HERE ARE A FEW OF THE LIES I’VE TOLD DURING MY TIME IN JOURNALISM, AND THIS IS WHY I’M SORRY (*PUBLISHED BELOW A PICTURE OF MYSELF AS A KID IN A BID TO APPEAR MORE SYMPATHETIC!)
A few weeks ago, I read an intriguing blog post by Ramit Sethi, a New York Times best-selling author, which he introduced with the words: “Here’s an example of how women’s fitness magazines lie to you. Hint: They do it because you want to be lied to.”
The full feature’s well worth a read, because it’s honest and funny and cuts to the chase about all those articles on how to get a six pack or killer body. I’m pretty sure that even in these challenging times for magazine publishers, features on how to achieve (insert incredibly challenging goal) in (insert incredibly short time-frame) still get you readers. And the stuff that really works (like good habits and effort repeated day after day and, well, hard work) doesn’t make for the sexiest of cover lines.
In short, Ramit is right. Magazines (not just of the fitness variety) really do lie to us, and they do it because we want to be lied to.
As a reader of magazines, and as someone who’s spent a chunk of my adult life editing the things, Ramit’s observations struck a chord, and over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself pondering other lies that magazines tell. Here are a few that I’ve been complicit in telling…
The overnight success story
One of the highlights of my career in journalism has been interviewing my business heroes. Off the record, I’ve been privileged to hear about the highs and lows that they’ve experienced while building their businesses.
The only problem is that it’s always the highs that tend to make the headlines, while you might not even hear about the low points until your interview’s all wrapped up and you’re having an informal chat.
One leading UK entrepreneur who I interviewed a few years ago was candid about the fact that although journalists always wrote (accurately) about how she’d started out with a few hundred pounds and gone on to build a multi-million pound business, they tended to gloss over the bit in the middle where she actually built her company.
I tried not to do the same, but with word limits to stick to and readers’ imaginations to capture, you can see why many interviews with entrepreneurs seem to fast forward past all the boring hard work stuff in the middle. The obvious downside of this being that we keep perpetuating the rags to riches myth and making building a successful business look a bit like a lottery win: fast, exciting and dramatic.
However, I think what most entrepreneurs are trying to tell us is that success is built through slow, not-so-glamorous incremental progress and perseverance in the face of challenges. Sadly, we’re too busy angling for quotes about that one quantum leap that made all the difference to listen. And for this I’m sorry!
For a gloss-free take on success, I’m a tad hooked on Ramit’s blog because it makes me chuckle, while giving me plenty to ponder. Or if it’s a longer read you fancy, I’m less embarrassed than I probably should be to admit that Felix Dennis’s book ‘How to Get Rich’ once made me cry while reading it on a plane thanks to its raw honesty.
Even if you have no desire to get rich and little interest in publishing, it’s a book that stands out for focusing as much on the things the author got wrong as on those he got right during a fascinating career. It also covers the price a person pays for chasing riches and whether that can ever objectively be worth it.
Unless you’re of a particularly sensitive disposition (or in publishing), it probably won’t make you cry! But it will give you plenty to think about…
That anything other than black is in fact the new black
Every season, magazines (this one included) will claim that some new shades or combination of prints are the new black. Do not be fooled. We are clearly doing this because a pop of colour on the cover will shift significantly more magazines, and clothes, than endlessly featuring monochrome looks.
In reality, I’ve noticed that almost everyone I’ve ever met ‘in fashion’ spends an awful lot of time wearing black. If you’re shopping on a budget, the black version of a piece will probably look more expensive, as any tiny imperfections in the finish will be less obvious. You’ll never have to worry about things clashing. And I don’t even know if this is true or just another magazine lie, but everyone’s been telling me for so long that black’s slimming that I’m inclined to believe them!
Of course we all like to mix things up from time to time, and I do love a colourful fashion story. But if your favourite fashion editor’s telling you to be brave and finally give neons a chance, while gliding into his or her appointments in all-black-everything, it’s time to take stock of the fact that while they may indeed be incorporating a shot of colour into their new season style, they’re never actually going to retire the little-black-backbone of their wardrobe. And nor should you. Unless you really do fancy a change. Either way, don’t let magazine editors talk you into ditching anything you love wearing!
Image courtesy of: Wheels & Dollbaby.
That there’s a particular weight, clothes size, income level, postcode or volume of stuff that will ultimately magically make you happy
Admittedly, for all I know, there could be. And if you have a healthy diet and exercise regime that’s making you feel great, and you’re earning what you want to be earning, living where you want to be living, and investing in stuff that genuinely does make you feel good, then I’d be hard pressed to argue with that.
My only niggly worry is that magazine editors, whether we mean to or not, somehow tend to link arbitrary goals, like getting a ‘beach body’ (whatever that is) with the truly important stuff like liking yourself and being happy.
I’m really proud that through His & Hers Magazine I get to work with the best in the business when it comes to helping people to look great. And over the years I’ve noticed that one of the things that separates the great from the good in this field is that the great will never play upon a potential client’s insecurities to get their business.
Tracey Bell, a long-standing client and friend, regularly turns young women away from her aesthetics clinics when they arrive showing her heavily edited Instagram pictures to indicate how they want to look. In fact it’s happening so often these days that she’ll even advise them on the lighting tricks and filters, rather than treatments, that have been used to create the look they want!
His & Hers columnist and Pilates expert Robyn McGlinchey is also on a mission to ensure that she doesn’t increase her clients’ insecurities, avoiding the constant weigh-ins and measurements that some personal trainers focus on in favour of helping people to enjoy the holistic benefits of their time on the mat with her (such as feeling stronger, more flexible and more toned over time).
If you have shopping on your mind, magazines like mine are all over it. We were pretty much born ready for this challenge. But if you’re delving into the deeper waters of body image, self confidence or happiness, please don’t let magazine editors like myself fool you into thinking we have all (or indeed any of) the answers. We generally don’t. Clearly, there’s no crazy set standard for how everyone should look and even if there were, we certainly shouldn’t be in charge of it. We are, after all, probably just one more bad deadline away from sobbing over a Felix Dennis book!
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