Body + Soul

I actually accomplished something this morning. For the last two days, the radiator had been sputtering like a scooter, derailing my few coherent trains of thought with its relentless hiss. It turns out that one can fix such a problem by brainlessly pounding the valve-like doohickey until it shuts its stinkin' trap. Never mind the third-degree burns; having to write this column with my left hand slathered in Vasoline and gauze seems a small price to pay for relative tranquility.

Being in a very serene place, I decided to cleanse myself further in the publishing-world equivalent of a koi pond: Body + Soul, the shiniest, clean-living-iest title in the Martha Stewart stable. The mag aspires to do for the organic lifestyle what Real Simple did for real simplicity: commoditize its well-intentioned ass.

Frankly, I don't understand all the fuss. Body + Soul is, by any measure, a triumph of presentation. The beaming gazes, the omnipresent tints of green, the lightly hued backdrops to its sidebars -- an awful lot of effort went into making sure this magazine looks as Zen as it reads. Just check out the cover of the March issue, which features a pair of well-pedicured patooties dipping into some kind of rose petal/lemon slice/embalming fluid concoction. Oh, bliss! Upon closer inspection, however, a realization slowly sets in: Hey, I've seen all this stuff before. A seven-day-detox plan, "great skin for life," tips for fighting fatigue, spa/retreat recommendations... Is there a single story in Body + Soul that hasn't been written numerous times by other wellness or women's magazines?

The mag's genius lies in its assembly. It snares a recipe here and an exercise routine there, and groups them all under the "natural lifestyle" banner. It isn't so much an interesting magazine as a spectacularly well-compiled one.

Once you realize this, the March issue comes across as predictably blah. In its pages, we learn that Stella McCartney shops at Whole Foods, that plastic containers may or may not pose a health risk, and that peasant soup does not, in fact, contain actual peasants. We learn that a mantra is "a Sanskrit syllable, word or verse that, when repeated, creates sonic vibrations that encourage spiritual awakening" (you know, like Van Halen's "Unchained") and that one can, presumably, make a nice living advising guidance-starved readers to "acknowledge the importance of [their] desires."

Elsewhere, the mag singles out Apple as the least environment-friendly tech brand and lemon balm as the Herb of the Month (oh man -- milk thistle is gonna be pissed). It introduces us to a "stress expert" who, in a moment of unbridled candor, suggests that we "take stock" and "focus on now."

Nonbelievers should stay far, far away. If you're an individual, like me, who doesn't examine your every stick of celery for traces of pesticide, you will gasp at the unintentional silliness of the piece on "Conscious Eating" (which begins, like many Body + Soul stories, with a dippy anecdote: "Chef Gloria Craft slips the blindfold over my eyes and guides me to a chair. 'Once I start feeding you, I'm not going to speak until we're done'"). You will find much to mock in the piece that positions scrapbooking as a "unique form of meditation." And you will want to punch first, ask questions later after pondering the wisdom of the assembled life coaches ("the words we use to describe how we feel offer a wealth of information about what's really going on below the surface").

If you buy into the whole my-body-is-a-temple-and-my-mind-is-its-Grand-Rebbe thing, though, you'll devour this publication much as you would a bowl of boiled kale. Which is why I wouldn't hesitate to recommend that marketers of organic products plunk down their doubloons for some prime real estate in Body + Soul. You'd be preaching to the choir, and a preachy choir at that. Everybody else? Meh. Most bodies and souls can subsist just fine without Body + Soul.


Published by: Body & Soul Omnimedia, "a wholly owned subsidiary of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc."
Frequency: Eight issues per year
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