BlogHer, Fitness

Fitness Magazines: Do They Make Us Feel Better or Worse About Ourselves?

(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)

I’ve had subscriptions to many of the major women’s magazines through the years: Cosmopolitan. Marie Claire. In Style. Glamour. Over the past year I’ve switched to fitness-related magazines: Shape. Fitness. Oxygen. Women’s Health.

My observation: fashion magazines tend to be criticized for showcasing 80-lb. models wearing ridiculously expensive gowns (among other things), but fitness magazines can display unrealistic body types, too. (I’m not saying this is their fault — they choose to showcase models with washboard abs because they want an alluring picture to pique consumers’ interest at the supermarket checkout aisle. It’s the same reason celebrities tend to grace the covers of fashion magazines way more often than actual models do.)

As much as I wish these images didn’t affect me, I sometimes catch myself being hyper-aware of women’s bodies in fitness magazines. This isn’t always a bad thing. If you see a woman burst through the tape at the finish line of a marathon? Or hoist a heavy weight? Or complete a pull-up (something I’d very much like to be able to do myself)? Those are images to look up to.

The thing is, I really like the idea of fitness magazines. I like their focus on healthy living, smart eating choices, lifestyle success stories, and new workout ideas. But they can be just as detrimental as their fashion-focused counterparts — there are so many women who strive to look like fitness models, to the detriment of the actual “healthy” part. If you’re stick-thin because you do a lot of cardio, but completely skip the weight training? If you eat healthy foods but don’t eat enough to support a healthy BMI? Can you really say you’re doing what’s best for your body?

I’m not trying to preach. I just understand how easy it is to fall into the trap of trying to look like someone you’re not. I’ll be the first to admit I spent too many years focused on the numbers on the scale, rather than how I felt physically.

I’m in a much better state, both mentally and physically, than I once was. But even as my thoughts evolve away from, “I want to look like her!” to thinking instead, “I want to see my abs because I know I have a strong core and I’ve worked HARD for that definition,” it’s still possible to get sucked back into the Old Way of Thinking. And when I see photos of impossibly flat abs, or stick-thin thighs, that doesn’t help.

What’s the solution? In my case, as cheesy as this may sound, my internal rule is I have to follow up any negative thoughts with something positive. For example, as I wrote this post last night, I received the July issue of Oxygen magazine in the mail. (I do like Oxygen better than some of the other fitness magazines out there — they tend to feature women with actual muscles, and visibly strong/fit bodies, rather than women who look like they only eat lettuce.)

I looked at the cover. “Her abs!” I noted immediately. (I tend to get jealous over a nice set of defined abdominals.)

My immediate follow-up to that was, “You just went to the gym and did a mean leg workout. You go, girl!”

And, no, of course that doesn’t mean I can delude myself into thinking I suddenly have a Rock Star Body like this particular cover model. But you know what? You have to be kind to your body, and be thankful for what you do like about it, and all the things you’re able to accomplish. If the magazine really bothered me so much that it made me feel like crap whenever I looked at it? I’d throw it away. Because my sanity is way more important.

Do fitness magazines affect you, either positively or negatively? If you read them, which one is your favorite?

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