I have already talked about why I’ve stopped reading women’s magazines. They promote an unrealistic idea of beauty that damages women’s self-confidence, often even encouraging dangerous behaviours that harm our health in a futile effort to fit into ever narrowing standards of attractiveness.
But there’s one type of magazine that is even more dangerous. I’m talking about fitness magazines. Women’s magazines are, after all, considered a light, frivolous read. They tell readers what’s in style and give them advice that’s often ridiculous, hoping they’ll buy what’s advertised in their glossy pages.
Although harmful, especially to younger women who haven’t fully developed their ability to think critically, we know better than believing their every word. But fitness magazines are different. They are supposed to be more “serious” reading. Their mission is to make us all healthier. But do they?
Nope. Just a glance at their covers clearly shows that these magazine promote a warped idea of health. One that has very little to do with well-being and ability, and a lot with sexiness and thinness.
“Fat-proof your life – Research-backed tips to eat smart and stay trim”, “Shed two sizes – the 4 week workout plan”, and “Why lifting weights =a killer body”, are just some of the teasers that have recently appeared on the covers of some of the most popular fitness magazines, next to images of scantily-clad, super photoshopped models and celebrities posing in passive, not active, positions. The emphasis is clearly on looks.
The articles inside are only slightly better. They are peppered with words like “sexy”, “slimmer” and “gorgeous” that have nothing to do with health. They often offer misleading diet information, demonize certain foods and drinks, perpetuate fitness myths, and suggest dangerous, quick, and drastic weight loss plans that could seriously damage our health, not improve it. In particularly vulnerable individuals, they may even trigger an eating disorder.
Even in the features that contain serious and proper health and fitness information, the focus is on physical attractiveness. We are supposed to work out, lift weights and eat healthy to have a gorgeous, fat-free, thin body that will attract male attention, not to improve our health and well-being and live an active, full, long life.
The images that accompany these articles rarely focus on fitness too. Even when they show women engaging in physical activities, they are usually wearing tiny outfits and posing in such a way, with their breasts exposed and bums sticking out, to leave nothing to the imagination. The body is always shown as an object, not an instrument. Again, the emphasis is on sexiness, not health.
Fitness magazines have created, and are normalizing, a new definition of health, one that equates health with thinness and attractiveness, and that sexualizes women’s bodies, perpetuating the harmful belief that they exist only to please men. That’s an oppressive, dangerous idea. It’s even more dangerous when it is presented under the disguise of “health”.
This warped idea of fitness doesn’t just hurt women. It hurts men. It hurts children. It hurts all of society. When women focus their energy on achieving a distorted idea of health, spending ever longer hours in the gym or following diets that deprive them of important nutrients, making them feel tired and depleted all the time, they don’t have time to pursue their career or influence politics.
They’re unable to take care of themselves and their loved ones, and make a significant contribution to their community and society. They’re disempowered. And they can become ill. Depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are just some of the dangerous problems that have been linked to body dissatisfaction. When women are disempowered and ill, everyone suffers.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If you too have a problem with the misleading idea of health promoted by fitness magazines, don’t buy them. Tell your friends why they shouldn’t either. But if you, or they, enjoy them and don’t want to give them up, don’t.
But read them critically. Be aware of how these magazines are spreading dangerous ideas to make a quick buck. When you learn to recognize the nasty, negative messages they are promoting, you’ll be able to enjoy your favourite magazine without falling for them.
What do you think of fitness magazines? Do they hurt or improve our health? Do you read them?