Health magazines aren’t healthy

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Nov 18 2013 copy_BenBuckley_002“Superfoods for Weight Loss,” reads one Self magazine headline. “Moves to Resize Your Butt and Thighs,” reads another. “Great news — you don’t have to skip the pie this Thanksgiving,” exclaims Women’s Health as they excitedly share the recipe of “the best-ever low-cal pumpkin pie recipe.” Thanks, Women’s Health, but I wasn’t going to skip it. And I’m not going for the low-cal pumpkin pie, as I will bet my student loans that it’s not the “best-ever.”

Everyone’s body is different, yet they have in common the constant call to change them, they are constantly being bombarded with magazine articles and advertisements that tell us to how to change. The part of this that irks me the most of it is done in the name of “health.”

Health is good, we can all agree on this. But these headlines all have the unhealthy fundamental assumptions that skinny equals healthy, that everyone is on a diet, and that if one is not doing either of these, they don’t have the self-control or innovativeness to cut the calories and “work out like a supermodel” (Self’s words, not mine).

These magazines are constantly perpetrating a link between enjoying food and feeling guilt about it. “Go ahead,” they croon, “have that chocolate.” Yet these throw-caution-in-the-wind sentiments are only ever an introduction to an article about how to burn the most calories.

Anybody who has ever been on a diet or has, for whatever reason, had dietary restrictions has realized what a large part food plays in our social and cultural interactions. Yet women are told they should constantly count their calories, obsess about what they eat, and isolate themselves through diets.

Women’s health comes in all shapes, all sizes, all lifestyles, and all women.

The assumption is that all women want to lose weight, that all women are of a certain socio-economic status guaranteeing them choice of what they eat, that all women have the time and the money for pilates or a gym membership, that all women are able-bodied, and both capable and willing to follow these tips.

How does a single mother working two jobs make the Kraft Dinner from the food bank “low cal”? What about self-identified women who feel uncomfortable working out in discriminatory studios and gyms? It seems that “health” only addresses a very slim — so to speak — demographic of women.

It comes as no surprise either that our society’s obsession with a specific brand of health manifests itself in individuals in a fairly recent increase in orthorexia nervosa — literally translating into “fixation on righteous eating.”

“Orthorexia starts out as an innocent attempt to eat more healthfully, but orthorexics become fixated on . . . what and how much to eat, and how to deal with ‘slip-ups,’” according to the National Eating Disorders Association. “Eventually food choices become so restrictive, in both variety and calories, that health suffers — an ironic twist for a person so completely dedicated to healthy eating.”

Not all bodies are healthy when they are thin and women do not need any more guilt-mongering and judgment about what we do with our bodies. We do not need magazines to define what health is, because I guarantee we know ourselves better than Self does. Women’s health comes in all shapes, all sizes, all lifestyles, and all women.  When the meaning of “health” is stretched to the point that these magazines take it, we’ve gone too far.

As for the article about “pretty post-workout hair,” pick your battles, Self.

1 COMMENT

  1. I don’t know how many decades it’s been since magazines aimed at women started pushing all these fads. Men have magazines, too, which push weird body ideals on them, but this article is about women’s health, so let’s stick with that.

    Anyway, popular health fads pander to the lowest common denominator of what is healthy, and what is not. The science of nutrition has developed to new discoveries, so most magazines aren’t only ignorant, but (I would suspect) outdated. For example, medicine has turned from believing that fat is the worth nutrient for you in excess, to perhaps simple carbohydrates, and body mass index is a much worse measure of health than the ratio of muscle mass in one’s body. What’s known now is that health is tricky, and each person will need to find what works for them, while magazines like those mentioned in the article are pushing stereotypes to earn money.