Sometimes people do a double take. They see the overspill of magazines from my ‘magazine bin’ and turn back peering at the faces and names looking back at them from the covers. I have Portland Monthly in there yes, and my husband’s entrepreneurial rags espousing their billion dollar success stories, a few mostly useless parenting mags too, and then there’s this – Essence.
Growing up I would hear men talk about reading Playboy magazine ‘for the articles.’ There would be jeering laughter and slaps on the back about it being an educational read. This I recalled after one person in my home laughed and asked snidely, “Why are you reading that?” It felt as if I was in for the same condescending maniacal back slapping ‘Oh yeah, right!’ kind of response and felt pressured to answer ‘for the articles.’ For me, a white woman, to read Essence? It was totally out of bounds and clearly counter-social behavior.
But here’s why I do read Essence and let my children read it too. Recently I wrote about approaching beauty as both/and. As a multiracial family that has roots in Asian, Black and White cultures I must affirm beauty in all its forms, not just white because it is the dominant culture and because I am. My children are inundated with the white ideal of beauty so I don’t need to increase the volume on that subject. But I do need to give them more opportunities to see other kinds of beauty. Essence provides my oldest daughter with articles about skin care and hair care that are relevant to her needs. It gives both my daughters a greater understanding of what is beautiful as they flip through its pages. And it provides all three of my children role models that white culture does not include on a regular basis. For example, in the pages of the October issue we read together an informative piece titled, “Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement.” Where else would they have seen that? I do admit to editing the magazine at times. I remove subject matter that is not age appropriate and tear out the many cigarette advertisements. I even confess that some months, due to the subject matter on the cover, they don’t see the issue at all; I use my parental discretion, as should you.
But as a parent of a tween (oh my gosh a tween) I am in new territory. When my tween is not building robots in the garage, or drawing her latest cartoon, she is talking to me about hair, piercings, tattoos (Hi, I live in the NW), make-up and what makes something cool. Welcome to my new life. As a Blended parent I have provided my small children with diverse books, movies, TV, and toys. But this new phase of life – she’s no small child anymore – moves me into unknown lands. For me, finding new places for her to see herself reflected back, and affirmed, is a wonderful thing. For her to see the products she uses, reading articles about the skin she has, and looking at eyes that look just like hers looking back from the pages of a magazine is a great, great thing.
So when you come over for a visit, don’t do a double take, or make me feel like I’m reading an issue of Playboy – pull up a chair and grab that latest issue of Essence. Trust me, you’ll learn something. Now, excuse me while I go find my latest copy. I know its somewhere in my tween’s room…