Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


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I never make New Year’s resolutions for a very simple reason: there are a hundred, nay a thousand women’s magazines who spend all their time and effort telling women how and where we fail. Why would I help them?

January is a month full of hype, advertisements and thinly disguised encouragements for you to fail. I say that because if everyone who made resolutions every new year actually succeeded, a billion-dollar diet and exercise industry would go broke. (In Canada, the Report On Business magazine estimates the weight-loss and fitness industry is worth $9 billion a year.) They all depend on your failure and they subtly encourage it. All of the hype — fuelling your hope — focuses on amazing results and instant achievements.

For example, I recently Googled weight watchers. At the time, the first hit was Herbal Magic Weight Loss. Down the sidebar was : How I lost 46 pounds; Lose 18 pounds in 4 days; Diet of the Year, NutriSystem – Official Site; and Weight Loss Watchers Info; Popular Weight Loss Facts and Quick Trim Diet.

Do not be fooled by these promises. Remember the first rule: All diets work while you are on them. I would have typed that sentence in capitals, but I didn’t want anyone to think I was yelling. Okay, so you need yelling at: ALL DIETS WORK WHILE YOU ARE ON THEM. But any “diet” will occupy only a miniscule part of your life. Most of them cannot be sustained for any longer than the length of time it takes you to lose the weight. And it will come right back on. Why? Because most of them are not changes in eating and cooking habits or lifestyle.

The only worthwhile New Year’s resolutions are those that resolve to make life better for everyone not just yourself. Yet most magazines catering to women readers encourage narcissism and self-centeredness. Not to dump on all women’s magazines, but most promote unrealistic ideals of beauty, as Rachel Hills, an Australian writer posted on her blog. Hills writes that women’s magazines were her “trusty guide” as a young woman, but today, “I find that laughable” she says, because the articles she had read faithfully aren’t written by experts, they’re written by writers, like her, with no special training or insight.

Hills offers four critiques of modern women’s magazines: their unrealistic ideals of beauty are “particularly damaging for teenagers, who are just coming into their sense of who they are, how they look and what is and isn’t attractive.” Women’s magazines “promote a shallow consumerist lifestyle,’ she writes, and “often treat their readers like they are stupid.” Maybe, though, that feeling is more a function of magazines “with some exceptions,” being largely uncritical.

One of those exceptions must be Canada’s premier women’s magazine, Chatelaine. It remains one of the few
mass-market magazines to treat women as if they have real lives, brains, education and a critical faculty.

Most, though, are shallow, undemanding, and never seem to fulfill the promise of their covers. That’s the reason I stopped reading them — I was always disappointed in the articles.

All around us this January are people who have resolved to lose weight and get fit by spring. Why puncture their good intentions? Yet many of us know that by the end of February, most of those resolutions will have fallen by the wayside. All those brand-new gym memberships will be forgotten and the only people who benefit from this are the fitness facilities which will keep your money without ever having to see you again.

This isn’t failure on our part, it’s more a lack of understanding how change happens. One of the best things I learned in management training was to appreciate the gap between intention and resolution. And there is always a gap: learn to appreciate the time lapse.

When people fail in their resolutions, it doesn’t always happen intentionally, but life has a habit of getting in the way. Real change comes slowly, but it comes if you are determined to make realistic goals.

If most magazines aimed at women are not telling us exactly where we come up short, they’re giving us advice on how to get, keep, titillate and seduce men. I can’t decide which is worse – the thinking that men are controlled by the “brain” in their pants rather than the one inside their heads, or that women must fit into a narrow level of acceptable beauty before they pass muster.

Then I remember the pathetically, embarrassingly lengthy list of men who have been betrayed by their own passions, desires and hubris. So much for the so-called titans of industry, politics and sports who are revered for their wisdom and abilities. Why is it that so many men believe they are irresistible to young women for reasons other than the blatantly obvious: their money, power, and position? And the attraction comes in that order, starting with the money.

Mothers around the world have said repeatedly it’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one. To which the smart young woman replies: I can make the money myself, so why would I choose a lover for any other reason than compatibility and mutual attraction? Why aspire to be the arm candy of an older man over the nice young man next door with whom I share so much? Or something like that, you can make up your own version of what the appropriate reply should be.

But women’s magazines don’t truckle with the boring details of everyday life and the trust and communication that are the foundations of a married life together. They sell the fantasy of a life without all those tacky details, like dirty laundry and sticky floors, sick kids and childhood terrors; aging parents and the never-ending responsibilities of being a grown-up. That’s what real life is all about – being a grown-up.

Women’s magazines too often address themselves only to the “girl” in all of us, that part of every woman — a necessary part and parcel of our beings — that keeps us young in spirit. I know that inside me there is a 16-year-old who occasionally wonders who the senior citizen looking back in the mirror could possibly be. We all need that, if only to remember being young and having all those possibilities ahead of us. But unless we grow up and, as St. Paul said “put away childish things” we will remain forever stunted in our enjoyment of every phase of life.

That’s really what’s so sad about the promises that magazines make to women – that in order to be valued we have to fit into some narrow parameters of beauty. We have to be, if the WAGs (wives and girlfriends) of athletes from golfers to hockey players are any indication, all the same in order to be thought of as beautiul. Is there some factory somewhere that turns out these impossibly tall, thin, blonde and bronzed beauties who seemingly are interchangeable?

Is it possible to fall genuinely in love with an older man, regardless of his bank account, rather that because of it? I know. I did it. And by the time I figured out exactly how much older than me he was (23 years) it was too late, I was in love. We had three years of laughter together before we married. A brain tumour took him a year later. He left me with two stepdaughters and an appreciation of the importance of celebrating the joy in every day. After five years of widowhood, I met Ted. I was ready for him and him for me. Sixteen years later, Ted still makes me laugh at least once each day.

Having spent so much of my adult life alone, I can understand why young women have affairs with married men. I also know that no “other woman” ever destroyed a marriage that wasn’t already in trouble. But what I really don’t understand is why men think they will never be found out, that they can lead a double or triple life, cheat on their wife and children, rob their family of time and presence that is rightfully theirs, and then whine when they’re found out.

If Tiger Woods’ wife, Elin Nordegren, did have at him with a 9-iron, I understand completely. What I don’t unerstand is the motivation of political wives who bear the public humiliation and don’t have a set of golf clubs to turn to.

NEXT: When turning 21 actually meant something,


Written by Catherine Ford

January 8, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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