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  • Lori Nanan

Suddenly I see


I woke up early this morning to the sound of a thud, the sight of a magazine rack and colorful pages scattered on the floor. In a dream, of course. I do not have a magazine rack in my house.


Instead of falling back asleep, I laid there thinking about how much I used to love magazines. I mean, I loved them. I loved the glossy covers, the beautiful photos, the perfectly written words, the smell of the pages.


From the time I was a young teenager until the advent of the internet and social media, you might even say I had a bit of a magazine addiction. It started with Teen Beat, Tiger Beat and Creem (remember that one?!). Duran Duran, Journey, Madonna, the Go-Go's and...Kajagoogoo (remember them?!). I hung pages on my walls of the members of Duran Duran, dressed like Madonna and sang The Go-Go's at top volume into a hairbrush. I emulated hairstyles and loaded up on fake diamonds. I stared at pages, my fingers getting black with smudged ink and my brain alight with thoughts of what their lives must be like. How cool and glamorous they were.


A few years later, fashion magazines became my thing. First, Seventeen, then Mademoiselle and Glamour (Mademoiselle was infinitely better in my mind). Then Harper's Bazaar, Elle and the holy grail: Vogue. The Supermodels of the 80's were like goddesses to me. I'd stare at images of Renee Simonsen and wonder about how incredible her life with John Taylor (my favorite Duran Duran member) must be. I was crushed to later learn it was a cocaine fueled mess that nearly destroyed both of their careers. But when I got my hands on this magazine, I stared at it and dreamt of glamour and gorgeous clothes and hot sex.

Madonna as drawn by Andy Warhol on the cover of Interview magazine in 1985 was a huge favorite because it married music and art (something my Gran Fran had taught me to appreciate) and the story inside showed my idol in all of her fashion glory. Interview was different, it was more like an oversized newspaper and the pages could come unglued more easily. Even so, I'm fairly certain I still have a copy of that issue (probably crumbled to a billion mouse-chewed pieces) somewhere in the archives of my youth because it was so special to me.

But the fashion magazines...they reigned in my heart and mind for a long time. The thick issues of Vogue with the perfume inserts. The postcards offering 12 issues for $8.95 (to be billed later of course). The makeup ads, the completely impractical, not to mention unaffordable clothes. The ridiculous poses of the models, the big hair, the exotic locales. All of it made me long for things that seemed (and I now know are) impossible: sky high thighs, a number hovering around 100 lbs on the scale and admiration for the most prized possession of most teenage girls: physical beauty. By the age of 14, I was comparing myself to women (who were sometimes actually just girls themselves) based solely on what I saw on those pages, and sometimes in music videos. To this day, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatiana Patitz and Christy Turlington have a special place in my heart for the glamour and style they brought to life in the video for Freedom by George Michael (formerly of Wham!, another young teen Lori fave). I practiced those side-eyed glances, perfected lip-syncing and fell in love with weird round sofas thanks to that video. To this day if I see a round sofa (is it a banquette?) I always think of this video. I thought it was weird then and still think so now, but apparently designers of hotel lobbies disagree. (Oh and there's a few guys in this video. Who knew? It's all about the girls and we all know it.)

And then I grew out of fashion mags. Perhaps it was the realization that the clothes, the bodies, the amount of makeup would never be mine. Perhaps it was coming home for breaks during college and picking up my mother's "shelter" mags. Calling interior design magazines "shelter magazines" always seemed mysterious and insider-y to me. I liked that. My mother was also really into decorating and we often went shopping together, so I started to develop an aesthetic as soon as I could call my own shots. Freshman year in college, I was a surfer girl. Sophomore year, I was more refined and by junior year, living in an apartment off-campus, I was full-on cozy country. I couldn't afford magazines then, but I gobbled them up in doctor's offices, at hair salons and stood at the rack in Barnes & Noble for as long as possible, sometimes biting the bullet and buying a copy of Better Homes and Gardens or Country Living.


My obsession with these shelter magazines was deeper than my previous enthusiasm had ever been. From Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, Metropolitan Home, House Beautiful to the Mother of Them All: Martha Stewart Living, I became infatuated with robin's egg blue, deep throw pillows, proper place settings and puddling window dressings. I bought fancy silverware I couldn't afford, carried bags of Pottery Barn dinner and salad plates all over Manhattan and developed a love for colorful Fiestaware. I still have that silverware and gave up only pulling it out for special occasions about 10 years ago. I have 2 of the dinner plates left and my Fiestaware collection grew strong throughout the 90's and though I have thought of selling it a few times, most of it was bought at auction by my father for me. The thought of parting with something I know he stood there waiting to bid on just for me stops me from listing it every time.


Interestingly, I never really got into gossip mags unless I was, again, at the doctor's office, the hair salon or lucky enough to sit on a toilet that had a basket of them next to it. We all knew someone who had that, right? And then I'd spend entirely too long reading about the space aliens taking over Hollywood or Prince Charles' affair (turned marriage...wha???) for it to not seem as if I had pooped in someone else's house.


Back in the early 00's, I would take my sofa slipcovers (denim at the time, a Martha Stewart recommendation for their durability, especially with dogs!) to the laundromat, and there was a divider between the 2 long rows of washing machines. It was heaven, because on that divider sat 4 year old issues of House Beautiful, 3 year old issues of People and Us, and more recent copies of the newly launched magazine from the one and only Oprah. Oprah magazine married so much of what I had loved about all the ones that came before: fashion, celebrities, home interiors, the occasional thinkpiece. That magazine carried whole worlds within its pages. My opinion of Oprah has been tarnished in the ensuing years, as she's the one who gave us Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and touted Cesar Millan, all charlatans who, actually now that I think about it, probably tricked her as much as they tricked us. But still. The Oprah machine should have done their homework a little better.


My final magazine obsessions reflected my age: More, a magazine designed for women 40 and older, which made me feel like I had finally arrived. So much so, I started reading it when I was 38. I loved the wisdom just holding it in my hands made me feel. And Vanity Fair. Oh Vanity Fair, how I love thee. I actually had a subscription to VF for about 10 years, discontinued it and then it started showing up a few years later. Free. For 2 years. Weird. One of those free issues featured a story about Rosamund Pike, who starred in Gone Girl (one of my all-time favorite movies) and this photo, which knocked me off my feet. Glamorous, girly, but with that kinda sorta masculine top. Perfection. Like, holy shit. Look at that dress. Look at that woman in that dress.

Vanity Fair combines so many of my favorite things: glamour, luxury, scandalous stories, good writing. Vanity Fair introduced me to Jon Krakauer and Sebastian Junger. I have a copy (probably in the same place the Madonna Interview issue is) from shortly after 9/11 called "One Week in September" that I found so haunting, I kept it. Most of all, Vanity Fair made me feel smart. Kinda snobby. I liked that.


And then came social media, and magazines suddenly weren't as en vogue. I am currently on a break from Instagram and I think (being the expert dream interpreter I am) that this dream is a result of that. Being less exposed to images, to stories, to launches and releases has made me feel a little disconnected. Not in a bad way, but when I thought about my dream, I realized that's what magazines give us: information, packaged in a way that's not in our faces 24/7. Back in the day, we had to go looking for it. Outside of our houses. By flipping through actual pages. Weird.


Another thing that I realized this morning is that magazines gave me the gift of comparison long before social media. I've been comparing my looks, my body, my home, my life with others since I was a teenager. The difference now is that I think it happens even younger and that there is even more misinformation available. Both of which I find incredibly sad. Less sad is that I think my obsession came about, in part, as a result of the "Sears Wish Book", a yearly Christmas catalog that my brother and I pored over, and would ultimately have so many dog-earred pages it was impossible to figure out who wanted what for Christmas. But that giant, heavy catalog and it's pages full of dreams fulfilled by Barbie's Dreamhouse or Holly Hobby dolls probably started my love affair with pages full of images and promise.


I have only fond memories of the Wish Book, just as I do with most of the other pages I have turned over the years, but I think it's just now, away from social media, that I am aware of just how much of my life has been shaped by what I saw and how that made me feel: often less pretty, less talented or less smart. But it was More magazine that helped me realize that life doesn't end at 40. Vanity Fair taught me about climbing Mt. Everest (which remains an obsession), the terrors of Sierra Leone and the inner lives of first responders on 9/11. It was in Rolling Stone that I read about John Taylor's cocaine addiction and his journey through recovery. That was more inspiring than any of his "glamorous" relationships over the years.


When I woke up from my dream this morning, it felt like a metaphor. The thud of the bookshelf was my self-imposed social media hiatus. The scattering of pages was the discarding of things that don't serve me. In leaving social media, I have (at least temporarily) left comparison behind. I'm not besieged by images and videos, by a fast moving feed of workouts, recipes, outfits, makeup tutorials and perfect couples. Instead, if I want any of that stuff, I have to go looking for it. Blogs aren't magazines and websites aren't Wish Books, but I can consume what I want without having to scroll through things I don't want to see. Even better, I am not reading comments or passing judgment silently on anyone or anything, because I choose what to view or read instead of an algorithm choosing it for me. And I know that a glossy cover doesn't always tell the truth.


Miranda Priestly, Andrea Sachs and Runway Magazine taught me that in The Devil Wears Prada. 😏








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