Everyone read them. The magazines, I mean. All the girls at school had them. If I was lucky, a friend would let me borrow hers during lunch or maybe, if she was done reading it, give it to me. I’d cut out pictures of Jared Leto and tape them to my wall. I’d pore over every word, from the editor’s letter to the “What’s Your Guy-Snagging Style?” quiz. Thankfully, I always fell into the middle range, neither too forward nor too shy – but only because I cheated.
This is how I got my first copy, in fact. From a friend, I mean. It had already been cut up in a patchwork around Drew Barrymore’s curls and Leonardo DiCaprio’s chubby cheeks, but I didn’t care. I absorbed all the embarrassing period stories and beautifully airbrushed images of skinny, tan girls who looked about five years older than me. They always smiled and splashed in the water in tiny bikinis and looked like the answer to life’s problems was being that beautiful.
Then, I came to the ads in the back. The ones peddling cheap jewelry and t-shirts surely no one ever bought, much less wore. One ad in particular caught my eye.
“Do YOU have trouble finding a boyfriend? Does your crush just walk by without noticing you? Do you sometimes wonder if he even KNOWS YOU’RE ALIVE?”
My heartbeat quickened.
“Valerie-Katie-Brittany had the same problem – before they found OUR SOLUTION.”
Hmm. I read on.
Testimonials of mousey, unpopular girls all of a sudden grabbing their crush’s attention. This solution WORKED FOR THEM!
What’s more, for ONLY $10.95 I too could possess THE SECRET to happiness and a lifetime of PG-rated make-out sessions with my crush. Seeing as I was the tallest girl in the sixth grade and had skin the color of milk-weed, not to mention the crooked teeth and the fact that I always said the wrong thing, I needed to know THE SECRET.
It took a few weeks of shelving the magazine, then pulling it out and flipping through the perfect images back to that ad before I cracked open my piggy bank and sent the money. My mother always told me never to send cash in the mail, but this was an emergency. I knew she would never write me a check for something like this. She’d say twelve was too young to be interested in boyfriends, just like twelve was too young to be reading the magazines.
When the package came in the mail, I raced it to my room and barricaded the door, brushing off my mother’s questions with unformed white lies.
“Congratulations, Natalie!” the form letter read. “You have taken the first step to becoming a better you. Read our tips from real girls to discover what it takes to be popular with guys and get your crush to notice you.”
I cracked open the book.
Within fifteen minutes, shame crept over my face.
“CONFIDENCE!” the book shouted. “Say hi to your crush. Ask him questions about homework. Be comfortable around him, smiling a lot. Boys like confident girls.”
I snuck the book out to the garbage in the alley, so no one would discover I ever wanted to be popular with boys. If I had confidence, I wouldn’t have bought the stupid book in the first place.
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