A few years ago, when I was 32, I exercised a LOT.
At this point, I am very involved in my martial arts training, and am working out about 10 hours per week. I bike-commute about 20 miles per week, can deadlift 205 lbs, and, on a good day, can do 27 pull ups in a row. Damn.*
As a woman who is interested in health, I subscribe to Women’s Health Magazine. I love reading the nutrition tips culled from the latest health journals, checking out the latest activewear, and learning tough, new workout moves (though I notice that oftentimes the models showing the workout moves don’t seem strong enough to actually do them… Sidenote! Has anyone else noticed how strong and awesome the women in the Athleta catalogue are? Respect, ladies.)
So la dee da, I keep being 32, and all is well and good. I keep working out, keep reading the magazine, and then I get pregnant.
La dee da some more, I keep being pregnant, keep working out, and keep reading the magazine.
Then, one day, about five months into my pregnancy, my Women’s Health arrives. On the cover it says something like, “Lose 5 lbs this week!” I look at it and think, “No! I’m supposed to gain 5 pounds this month.” Losing 5 pounds would be unhealthy for me at this point. Hm. I continue reading the magazine as usual, but start reading the articles a little more critically…
The next month, my Women’s Health comes again. This time the headline is along the lines of, “Lose inches on your belly in 2 weeks!” And this time I am outraged, “No!” I say to the magazine. I am in the process of delightfully gaining inches at this point. I want to get bigger, I am relishing it. And that’s when I look at that magazine cover and exclaim out loud,
“It’s a DIET MAGAZINE!!!!”
They tricked me! Here I thought I was reading about being healthy, but the magazine’s core message turns out to be the same as so many others: You should be thinner, we’ll help.
While I do want to be healthy and strong (and yeah, look good in a bikini — I do succumb to vanity…) I don’t want to pay for a publication that is supporting diet culture under the guise of supporting the health of women. True “women’s health” doesn’t equal being skinny. Women’s health involves keeping our bodies healthy, taking care of our mental health, our personal safety, welcoming the changes of aging, dealing with disease, managing injury, and on and on.
I call and cancel my subscription, and I let them know that No, I don’t want the next two issues that I’ve already paid for.
Since then, I’ve continued to be an avid magazine reader. But now I know that diet magazines hide in plain sight. Glamour, Cosmo, Cooking Light, Elle, Vogue, Woman’s World and *gasp* O Magazine (et tu, Oprah?) — all promote diet culture, some more than others.
I think we need to read with an awareness of what these magazines are doing to us. I’m not saying we should stop reading them, just notice. Are you reading something that makes you feel good about your body? Or bad? Or terrible? Do you feel like you’re learning something valuable? Or being sold recycled diet tips?
I stopped reading magazines that unabashedly promote diet culture.
And you know what? I’m happier for it. Every time I do pick up a diet magazine, I succumb to its shiny pictures of flat abs. I start wanting that, thinking, “maybe I should lose 5 lbs,” and I start feeling bad about myself. But through practice, I’ve gotten good at catching myself in that mindset. So I just put. the. magazine. down.
Now I live in a happy little bubble with my BUST (BFF, Bust!), This Old House Magazine (What’s up, Norm!), Parents, Bon Apetit, BHG, (whew, did I mention I like magazines a LOT?) and yes, O Magazine . Oprah gets to stay, because I’m willing to skim over the diety parts if I can learn to Live My Best Life.
It’s nice in this little bubble. Care to join me?
*I don’t believe in humble-brags. I’m proud of my accomplishments, I think it’s important for women to be confident, and when it comes down to it, I’m a straight-up show-off. I prefer to just braggy-brag.