637 New Blog Posts for Fall

October 10, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

Four years ago, I wondered (here)  about all those numbers on the covers of women’s magazines.  Since then, I have watched as the numbers wax and wane. They never disappeared completely. But for a while, they seemed to fade into disuse, like unfashionable shoes shunted to the back of the closet. But this fall, numbers returned in strength.

What’s up with all the numbers?  Of course, there’s no single answer, but I see them as particularly resonant with some themes of American culture – abundance, freedom, success, and self-improvement. 

Some of these numbers just tell you that you’re getting a lot for your money.  Lucky promises “8,000 Giveaways,” while Vogue and In Style tell you how many pages you’ll get when you plunk down your $4.99 (Vogue wins, by 120 pages). Maybe the publishers think we have a preference for quantity over quality, like those restaurants that advertise “all you can eat.”  More is better.

Still, how many new looks can a woman have for the fall?  I don’t know, and I’m not even sure what constitutes a new look. But it must be only a small fraction of the 973 offered by Bazaar. And why not round that number to something that doesn’t look like an area code? The reason, I suspect, is that 973 sounds more precise, not just some number someone made up. They actually counted. The same logic may explain why hers offers 203 fitness tips rather than 200. 

The large numbers (485 new styles, 94 bags and boots, 300 beauty tips) also seem to contradict Barry Schwarz’s idea that too much choice is overwhelming and leaves us in choice-paralysis. Maybe the women who dutifully page through Bazaar’s 973 new looks wind up unable to choose one, and they end up plodding through the fall season in their old look. But what is appealing is not the actual choice; it is the idea of choice, the sense of limitless individual freedom to choose among all these looks.

If the big numbers offer the idea of individual self-transformation, the small numbers, like Bazaar’s 10 key pieces, make it seem more possible.  You can really do this, they say.  Numbers like Oxygen’s 23 days (for sexy abs) and 21 ways (to live longer) give us a program, a schedule.  Their message is one of success through self-help and self-improvement, like Gatsby’s schedule and “general resolves.” 

Gatsby’s list included “Read one improving book or magazine per week.”  I doubt that Gatsby had Allure in mind, but they both did think big.

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