The equivalent of ‘Lose 10lbs by July 1st!’

photo-155Long 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.

18 thoughts on “The equivalent of ‘Lose 10lbs by July 1st!’

  1. HAHAHA. Can’t have it all = need to lose weight! It’s a full circle. Oh man, what trash.
    I don’t believe that women’s magazines have anything to do with reality except maybe in small portions of SoCal and maybe NYC. Maybe a few other enclaves like that.

    1. Other thoughts on geographic sensitivity: Have you ever heard of someone in Minneapolis in the winter declare raw veganism the only way to live a long, healthy life? In my experience, it’s only people from California and New Zealand – where all the fruits and vegetables are grown and it remains a constant growing temperature all year. Same with people who advocate super-extreme frugal lifestyles. They live in uber-walkable places, chosen intentionally, of course, but with regard only for their needs. As in, they seem not to have parents who need minding, or siblings who need help raising a child, etc.

      1. @Liz- Oh, there are plenty of geographic blind spots. With women’s magazines, I’ve been fascinated by the occasional editorial contortions to understand readers who often have different politics than the editors. Married women with children (the demo many mainstream women’s magazines aim for) are more likely to vote for Republicans than Democrats. Whereas people in publishing, and people who live in NYC, are demographics that lean more toward the left side of the spectrum.

  2. re. Fast Co article, have you ever spoken to Wayne Turmel for commentary on remote working? He’s a long time expert + hilarious – it makes for a fun interview.

  3. Hey Laura,

    We run Football Media remotely (and have done so for over 4 years) – plenty of insights to share if you’re interested?

    1. I like to say that I aim to have the things that matter to me. I have come to hate the phrase “having it all” because it seems to be used mainly as a bludgeon to keep women from aspiring to things outside the home.
      I managed a remote team for a couple of years, and have also done a lot of work on partially-remote teams (i.e., a lot of the team is co-located, but a few people aren’t). I’d be happy to talk about those experiences if it would help!

      1. Weird. Not sure why that posted under oldmdgirl’s comment! The universe must want me to note that I have big boobs (38F) and don’t consider them part of having it all! I’d take a flatter stomach, if we’re signing up for body part changes….

  4. When I attempt to read women’s magazines, I feel I live on a different planet.

    About having it all. This is such a fuzzy term. What is this mysterious “all”? I bet it is different for all of us. I might have all that matters to me now. Which is different from “all” that mattered to me 10 years ago. And nothing at all like Sheryl Sandberg’s.

    Can’t we just live our lives and be happy without worrying about having or not having it all?

  5. I wonder if part of the enduring quality of the weight loss/ having it all narrative is that “having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting.” (Which is actually a quote by Mr. Spock in Star Trek, heh). We want to be thin but don’t really want the hard work that goes along with staying thin. We like the idea of thinking about how our lives would be so much better if we had “it all” but don’t actually really wish we had different lives.

    1. I imagine in this particular case it’s there to make us feel like it’s ok because Drew Barrymore doesn’t have it all either and she’s a famous actress. Even she wishes she were skinnier. Also it fits with her image as a likable every woman (also child actress who went through hardships but is now aok).

  6. Hi Laura – I love the takeaway about not having it all and Drew’s quote. Also – I’d love to talk to you. In my day job, I manage a team of 4 people and we all work remotely and are in 3 states. We are managing and implementing a statewide healthcare innovations program. Quite the interesting experience 🙂 Good luck on your article.

  7. I have been a remote employee for a Fortune 500 company for several years and now I remotely manage a team that is at headquarters. I’d be happy to share my perspective with you. A year or so ago I wrote a blog post on the benefits of working remotely: and a couple of years before that I wrote a post with tips for effectively working remotely: I think it might be time for me to write about managing a remote team!

    1. @A Suburban Life – sorry your comment was in the approval queue. I’ve got it set at 2 links triggering the moderation. I’ll send you a note. Thanks!

  8. If you’re still working on the Fast Company article, my experience might be interesting to you: I manage a team of three employees, all of whom work at home most of the time and one of whom lives across the country. The one in Utah used to be in the main office and negotiated a 100% work at home agreement.

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