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Elizabeth Kantor

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The Antidote to Cosmo

Posted: 05/29/2012 8:10 am

So have you seen that statistic about what fashion magazines do to the female brain? Apparently it takes just three minutes of looking at the sculpted bodies (too often sculpted by bulimia and chain smoking, I fear) of the models that stride, flounce, and pirouette through their pages to make 70 per cent of women "depressed, guilty, and ashamed."

Okay, so maybe we should be depressed about our weight -- if only guilt were likely to help us do anything about it. But it's not just on body image that women's magazines are totally out of touch with reality. Our actual lives have approximately zero chance of being accessorized with $1,000 handbags and impulse weekend trips to Paris.

Does it inspire or discourage us, this regular immersion of ourselves in a beautiful but strangely disturbing alternate reality? We know it's only an aspirational world, but we can't help letting its imaginary standards bleed over into our real one. Haven't we all spent more than we could afford on some beautiful object that called out to us from those pages, promising to transform our lives? (I'm thinking of a particular Coach purse in my past...)

But it's on relationships that the magazines seem most out of touch. We all gawk at the Cosmo covers at the checkout. Honestly, "First, Take Off His Pants"? The advice is absurd, but the cumulative effect, in an Overton window sort of way, has to be moving our real-life expectations in a Cosmo direction -- in other words, in the opposite direction from reality and common sense.

So I was quite surprised when Ashley Crouch called to interview me about The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After for Verily magazine's teaser issue. How amazing! Apparently somebody was starting a really different kind of women's magazine, where the relationships editor was ready to take Jane Austen's insights -- the very essence of realism and common sense -- seriously.

It turned out I already knew another one of the young women involved with the launch, and I eagerly attended the Verily editors' presentation at a women writer's group in Washington, D.C. The more I learned about Verily, the more it fascinated.

The venture began when a group of young women navigating careers and relationships -- "a diverse group hailing from all over the country and working in everything from fashion to medicine to philanthropy and relationships" -- decided that the standard women's magazines were completely out of touch with their lives and their understanding of themselves as women. Then, instead of only complaining, they decided to do something.

This is not, putting it very mildly, a frumpy group of women. The two co-founders who hatched the original idea over a Manhattan brunch are style editor Janet Sahm, who has worked at Elle and is one of those amazingly thin gorgeous people, and publisher Kara Eschbach, who worked for a Credit Suisse equity fund and is putting up the money for the launch. Their whole team seems to be as comfortable in front of the camera as behind a computer monitor; the story they tell with pictures is really engaging.

And the teaser issue they've put together is just extraordinary. Verily has just launched, and it's every kind of gorgeous you want a woman's magazine to be. It's got all the regular things -- the beautiful clothes, the makeup tips, the fabulous locations, the cool objects. (Sneakers made from yacht sails and lined with cashmere, anyone?) But the tone of the whole magazine is so different, and unbelievably refreshing.

After a lifetime of love-hate relationships with women's magazines, it's incredibly relaxing to find one that you can just love. The "From Runway to Realway" feature does exactly what you want -- picking out the new designs that have some application to real life and showing what actual women who are not runway models can do with them (a true public service!). The lipsticks in the "after" pictures are at prices that will seem reasonable even to serious penny-pinchers. The relationship advice tackles real-life issues, from how to make a long-distance relationship work, to how to handle post-marital disillusionment, and it's realistic and pro-active. And the longer features are just great -- my favorite was, "Love Is Stronger than Death," by a woman whose father has cancer.

You're not going to see Verily at the grocery store checkout any time soon. You have to subscribe to read the online version (after the teaser issue) or -- my choice! -- to get it in the mail. I'll be feasting my fill on the eye candy in each issue and then dropping my copy onto the top of one of those waiting room pilesand feeling like I'm changing the world for the better, just a little bit.

 

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