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Women’s health? Think again.

Here’s something I find disturbing: The cover of April’s Women’s Health magazine.

Here are some of their cover stories: “20 Easy Ways to Look Hot Now”; “Drop 5 Pounds-Eat Your Way to a Smaller Size”; “You’ll Own Spring in the Coolest Shoes, Bags, Jewelry, and More”; “The Single Best Anti-Ager Most Women Skip”; “Working Out 24/7, Still No Results? Big Payoffs—Finally!”

The closest thing I can find on their cover about actual health is the phrase “Working Out.”

What they’re peddling isn’t health — it’s something else entirely. From the cover stories, I assume that their definition of “health” means being skinny, young, sexy, and owning the right clothes and accessories.

When did this become what health is? Real health is about taking care of yourself in meaningful ways: eating healthy foods most of the time, participating in activities you enjoy, and loving yourself for who you are right now.

When I saw the Womens Health cover, I thought, “Perhaps I’m being too quick to judge. Maybe these headlines are meant to get readers’ attention so they buy the magazine. Maybe the good stuff is inside.”

So I took a look.

The magazine’s articles are divided into several topics: Fitness (3 articles, one of which is only 2 paragraphs), Weight Loss (2); Fashion (9), Food (2); Beauty (1), Health (3), Life (1), and Sex (2).

A quick glance through the pages of the magazine revealed the following: “How to get slim fast for an upcoming wedding,” “Best time to eat without blowing your diet,” “How to make ‘diet’ foods taste good,” and a three-page ad for Botox.

Somewhere in there, there is probably some legitimate health-related information, but the focus of the magazine seems clear: To be healthy is to fit within the confines of the narrow, media-driven image of beauty.

This is troubling. Not only are they selling the same outrageous and dangerous image of female beauty that we see everywhere, they’re also raising the stakes by telling women that this is what it is to be healthy.  The message is that it’s not just important to be skinny, beautiful, and well dressed in order to look good — it’s that these things are necessary for our very well-being.

Working out is healthy; working out for the sole purpose of getting skinny and “hot” is not. Eating well is healthy; constant dieting and fear of “bad” food that makes you feel “guilty” is not. Looking good because we love ourselves and have self-confidence is healthy; being at the mercy of every beauty trend that comes along is not.

And yet, the editors of Women’s Health would have us believe otherwise. Instead of healthy messages, they are creating the very type of images that lead to unhealthy behavior.

Beware of this magazine and ones like it.  Don’t trust them.  Don’t fall for the same old story wrapped up in a different and more seductive package. Go to websites like Beauty Redefined Adios Barbie, Already Pretty, and Taryn Brumfitt’s Body Image Movement and remind yourself that beauty and health come in lots of different forms, not just the ones on magazine covers.

Tara is a writer and educator who has a long-standing interest in sociology and women’s issues. She is particularly interested in the way the wedding industry defines and reinforces a single, narrow definition of womanhood.

7 thoughts on “Women’s health? Think again.

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  1. I couldn’t agree more. It took me years before I gave up on the hope that the articles inside offer no substance and certainly no new information. Just in case you think messages like this are aimed at only women, pick up “Men’s Health” sometime.

  2. Oops. “Gave up on the hope that articles inside WOULD offer substance or new information.”

  3. Thanks for your comment, Cindy. I couldn’t agree with you more about Men’s Health. As a matter of fact, I had that magazine as well when I was writing this post and was thinking about including the fact that men face their own set of pressures. It just came down to space, though, and wanting to focus on Women’s Health. But I do agree–that magazine isn’t any better.

  4. Such a timely article! Well, always timely but even more so now that the summer season is upon us. It’s so hard to ignore these types of negative messages, especially during “bikini” season. You bring up a lot of great points about how we SHOULD be defining health. Thank you!

  5. Thanks for your comment and your support, Courtney. And since when did summer become “bikini” season anyway? Why is the focus of the entire season what women’s bodies look like?

  6. I think men are offered alternatives though. Men’s Health is one of the few that push this at men, while women are given basically no alternative. You only have to look at the line up of mags on any stand – nearly all women’s ones have a stunningly beautiful woman on the front, the men’s ones have a variety of subjects – Men’s Health is the one that stands out as having the same standard of male ‘beauty’ expected

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