Friday I posted a few random thoughts, two of which were about fitness magazines and both started some great conversations in the comments. So I decided to pull them for a post — something I probably should have done in the first place.
The two things I shared were…
1. The Turn it Around Movement
Here’s the scene: You’re standing in line at the check-out counter of your local grocery store. What do you see? Candy. Gum. Magazines. What’s on the cover of many of those magazines? A half-naked, heavily airbrushed, extraordinarily thin female model or celebrity. These images encourage people to see women as objects, valuable only for how they look.And now you’re trapped! Even if it isn’t a magazine you would ever buy, you’re stuck looking at it.
Click here to check out the Turn it Around movement. I love it! And I’ve thought this topic before. I was going to do a post about how a specific “athletic wear” company only used one type of model in their catalog, like all fit females have the same body shape. It’s infuriating. Anyway, like I said it probably warrants its own post just like…
2. This quote from an interview with a Victoria’s Secret Model in Self magazine…
“If I look in the mirror and see cellulite — and I have some, every woman does! — I run the Santa Monica Stairs. They’re really hard. I’ll go up and down the  steps four to six times, usually once a week.” —Alessandra Ambrosio in this article.
First Shauna left this comment.
RE: The Magazine Cover
But are we though? Are we trapped? Or can’t we, instead, look at the cover model and say “wow! she’s gorgeous! Good for her – I bet her cardio routine is outrageous!” in stead of “Oh my GOD she’s too thin, overly airbrushed, I’ll never look like that etc etc” I want to celebrate women. Celebrate each other. Every damn cellulite ridge and hard earned too-big-for-pants-booty. I want us to love our bodies SO MUCH that we also love and congratulate others on loving THEIR bodies, too.
So no – when I see a cover model I don’t feel like an object. I don’t feel trapped. I see a woman who obviously works hard and has a story just like everyone else.
To which I responded:
BUT if we truly want to support woman then ALL woman would be celebrated and that’s just not the case. When was the last time you saw some diversity on the cover of a woman’s health mag? What about the woman who work hard but still don’t look the way the ladies on the cover do. And they are airbrushed and they do extreme things to look that way just for cover shoots. I’m not saying we should shame thin women, I’m saying we should push for more diversity and stop objectifying ourselves. The same image of the female form does not have to be shoved in our faces over and over again.
You can’t deny we are flooded with basically one image of health and it’s based on the aesthetic the magazines promote. I work my ass off, I’m fit, I’m healthy, I am not cover material and never will be and I’m tired of seeing images all over the place that tell me I’ll look a certain way if I just do X or eat Y or workout like so and so.
Re-reading I think I sound a little bitter but I still feel the same way. Why is working out always associated with trying to achieve an aesthetic? I’m not saying wanting to looks good is a bad thing but the emphasis on it is simply weighted too heavily.
The second comment I received was from Michele:
I agree with Shauna. It doesn’t make me feel that way at all. I also don’t understand what’s depressing about that model running the stairs? Maybe you can elaborate. I don’t mean this snarky, so please don’t take it that way but you’ve been in/on a few magazines. I even bought the one you were on the cover of. I still have it somewhere! :) I think I remember you being pretty excited about it. Again, don’t take it the wrong way because I’m a huge fan of yours and have been for many years but I don’t get why this bothers you.
My response flowed out of me so easily I probably should have just written a post about it.
I would love to because as I said, it warrants a whole post. I just don’t have the time at the moment to collect all my thoughts enough to write one but I’ll do my best.
The reason I find it sad or, what did I say? depressing? is because it’s perpetuates the idea that women need to punish themselves for how they look. These magazines (I’m talking about the “fitness” style ones mostly) constantly bombard us with images that for many of us are impossible or best case scenario improbable even if we ate “perfectly” or worked out intensely. They tell us over and over and over again to do “this” and get “that kind of body.”
If you aren’t bothered or influenced by it I think that’s great! And I wish more women can let it roll off their backs but the truth is many can’t. They just keep seeing the same body types shoved in their faces and it wears on them. Especially younger women who may not have learned their own confidence yet.
All through my teens and 20s all I wanted was to look like the uber thin, tiny, waifish models of the ’90s and I continually “punished myself” because I didn’t, which is what started my horrible relationship with food and my lack of activity back then. I realized no matter how much I dieted I’m just not going to look like Kate Moss. And I don’t want to throw Kate Moss under the bus. Her body is awesome, I’m sure she works hard to keep her figure but that “model look” is not representative of all women.
And yes, I was ecstatic to be on the cover of a magazine, and you know when that happened? When I was at my lowest weight possible for my height. I was super thin. I didn’t workout. I had no muscle and I couldn’t run.
I’m not saying those things are all bad in and of themselves, not everyone wants to run or lift or whatever, but I’m WAY more fit and balanced now even though I’m heavier and a size bigger.
So I think I’m just fed up of being force fed this idea (and I really do think it imprints on many young women) that they have to continuously worry about how they look. So much so that if they see a dimple of cellulite they find it necessary to punish themselves by doing things like running stairs. Can’t she just run the stairs because it’s good for her? Because she enjoys it? What does it say to young women who have no chance of a body like hers? Do they need to run the stairs more and more and more while starving themselves?
For pete’s sake, my upper thighs and ass are ALL cellulite and the funny thing is I’d love to run the Santa Monica stairs not to change that but to see how fast I can do it because I like to challenge myself physically. And don’t get me wrong, no cellulite would be awesome! I just don’t think it’s in the cards for me and frankly, I don’t want to spend any more of my precious time and energy worrying about.
I hope that sheds some light on my perspective and I don’t think you were being snarky at all! I left it pretty open ended in the post.
I think I’m getting more and more passionate about this topic because I really am in the best shape of my life. I’m turning 38 next month and just kicked ass at a CrossFit competition holding my own with women easily 10 years younger than me. I workout 6 days a week because I WANT to, not to just look good in a bikini. My upper thighs still jiggle, I have back fat, stretch marks, a thick midsection and tricep wings when I wave goodbye. In comparison to the images in these magazines I’m a plus-sized model. Like I said, I’m not cover material at all and most athletic magazines and catalogs show the same thinner framed, sleek, super toned bodies.
I just think if more women would/could remove the pressure of trying to achieve a specific aesthetic they could break out of the negative dieting cycle they may be stuck in. However, these magazines just keep reinforcing it.
Of course I’m speaking from my own experience. Ten years ago I was one of those women who “dieted myself fat” and only looked at exercise as a punishment. Once I changed my focus from looking a certain way, I broke out of the cycle.
So what do you think? Am I being overly sensitive? Are the magazines the problem? Or are we?