The first time I leafed through a Southern Living magazine I was 6. My mother had her stash secreted away in a side table in our living room and I was a busybody going through each and every one. Beacuse I'd never seen anything dedicate so much room to bold floral patterns in yellow and blue the memory is pretty vivid. There was a yellow and blue kitchen, a yellow and blue master suite, a yellow and blue sunroom~it went on and on. As I was still very much in the tomboy stage of my life, the publication didn't click with me right away. But when it did, I considered it a true rite of passage for this Southern girl.
Southern Living used to operate by a very simple formula: every issue would feature homes in the South and explained what made them so quintessentially Southern. Page after beautiful page the articles would touch upon the homeowner and what inspired them, the designer, the design esthetics. Coveted gardening tips were shared with aplomb. Lessons on proper etiquette and smatterings of very Southern recipes were included in each issue as well. It enlightened me to Southern commonalities as well as the more unique aspects of the region. It was hard not to fall in love. I imagine it was why my mother was a devoted reader as well.
For better or for worse, Southern Living has been changing with the times. What used to be strictly about the traditional Southern house and home has expanded to travel locations, spotlighting Southern celebrities, a much larger food section, and in the most recent year or two, fashion. This is just a little of what they've begun to include in their monthly issues. A part of me thinks the magazine is trying to compete with other Southern publications such as Southern Lady and Garden & Gun (though it's still very much apples and oranges).
What's wrong with this? Technically, nothing. They want to stay current and explore Southern culture in more depth, and there's certainly a good argument for the direction the magazine is taking. But for me, a faithful reader for well over two decades, the sheen of what made Southern Living so special has begun to fade. I know I'm not alone. Many friends have been commenting on the direction Southern Living has been taking lately and we're all on the fence. My mother, on the other hand, has just plain given it up. She doesn't understand what has become of what was once her favorite magazine.
Being from Louisiana, I love learning more about my home and the surrounding states. Picking up on new artisans, ways to improve the home more economically, delightful new recipes~all of this is fine and good. But it all seems so much now. Considering its size, there seems to be too much between the covers. It feels like a completely different magazine and maybe, that's because it is.
In the March 2014 issue (which spurred this post), the magazine dedicated a fourth of its content to "Southern style". It was a cute special edition and I liked a little of what I saw, but it felt like it could have been a separate issue. And if you're considering branching out so boldly, why not use someone on the cover everyone would immideately associate with the South? Dolly Parton, Reese Witherspoon, even Jennifer Lawrence would have been a better choice. I know, I know. There is the availability issue and Hayden Panettiere is in "Nashville". But really? While I'm sure Hayden is lovely, she's from New York. It's one of my favorite cities in the world, but the last time I checked New York City was still well above the Mason-Dixon.
It wasn't my intention to pour out my feelings about something as small as this, but after the latest issue I felt pressed to write... something. Anything. Since it's been a part of my life for such a long time and a constant no matter where I've lived, there is definitely sentimental attachment. Perhaps I'm having a hard time letting go of what it was, and what it's becoming. I can't say I'd read it now if I was picking it up for the first time. After all, it was the simplicity of the original Southern Living formula that really pulled me in. I'm not ready to stop reading~far from it. It's still one of my favorite reads after the children are asleep, and it keeps me connected to home. I just hope they don't try too much too quickly. There's definitely something to the adage of "if it's not broke, don't fix it".
And I hope Southern Living takes that to heart.