i was standing at the grocery store register trying to avert my gaze from the myriad of fashion, gossip and home improvement magazines. funny thing. sometimes i try to steal glances at them without buying. as i'm putting my produce on the conveyor belt and while the person if front of me punches in their debit pin number, i try to consume the mag without anyone noticing. if i'm honest i'll admit that at these moments even though i tell myself i really don't care, i somehow do. i really want to quickly find out which star's having a baby, who's up for a grammy, who's dieted and lost 15 lbs. and if not that, how much a house in the wallingford neighborhood of seattle goes for these days. for whatever reason, i never, and i mean never, buy those magazines, but sometimes (many times!) i can't help but gawk. it feels compulsive at times. and compulsiveness feels out of control, and let's just say it: sinful.
on this particular day at the check stand i think about the compulsiveness of the glancing. it suddenly strikes me that the reason i try not to look at but sometimes can't help avert my eyes from these magazines is that i'm ashamed to look at them, like you'd be ashamed to be caught gawking at porn. porn, you say? well, yeah, i think some women's magazines are a form of porn. porn for women. they are meant to hook our eyes, stir up desire, instill a sense of dissatisfaction, pull our dollars from our wallets and keep us panting for more.
before i totally confuse, confound or worse, scandalize anyone, let's quickly define pornography. some ethicists among us define it as: "the sexually explicit depiction of persons, in words or images, created with the primary, proximate aim, and reasonable hope, of eliciting significant sexual arousal on the part of the consumer of such materials" (the encyclopedia of ethics, 1992, 991). but interestingly, the greek word from which the word pornography is derived (porneo) can be defined as broadly as "idolatry." considered together, we might infer that porn is material that is meant to elicit sexual arousal and/or promote idolatry in the consumer.
i'm suggesting that magazine covers which showcase beautifully decorated and spotless houses (especially vacation houses) or those that feature thin, beautifully dressed women with long legs, dewy complexions and perfect hair, or those that exploit the heartthrobs, health crises and hairdos of top stars are meant to make us want, covet, deeply desire something else; a different spouse. a better house. a glamorous life. a thinner body. i'm also suggesting that the effort to make us desire these things is pornographic. no, it's not that we want those women, but we want to be like them. we don't want that exact home, but we want a better one than we have. we might not want that star's boyfriend, but we want a whirlwind romance like she has (or at least a passionate weekend at the Central Park Ritz Carlton, which we read all about in the style section).
one of the main problems with this female porn is that, like other forms of it, the material lies. nobody has nice hair all the time. no matter how luxurious a home is, it's just a place with beds and a sofa. no matter how hot that actor is, he's bound to get divorced or fall off the a list or at least develop a paunch.
lest anyone think i'm drawing dark lines on these mags where they don't belong, consider this. where reality really doesn't mesh with fantasy, photoshop comes to the rescue to create astounding photo spreads: legs are trimmed, zits removed and waistlines slimmed all with the stroke of a magic pen. so what's really pathic is that while i stand there gazing at the glossy covers and working up a nagging sense of dissatisfaction with my life, what i'm coveting isn't really real. it promises something that can't be delivered no matter how much you want it. if that's not a prime example of porn, i don't know what is.
i did a little poking around today and found out that others are thinking about and writing about our passionate relationship with our homes. now, nobody is using the word pornography to describe that desire, that's all me. but basically they're saying similar things. an article entitled "house envy", written by a finance guy, focuses not on the price or value of homes, as you might think, but rather on how the author's youth daughter desires to have a bigger and better home than her own. after visiting a new playmate at his home, a structure about 5 times as large as her own, she came home wanting to live in a "palace." the author's point and concern was that no one had to teach his daughter to want more than she had, to covet her neighbor's stuff. she lived in a perfectly good home but somehow wanted more, bigger, different. she's six.
the book, house lust: america's obsession with our homes, by daniel mcginn, which my friend kate introduced me to a couple of months ago also weighs in on the topic. it lists several reasons americans obsess on their homes. reason #5 is that our homes are a status symbol, a personal extension of ourselves, a part of our self-image.
it strikes me that as i have been moving through life, my status symbols have changed as the years have passed. earlier on i was focused on what clothing i wore, which shoes i had for which sports, how my hair was done and which friends gathered with me. in college i was aware of my car, boyfriends (or lack of them), whether or not my eyebrows were plucked and if i had drugstore makeup or not. these days, as i have been confessing above, i'm drawn to consider (obsess on) my relationship to my home. it's not that i don't care if my eyebrows are scrubby, my car old or my dating calendar empty. but there's something about this home thing that runs more deeply. maybe it's the magazines at the checkstand and maybe it's hgtv. and maybe it's that for every season of life there is a particular brand of temptation that tends to strike.
the next time i'm at the store, i think i'm going to try to breeze past the mags and actually talk to the grocery checker.
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