Fitness Magaines, Self Esteem and Body ImageI was recently in the checkout line at the local grocery store, letting my eyes drift over the covers of the tabloids while my husband loaded our items onto the belt. I noticed Lily Collins posed on the cover of one of the fashion magazines, picked it up and thumbed through and landed on a Kotex ad featuring Yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley.

I had no intention of buying this magazine, as I am not a fan of fashion or fitness magazines, but was encouraged by the appearance of Jessamyn. Seeing her included because of her fitness level, and not excluded because of her size, was awesome. Hmmm, maybe there’s been a shift in fashion magazines. I tossed the issue on the belt.

I also wanted to read the interview with Lily – she’s been in the news since Netflix’s “To the Bone” was released. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I hoped her interview reflected a women solidly in recovery from her much-talked-about eating disorder. Overall, I think it did. The accompanying images are beautifully styled photographs of a lovely young women who has gained some wisdom through some difficult times. I finished reading the article feeling happy for her success and health, and hopeful about her message to readers.

My happiness with the magazine, though, ended there.

I found the rest of this particular edition to be full of the same old mixed messages found in magazines aimed at women, but perhaps more damaging because the articles are characterized as “healthy” practices and pursuits. For some, these are taken as truth or medical advice, or, at the very least, rules for living, when really, they aren’t any of these things.

The columns focused on the importance of maintaining a thin, sculpted body in spite of life events. For example “getting your body back” after the baby, promising “these strategies will help you rebound with a core that’s as strong and as flat as you need it to be “and ways to keep that trim waist without missing all the fun.”

Do we all really need flat stomachs? Do we have to forgo the pleasures of barbecues and weddings so we can maintain a certain size? Who made these rules? A dietitian featured in the latter article referred to September as “the new January,” when we have to fix the “problem” of any weight we’ve put on from a summer of living life. More rules.

The reality of this issue, using just this one magazine, is this:

• For every one Jessamyn Stanley ad, there were five ads featuring women in smaller than average bodies.
• All food/beverage ads focused on carb, sugar and calorie count, not taste or pleasure.
• There were multiple articles about looking great – getting rid of pores, getting rid of hair and finding the right outfits and accessories.
• Ads for high protein snacks and meatless burgers were featured alongside Hydroxycut and SlimFast. Food products were the most advertised commodity.

Much to my disappointment, this and many other magazine articles and ads are more concerned with how you look rather than how you feel – because the truth is, happiness and imperfection don’t sell. Being happy and comfortable in your own skin is bad for business. But you know what? It’s great for us – and it’s what every single person deserves.

What You Can Do: Be sure to read magazines with a critical eye, and teach that skill to the young people in your life. What are they trying to sell you? What ideas are they trying to sell you on? Question whether you should believe them!

What You Can Do Today: If it doesn’t cause discomfort for you, thumb through any magazine that is designed to sell to your demographic. What are they trying to get you to believe about yourself? Decide if their voice is worth opening yourself up to. In many cases, their messages are not worthy of your attention – especially if they are saying you aren’t good enough without their product, workout or advice.

Stephanie Haines, M.Ed., CHES, is the prevention education specialist at Walden Center for Education and Research. Her role is to provide prevention education to school communities including students, teachers and administrators regarding eating disorders, body image and related topics. Before joining Walden, Stephanie was a senior health educator and prevention specialist at the nonprofit organization Freedom from Chemical Dependency (FCD) Educational Services in Newton, where she provided education to students in 50 countries about the prevention of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse. Earlier in her career, she was a licensed occupational therapist in the Newport, N.H., school district. Stephanie earned her master’s degree from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she served as a graduate assistant to Margaret Burckes-Miller, founder and director of the university’s Eating Disorders Institute. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Granite State College and an associate’s degree from New Hampshire Technical College.