Long time readers know I’m a regular consumer of women’s magazines. I view them as recording life as regular people are living it — what they care about, what they anticipate, and what they can’t imagine. This is why I especially love reading magazines from years past. In some ways life is so different, and in some ways it’s exactly the same.
Here’s something that’s never changed. Women’s magazines always want to help you lose weight. It is the rare late spring magazine that does not promise some version of “Summer body in a hurry” or “Get ready for bikini season!” or some such. Such a line is always toward the top of the cover for a simple reason: it sells magazines. Few of us are 100 percent happy with our bodies, and offering a solution to such insecurities is a good way to move product.
But lately I’ve been wondering if there’s a new equivalent of this sure-fire cover line. When I picked up the June issue of Redbook, Drew Barrymore smiled from the cover, next to a cover line on “Drew on her two babies, five jobs, and why ‘nobody gets to have it all.’”
Yes, the “can’t have it all” line is working its magic as ever. As everyone learned from the Atlantic’s Anne-Marie Slaughter piece, this cover line gets people picking up your magazine. Heck, the McKinsey Quarterly (not a women’s magazine) ran an interview with Sheryl Sandberg last year that was billed with a quote from her about no one being able to have it all.
This is all a little odd since, viewed from the perspective of most of us mortals, Slaughter, Sandberg, and Barrymore all have it all and more. And as I read the interview with Barrymore, I realized that Redbook was selling just as much ridiculousness as if they promised I’d lose 10 lbs in the next week.
From the cover line, you’d think that Barrymore’s “can’t have it all” declaration has to do with her two babies and five jobs, right? Except in the actual interview, the exchange goes something like this:
Redbook: You told Oprah you were surprised that [Barrymore’s husband] was with you instead of a long, tall Upper East Side lady. You seem so confident. Did you ever want to be that woman? I can’t imagine you wanting to be someone else.
Drew Barrymore: I would love to have long, thin arms. I really would — but I don’t. I can run a company, so maybe I am just going to have fatter arms and run a company wearing sleeves? That is my balance; nobody gets to have it all.
Yes, in the interview, the can’t-have-it-all line is a snarky throwaway. Barrymore has a thriving career and a growing family. She has everything that matters. She just likes to wear sleeves. She may as well have said you know what, I can’t fly. Nobody gets to have it all. But of course Redbook put the can’t-have-it-all line on the cover in a way implying there was something lacking in her life of professional magnificence and domestic bliss. Because hey, that sells magazines. Just like promises of looking great in that bikini by July 1st.
In other news: I’m doing a piece for Fast Company on managing a mostly virtual company. If you or someone you know (or work with) manages a team of remote employees, I’d love to do an interview on how management works when you’re not in the same place.