One of the main (and best) things I get to do as an editor is advocate for our readers: What are they wanting? What do they need? Where are they struggling? How can we provide the insight, skills, and support they need to get healthier, happier, more centered and satisfied in their bodies and their lives?
Often, this leads me to scuttle all sorts of otherwise great content ideas (including a good number of my own): “That’s a neat concept/recipe/adventure/experience, but do our busy, stressed-out readers have the time, energy, and resources for it?”
Or: “That’s a nifty chart/list/download/interactive-thingy, but will it really help our readers in some way, or just give them one more thing to get distracted by?”
With every issue, our creative director, Lydia Anderson, goes through much the same process: “That’s a beautiful image, but will it inspire our readers or just leave them comparing bodies/faces/lifestyles and feeling bad about themselves?” Or, “This is terrific content, but without more white space, will anybody be able to see it, much less read it?”
Ultimately, every member of our team is charged with using similar filters to make decisions about her or his own pieces, refining concepts, copy, and images until they strike some magical Experience Life balance of beautiful/inspiring/exciting/fun and helpful/practical/realistic/worthwhile.
My editorial mentor, Dorothy Kalins, (founding editor of two category-redefining magazines — Saveur and Metropolitan Home), drummed into me a long time ago that the job of any good editor is to “serve the reader, serve the reader, serve the reader.”
To serve the reader, she told me, you have to know the reader. And to know the reader, it helps to have walked a few thousand miles in his or her shoes. In other words, it helps to be your reader.
That, I most definitely am. The whole concept for Experience Life came out of my desperate desire for a healthy-living magazine that addressed my real-life needs and priorities.
I really wanted to get healthier, but I was fed up with the bikini-body headlines, undoable diets, and over-the-top workouts. I was turned off by the airbrushed bodies, the exhortations to “Get These Thighs!” [big arrow pointing to someone else’s thighs].
I was bored by the blurb-length articles. And I was insulted by the implication that if I just got my hair big enough and my butt small enough, all of my problems would be solved.
What I wanted was a magazine that would address me as a whole, intelligent, complex, living being, not just a collection of perfectable body parts.
The fact that I got a chance to create that magazine is an extraordinary thing (giant thank you to our publisher and parent company, Life Time — The Healthy Way of Life Company).
The fact that I’ve convinced a bunch of talented people to keep on creating it with me for 14 years now is even more amazing. And the fact that each issue of Experience Life currently reaches more than 3 million people (wah!?) is freak-out cool.
The coolest thing of all, though, is that I think we’ve been proving an important point: Regardless of media trends toward aggregated, sensationalist pap, there are a lot of smart, motivated, health-seeking people who really do want and deserve something more.
Our readers want a dose of reality. Reality about what it takes to get and stay healthy in the face of unhealthy systems, messages, and trends. Reality about which “NEW!” breakthroughs and trends really matter, and which are just bread-and-circus blips on the continuum.
The reality I’m coming to terms with these days is that being truly healthy and happy in our current culture requires a sort of positive deviancy — a willingness to sidestep the so-called normal reality that is making so many people sick and crazy.
We created this issue in the spirit of noticing your reality and questioning it; in the spirit of reflecting on your life and experimenting with how you might evolve it to be even more to your liking.
If any of that interests you, be sure to check out my video interview with cover subject Dallas Hartwig, where we talk about some brilliant ways you can make your already great reality even better — starting now.