The Quest to be Younger

Having just celebrated a birthday and spent much of the evening in an independent bookstore (there's a dinosaur-like concept: independent and bookstore. What's a book? Oh yeah, that thing people used to read before they had phones. But I digress), I gorged on the magazine section, since I only subscribe to a few and occasionally read a few others at the library, and I think the magazine section is an interesting gauge of the culture at large.

Who knew there was a magazine called Garden & Gun?  What's the premise, learn to shoot the wildlife that might threaten your prize-winning roses? Mount said trophies in said garden?  Before I can find out for sure, my eye seizes on a title further on down the row, Crappie World, which turns out to be about fishing, rather than the mess we've made of the planet, so is probably less depressing and sells better.  But far and away the biggest crop of magazines continues to be women's fashion and beauty, a celebration of our joint obsessions with bodies (our own or others', male and female alike) and with prettiness.

Our society celebrates youth.  It celebrates celebrity births and baby animals whose parents are on the endangered list and models who are thirteen but dressed like 30-year-olds.  Have you ever looked at Teen Vogue?  Well, first off, it's all about selling things, which our society is also obsessed with, unless it's something difficult and unpleasant to think about, like buying carbon offsets or taking fish oil.  But it's also sort of disturbing that the magazine even exists, since it's supposed to be for teenage girls, but you know there's a whole other market out there who likes, you know, teenage girls.

Everywhere you look, it's all about smooth skin and shiny hair and long, hairless legs--and the products that claim to help you get said qualities even if you didn't actually have them when you were young or to get them again if you have lost them, either through age or misuse--but not legs that have lost the hair again at the other end, in old age, and have lived full lives.  Our society pretends that old age doesn't exist, with all its warts, and bowel movements, and disfiguring disease.  The people on the cover of AARP and More are also all screamingly healthy and way younger-looking than most people can dream of looking at 50...60...70...gulp, 80 and beyond.  I've heard that many Asian cultures still venerate their elderly, heralding them for their wisdom, their experience, their lives lived, but a scan of recent magazine covers bound for Asian markets yields virtually the same: young, beautiful, smooth...and Asian.

What are we seeking, both with the youthfulness and the shopping?  Is it "Glory Days," a la Bruce Springsteen? How many people have you heard say (or have you said it yourself?) my best days are behind me/were in high school/college/before I got married/had kids--all those markers along the road to adulthood?  Isn't it funny then that teenagers say they can't wait to grown up, to be adults, so they can drive, drink, move out, meet the Right One, travel, have their own money, fill-in-the-blank with your adult vision of choice?  Is it that America is still a relatively young country with the belief embedded in our founding that "anyone" can be "anything" here, but somehow it's gotten morphed and diminished into the desire to be young and famous and rich, preferably all three?

How about happy?  Yes, as it turns out, there is a magazine for that, too, in fact, several. Ah, more things to buy (and most of the people on those covers, are, you got it, young and beautiful, except Robert Downey, Jr., but he gets a bye, since he apparently has more lives than a cat).  How young are you, in spirit, where it really counts?


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