I was browsing the magazine stand at an airport shop during a recent flight delay.
A headline on Prevention caught my eye: "Find Your Calm," it said, in big, bold turquoise letters. The cover displayed a single green leaf resting on a tiny ripple of water.
Once upon a time, I was lured by the seductive likes of Glamour or Elle. Now it's Prevention, with its demographic of middle-aged women trying to prevent any number of the inevitabilities of aging: wrinkles, stress, weight gain.
Maybe I was taken by the teasers along the bottom of the cover: "Live Mindfully -- ease pain and anxiety; Retrain your Brain -- stop stress before it starts; Be Kind to Yourself -- quiet your inner critic." For the vast majority of women, especially working mothers, the past two years have been a pressure cooker of stress and anxiety. These promises sounded so alluring.
The messaging caught me in a vulnerable moment.
I was flying to see my daughter for a quick visit at her college. I'd been worried about how she was adjusting to her first semester away, which had also been a surprisingly hard transition for me. But I was stranded on a layover due to weather, unsure when I might eventually arrive. I was vaccinated and wearing a mask, but couldn't be sure if those would protect me from the newest contagious variants of COVID.
I don't drink alcohol, but needed a little something to ease my heightened nerves. Maybe a glossy listicle would do the trick.
I decided to take the magazine bait.
Then I saw the price -- $13.99. Talk about sticker shock. There's no way I could bring myself to pay that much for a flimsy magazine. I've bought hardcover books on sale for less.
I stood there stunned. The secrets of finding my calm were out of my budget. Of course, this made me feel like I needed them more than ever. I debated internally, justifying the splurge by vowing to avoid buying snacks regardless of how long the delay might be. I would fuel myself with words. The purchase indecision ratcheted up my stress.
I was playing right into the hands of the marketing geniuses at Prevention.
Maybe I'll just keep standing here browsing the pages, I thought. The sales clerk graciously ignored me. I probably knew all the tips already; I've read countless articles, frantically trying to "find my calm" for years. Indeed, several stories contained familiar content about the benefits of meditation, gratitude and clearing mental clutter.
Maybe my teenage children would benefit from reading this, I thought. Their eyes glaze over whenever I talk about mental health or self-improvement. Perhaps they just need a different delivery vehicle. Then again, I don't think I've ever seen them with an actual paper magazine in their hands. They would probably judge me for contributing to environmental destruction if I gave them one.
Maybe I'll just take a few photos of the particularly useful paragraphs and send them as texts, I thought. Like a Gen X version of screenshots. I tried to surreptitiously take photos of lists of ways to meditate. But as a writer myself, this felt uncomfortably close to theft.
I started to sweat taking illicit photos of the pages of Prevention, and nearly dropped my phone trying to balance my oversized tote and the open magazine. Some of the photos I took were horizontal, others were vertical and a few were blurry. I started to doubt that my children would even read these texts.
My anxiety was through the roof. After standing there for a solid 15 minutes, I cracked.
Prevention had broken me down. I carried the magazine to the checkout counter.
The clerk smiled at me. The total was nearly $16.
I felt much calmer walking to my gate.