In the last fortnight, The Big Issue magazine published a stunning feature called ‘(Really) Beautiful People 2007’, its release timed to coincide with the annual ‘Most Beautiful People’ edition of Who Weekly (known as People Magazine in the USA), where Big Issue editor Alan Attwood used to work. What is brilliant about ‘(Really) Beautiful People’ is not that it parodies a mainstream magazine, but that it exposes the way such magazines parody beauty itself.
As Attwood pointed out in an interview, The Big Issue‘s list is of people who are “beautiful for what they do”. Who Weekly‘s list is of people who are beautiful because they spend money, employ teams of staff, buy products and doctor their images–if not their bodies–to make it so. Apparently one of the photographers with industry experience employed on The Big Issue shoot asked without any irony if they’d be engaging hair and make-up people.
I decided a few months ago not only to stop buying trashy magazines but to stop reading them at all. To paraphrase the Cat in the Hat, I will not read them in a plane, I will not read them on the train. Not in the waiting room at the doctor’s surgery. Not even in the queue at the check-out counter in the supermarket where, let’s face it, the magazine rack is made to be browsed. No, I decided that life was too short and my time too precious to expend any of it on people who mean nothing to me.
I believe my quality of life has improved as a result of this decision. Time I used to spend glancing over airbrushed photographs of underweight bodies, reading about people with too much money and too few ideas, I now spend scribbling notes for my next novel, drafting personal letters in my head, and finding new ways to make my daughter laugh. And I’m getting to know the check-out staff where I shop.
What I do buy and read regularly is The Big Issue. It’s an excellent magazine, from the articles by witty, politically switched-on regulars–Mic Looby, Helen Razer, Fiona Scott-Norma–to the film and book reviews, features like ‘(Really) Beautiful People’ (which made me tear up on the train), and Andrew Weldon’s hilarious and irreverent cartoons.
What does The Big Issue have to do with this blog, which is normally devoted to writing about my writing and promoting my budding literary career?–Well, it’s a long bow to draw (and watch it stretch) but Alan Attwood, the aforementioned editor of The Big Issue and one-time staffer at Who is, like me, presenting at the Williamstown Literary Festival on the first weekend in May. Alan will be presenting a session with local Big Issue vendor Brian Crouch at 4pm on Sat 5th May, while I’ll be joining Garry Disher and Adrian Hyland for a panel on crime writing at 1pm on Sun 6th May.
Come and check out the Williamstown Writers Festival, where the really beautiful people will be in two weeks time…