The instant my dad’s Men’s Health arrives in the mail, it’s my mom, sister, and I who fight over who gets the first read. But noticing this made me pause. Why was I—a twenty-year-old college woman—looking forward to reading Men’s Health while my friends were clutching to their Cosmos or Seventeen magazines?
I devoted my teenage years to flipping through the pink-and-purple, glossy pages of women’s health magazines at the library (my parents refused to subscribe to them), religiously writing down advice that include 1,200-calorie diets and how to get the most burn out of my running workouts. Written next to thin girls’ smiling faces, how could I doubt their wisdom?
My first year through college, I counted calories and spent at least 40 minutes on the elliptical every day. Although I had never been overweight, my parents and friends commented how great I looked. So, as I savored every lick from my allotted breakfast of an 80-calorie Yoplait Light, why did I feel worse about myself?
Soon, I wondered how big my apple from the dining hall was—did it count as 70 calories? 90 calories? 120 calories? in my precious online calorie calculator. An hour on the elliptical wasn’t enough. Those became my warm-ups for the magazines’ so-called 1,000 calorie workouts. My life became numbers and strict calculations.
It was only once I stepped away from the magazines and the elliptical that I realized I wasn’t doing any of this for myself. It was an irrational desire to please everyone else. If I wasn’t thin enough, active enough, smart enough, how could I ever be worthy to my parents, my family, my friends?
I’m forever a daddy’s girl, so when I came home for the summer and he suggested some weight-lifting techniques at the gym, I hesitantly agreed. The weight room was a scary place: full of buff football players and bulging men. Certainly not the place a woman from my magazines would ever find herself. No, those toned ladies had their blue 8lb. weights and exercise balls.
I started with dumbbells and machines, figuring I would appease my father with a few repetitions before fettering away to my safer treadmill. The weights didn’t even have calorie-counters on them. How would I know how much to eat for lunch if I didn’t know how much I was burning?
As the weeks went along, I spent more and more time in the weights. Squat racks and barbells became valuable tools. Soon I was grabbing the 15 lbs. dumbbells for shoulder presses, then 20, then 25….
My life still involved numbers, but instead of tearing me down they were building me up.
My dad’s “men” magazines showed me new exercises when the few my dad knew no longer interested me. I learned the value of compound lifts like squats and deadlifts. I studied more into correct techniques or different variations.
The difference was drastic. Instead of advocating 1,200-calorie days (which would not be enough to sustain any person), the men’s training magazines instructed how to properly fuel your body. Featured athletes were praised for gaining weight and muscle, not ridiculed.
But do I think men’s magazines are perfect? No.
They still contain harmful stereotypes for boys just as women’s magazines do for girls. Readers can still be made to feel inferior if they lack the quads and biceps of world-renown bodybuilders.
I think we need a blend of both magazines. The focus should be on treating your body right. Health is about gaining strength and self-confidence…not about cutting out dessert or whittling away those calories or becoming smaller in terms of both size and self-esteem.
Through weightlifting and reading my dad’s magazines, I built myself up. Sure, I’m gaining weight eating way over those 1,200-calorie meal plans. But I’m also adding tens of pounds to my major lifts and gaining the inner strength to deal with problems outside of the gym.
Don’t be surprised if you find “men’s-only” magazines on my coffee table, next to my New York Times and Reader’s Digest. What can I say? I’m in the process of building myself up, not tearing myself down.
What do you think about the differences between men and women’s fitness magazines? IS there a difference? Do women’s magazines encourage more disordered habits? Or are they both just as harmful? How can we fix the problem of both men and women’s health magazines?