact that they don't actually look any good is just, well.. silly.
Luckily I have a backup plan. It's called my imagination. Stick that in your women's magazines..