Self

I got so bored while perusing the May issue of Self that I departed my trusty pedestal behind the computer to try one of the "allover [sic] toners" on page 69. For the "calf isolator," I was told to "hook left toes around right ankle and rise onto ball of right foot. Lower." I didn't exactly feel the burn, so to speak, but at least the exercise returned the sensation to my mind and body that 60 minutes spent with Self had drained.

Self purports to be the most empowering of the "healthy lifestyle" titles that have emerged into a magazine category of their own over the last few years. Each story is accompanied by a shot of a beaming woman -- I counted precisely two pouty faces in the entire issue -- and there's nary an ugly thought to be found.

The May issue takes this approach to the extreme, offering readers a prize on every page via some half-baked Web contest. Why? Because they have "bought more issues, participated in more programs online and proved that [they] are the most active, involved readers an editor could hope for," according to the editor's letter. Group hug, everybody!

While I'm sure there are people out there who need such affirmation, Self goes so far overboard with the Stuart Smalley shtick ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me!") as to render itself a parody. Granted, the magazine ain't exactly aimed at Nobel laureates, but it lowers the intellectual bar to an extent that it's difficult to envision anybody with a triple-digit IQ being sucked in.

Over the course of the May issue, Self proclaims that it is "determined to make 2005 your Year of the Bikini." It notes that you can trim your waistline by sleeping more. It suggests that you can save valuable time -- ostensibly to be spent on simplistic three-question self-evaluations -- by hiring somebody else to load up your iPod.

If you've "got 5 minutes," the mag notes how you can spend it on crafting the perfect toast. There's an "eat-right" section, not to be confused with "healthy plate" (or is "healthy plate" a subsection of "eat-right"? Whatever). Hair tips, skin tips... It must be exhausting to find new ways to repackage this same tripe month after month.

Even when Self does something smart -- an exploration of the link between depression/emotional trauma and overeating -- the magazine couches it in movie-of-the-week cliché. "At night in her darkened kitchen, Lynette Oliver cut another slice of Entenmann's pound cake. Last one, she cautioned herself... A moment later, Oliver found herself reaching for the box again, trying not to look at her fingers -- plump as sausages -- as she cut another slice. Just one more." That's bad writing and bad melodrama, and it diminishes an otherwise worthy piece of reporting.

There's nothing wrong with mindless pap -- my week isn't complete without at least one 7,000-decibel airing of Van Halen II -- but it seems that Self is more than a bit hypocritical in its empowerment spiel. While the mag may gush about loving one's body and mind and give oodles of self-improvement hints, shiny stick-figure models populate its every image. The implication: To be thin is to be happy. Having a cover subject ("American Idol" alum Kelly Clarkson) yap about her love for Ding Dongs doesn't mitigate the overall effect.

As such, I'd argue that Self is quite irresponsible, sending one message with its words and another with its pix. Be wary.