I was going to write a post today about our meal plan for the week, but last night as I was working out, Brandon went to pick up the mail — and when he returned, I saw that this month’s issue of SELF Magazine had arrived.
I’ve been a subscriber for a few years now, and although I originally liked it, over time I started finding that reading it makes me feel like sh*t. So, a few months ago, I decided that I wouldn’t renew my subscription when it expires this summer.
It hasn’t expired yet, though, and the June issue arrived last night. Upon seeing the cover, it pissed right the eff off.
You see, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about weight, health, body image, and fitness. I feel like almost all fitness and health information is geared towards weight loss and the aesthetics of being thin and toned, as opposed to the noble goal of simply being healthy and strong.You don’t see magazines talking about getting strong, you see them talking about burning calories. They don’t talk about how running can enhance your cardiovascular health, they talk about how to get skinny in time for beach season.
This, in my book at least, isn’t cool.
Look, I know that skinniness sells (whereas words like “cardiovascular” make peoples’ eyes glaze over). I get it. But really, I find that the emphasis on being thin consistently makes me feel awful.
I exercise all the effing time and I eat well (boneless, skinless chicken breasts and steamed veggies are my homies), but I have curves. Lots of ‘em. I don’t have a perfectly perky tush, my child-bearing hips make me look like I was built to be Michelle Duggar’s understudy, and I was genetically graced with a stomach that, despite an unending number of crunches and hours of Pilates, will never be perfectly flat. Maybe I’m wrong here, but I suspect I’m not the only one in this boat.
Anyways, back to last night: there I was, sweating like a wildebeest after a hard workout, standing in the kitchen while quietly seething about the magazine cover, and shaking with both muscle exhaustion and fury. It was a sight to behold, I’m sure.
Just as my ragey-ness was reaching critical mass, I decided to take a Sharpie and write my rebuttals all over the magazine cover. To explain where I got this idea, for about 15 years now, my best friend Susie and I have been writing witty, funny, and occasionally caustic commentary all over magazine ads we find ridiculous (and then sending them to each other at random, because nothing perks up a crappy day like an unexpected trove of advertising snark from your bestie). So, I decided to do the same thing with the cover of this month’s SELF:
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
First, I’m sick to death of celebrity fitness tips. CELEBS HAVE PERSONAL TRAINERS, PEOPLE. Their careers and very livelihoods depend on them looking fantastic, and they hire a boatload of people to help them stay that way. Trainers, cooks, dieticians — you name it, they’ve got it. And yet, there’s this ridiculous idea that they work out just as much as anybody else and lead otherwise normal, pedestrian lives. I call bullsh*t on this. Celebs can give us all the “secrets” they want about their fitness routines, but nobody talks about the fact that it usually involves hours of the moves they describe in the pages of these glossies. (And I don’t know about y’all, but I have neither the time nor the desire to work out for 2-3 hours per day. I tap out after an hour, and then I go do other things that benefit my health such as hanging out with Brandon, cooking dinner, reading, or writing.)
Next, the issue of beach bodies: I’m so. Damn. Tired. Of hearing. About. Beach. Bodies. This is where the fitness-for-aesthetics vs. the fitness-for-health issue really gains momentum: if you spend all year working out and eating well, why this emphasis on going super-uber-epic-hardcore for summer? If you can run a 5K, lift heavy things, and you’ve been known to slurp down green smoothies on a daily basis, aren’t you already in good health? Oh, but wait, that’s not what really matters, is it? What really matters, friends, is that you look good in a bathing suit.
Adding fuel to the fire is the whole “It’s June, people! No more procrastinating!” motif. Oh, you’re totally right! In addition to everything else I’m doing, I need to lose weight and get super toned, like, yesterday! Gosh, staying active and healthy throughout the year — not just for the summer — was a seriously slacker move, wasn’t it? Thanks for the reminder, y’all! I’m sure I’ll make people fall over in disgust when I roll up at the pool with my regular body; that said, I take full responsibility for the horrors that ensue as a result of my procrastination. (*Screams internally*)
As for the alleged “miracle foods” that “practically lose the weight for you,” this is another area where the eat to be healthy vs. eat to be skinny issue fires up. Look, eating to be skinny just plain sucks. I’ve done it more than once. It drains all the joy out of life (or at least it did for me) when you have to weigh, measure, and account for every ounce of food that passes your lips. It makes food the enemy. And, in my mind at least, foods like steel-cut oats, chia seeds, nuts, beans, Greek yogurt, and lean protein should never be the enemy.
With that in mind, why not tell people to focus on eating whole foods for their inherent health-enhancing value instead of for their metabolism-revving properties? Why not encourage people to focus on nourishing their bodies with foods that pack a walloping dose of nutrients, instead of eating particular foods because they “practically lose the weight for you”? Oh, that’s right: because, once again, what really matters is that you look hot.
This one really got me. Of the seven cover features, five were weight-related. The two that weren’t were in a small font, with plain black & white text, which means that compared to the other large-font, color-blast headlines, these were the ones meant to garner the least attention. The eye is drawn towards the bigger letters with bright backgrounds, not towards the small b&w text. So, the two topics that genuinely relate to health rather than being skinny are fully intended to be afterthoughts. Awesome.
So, to say the least, I was mighty angry. It made me think of one of my favorite documentaries, Miss Representation (the trailer is below): if the media is both the message and the messenger, what do fitness magazines say to women? They say that it’s not enough to be healthy and strong – you have to look good in a bikini too.
Chances are, if you subscribe to a fitness magazine, you’re pretty active. You probably take good care of yourself, eat your veggies, and get your blood pumping at least few times a week. And yet, five out of seven — a whopping 71% — of the feature articles are about weight loss.
What, exactly, is this supposed to do for women’s self-confidence? While many of these feature pieces are published in the name of empowerment, I feel like what they really do is make women feel inadequate for their lack of a bikini body/Brazilian tuchus/washboard abs. This is not okay.
Suffice it to say, I’m now doubly committed to not renewing my subscription when it expires this summer. I’m saying no mas. I’m done with buying into a media message that makes me feel like crap and tells other women that they’re not good enough — that being athletic and healthy plays second fiddle to the holy grail of a tight, tiny, and toned bikini body.
There’s a phrase in Arabic, khalas, that roughly translates as “no more,” “it’s finished,” “I’ve had it,” or simply “enough.” As I Sharpied the daylights out of the magazine cover, I found that I was saying it over and over under my breath. Khalas. I’m finished. I’ve had enough.