Is it just me…or are health magazines for women becoming unhealthy?

Do me a favour: before reading any further head over to Google and type in “women’s magazines”. Click on images. What do you see?

My first impression was of an overwhelming sameness. Literally all of the these images are of young women- teen to maybe late twenties, if you’re lucky, or they’re very famous. All have conventionally beautiful and “feminine” physiques, many have long blonde hair, pretty much all are white. Most pose with “come to bed eyes”, though I’m not really sure why they’re trying to seduce me. As I’m one of their heterosexual, white, early to mid twenties target audience, and not interested in going to bed with them. If they wanted men to read their “Drop 7lb in 7 Days”, or “Holy Grail Mascaras” articles, then it would be understandable– but, supposedly, the cover image is selling the content to me.

Okay, now type in ‘women’s magazines on health and fitness’. The pool of diversity seems to get even smaller, surprisingly. And I have to say, that angers me more than the above. For a long time I felt like magazines that focused on women’s health were better than their mainstream lifestyle/beauty cousins. Y’know, because one would assume they’d be pushing HEALTH over aesthetics.

More and more frequently I’m seeing mixed messages on the front of these glossies. I used to love them, and read them whenever I could afford them. However, I’ve noticed a change over the past few years…on one side of the highly photo-shopped cover model they tell us to love ourselves. On the other they talk about beach bodies, and cough up pseudo-science aimed at shrinking our fat cells. Which, by the way, as women we are genetically predisposed to carry, as we need it in reserve should we decide to produce offspring. Health magazines for women are changing.

So today I thought we’d chat about this. And below are a number of reasons I’ve found myself unable to read the majority of specifically health and fitness devoted glossies, written specifically for us lucky ladies. Do you feel the same way about some of these reasons? Disagree? Does something else I haven’t picked up on bother you? Comment below, and let me know…

  • Mixed messages, as pointed out above
  • Lack of diversity- in the ages, races, shapes, sizes, and definitions of “health” in the cover models
  • Pseudo – science (the men’s version of these pieces of trash really run with this)
  • NO REAL FOCUS on mental or emotional wellbeing, aside from the occasional “be mindful” article
  • They always try to sell super expensive products to me- not just one or two, but tonnes of them. I rarely see an affordable item thrown in there- then again, for these magazines you are looking at £3.90 a pop for a load of adverts for expensive items.
  • Using social media figures who genuinely do advocate balance, simply to reel in readers who- in all likelihood- have found such balanced role models coming out of a place of restriction, deprivation, and punishment in the search for “health” or being “fit”. Does anyone else see a problem with this?
  • If they aren’t reeling in the above, then they’re creating them
  • Nutritionists analysing diets and making unnecessary swaps- so she had one crumpet in a week, and you want her to change it to sprouted wheat bread?! In similar vein…
  • Making the implication that foods which are good for you are all expensive/hard to pronounce. Broccoli is a superfood- yet broccoli isn’t interesting enough to be included. Poor broccoli.
  • Lack of real guidance on exercise. When I began look into finding some moves to do with weights, or how to design myself a gym plan, I found NOTHING in these magazines. I actually had to turn to the men’s versions, and later to, and then YouTubers. Interesting that these magazines are touted as being helpful for those wanting to get healthy.
  • Any good articles are buried under the bullshit above. Seriously, I have a good flick through one specific magazine whenever I see a new issue, hoping that its changed- and I only ever see a few of these articles, sadly. SURPRISINGLY, although there’s still some bumf, the magazine’s website contains more good articles than the actual magazine…at least, fewer focused on reaching the aesthetic epitome of “health”.
  • Nowhere has any magazine ever pointed out to me that it is perfectly acceptable to eat over 1800kcal. EVER. (It is though).
  • This is possibly personal opinion, but I feel health encompasses mental and emotional wellbeing, and so stepping outside the “health” focus, and enjoying other things. Would it kill these magazines to encourage other hobbies? Do a review of some interesting books? Some new movies? Balance isn’t really what’s been suggested here.

Okay, now you’re probably wondering: well, what would you put in a health and fitness magazine for women? So…

  1. Let’s go back to pull out posters from when we were young. Body Positive/ Girl Power posters. Not misleading fitspo. Real, motivating quotations or artwork.
  2. A section with “New Moves”, and for once not about sex. About each week having new weights/yoga/pilates moves, or more accessible non-gym activities to try.
  3. Mental wellbeing articles: yes, mindfulness, but maybe in the form of illustrations with captions. Self Care ideas. How to de-clutter your life emotionally and mentally.
  4. Recipes you actually want to eat. Been as this is a health magazine, aimed at people wanting to be healthy, keep them nutritious, but also tasty. Use accessible ingredients in new ways. Offer recipes for all budgets. Make sure they’re properly balanced- not catering to a diet that’s aiming for the same number of kcals as a toddler.
  5. Along the same lines: take one ingredient each week, and invite health and food and fitness bloggers to give a simple recipe using it- e.g. peanut butter.
  6. Debunk myths about health products, rather than actively advertising them.
  7. Real stories from women who have found/ and finding their own balance
  8. Work with brands who do encourage balance, or aren’t promising radical unachievable/hard to maintain results. Obviously, brands are needed to generate revenue through ads, but many companies are springing up that truly advocate balance, and I feel these are the companies health magazines for women should be partnering with.
  9. No airbrushing models. Choose diverse models too…
  10. And show that health can be different for different people. It doesn’t just mean being a size 6 gymnast, or pure muscle. You can be tall, short, curvaceous, androgynous, do yoga, love hiking, not actively work out, be a gym-lover, focus on your mental health and work exercise and eating around this, be vegan, not be vegan, be old, be young etc etc- and still be healthy. I would LOVE to see an article every week, with a different sports woman/blogger/YouTuber/chef/nutritionist/PT, and read about the wide array of different ways of being healthy.

In all honesty, I miss reading good articles in health and fitness magazines. I miss flicking through glossies, but I’ll only now buy them when they have something worth reading in – which isn’t often. I haven’t bought one in over 6 months I think. However, the change I’ve seen did force me to branch out a bit more as to what I read/watch. And I found numerous, much better role models online- which you can check out here. As to finding out about navigating the gym, I highly recommend the book ‘Strong’ by Zanna Van Dijk, which I’ll link a review of right here.




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