Seriously Self?

WTFIt’s the holidays and I’m being hit with a ton of requests asking me to buy subscriptions to fashion and so-called fitness magazines – for myself, as gifts for my family and friends etc.  I’m absolutely not going to do that, and here is why.

I was standing in line at the grocery store irritated about all of the magazine covers that showed diets, just like the month before that and the month before that.  It hit me suddenly just how ridiculous it is to believe that these diets work if there is a new one (or three) on the cover of almost every women’s magazine every month.   I started to wonder just how many weight loss messages I would have received if (heavens forfend) I actually subscribed to one of these magazines for a year.

I chose Self magazine and a quick trip to Googleland got me all of the covers for 2010.  (I was going to post the covers here but they just irritated me way too much so I’m not.)  Here’s what I could have accomplished in 2010 according to the cover of  Self Magazine [trigger warning – you can skip the list to skip the triggering language.]

  • Peeled off major pounds with the food lovers diet
  • Become slimmer every day with the no gym workout
  • firmed up for free with 6 at-home tips
  • Learned to eat like Carrie Underwood
  • Achieved a sexy stomach
  • Learned to eat like Hayden Panetteire
  • Lost weight in 3 easy ways
  • Been happy and healthy at any size (this is on the same cover as “lose weight 3 easy ways and “firm up for free”)
  • Slimmed down for spring
  • Achieved a flat stomach with their proven plan (Hmmm, this word – proven- I do not think it means what you think it means)
  • Eaten the superfood that slenderizes while I snack
  • Learned 20 best foods for weight loss
  • Achieved flat abs, lean legs and amazing arms between April 1st and May 1st
  • Learned the 50 best foods for beating sneaky pounds (apparently too sneaky for the 20 best foods for weight loss)
  • Learned 15 delicious food that fight fat (apparently different that the best foods for weight loss or the 50 best foods for beating sneaky pounds)
  • Achieved flat abs and lost 9 pounds by revving my body’s natural fat burning ability.  (9 pounds.  not 8, not 10, 9.)
  • Learned what to eat to get a flat belly
  • Dropped 400 calories without noticing
  • Learned the fastest shape up ever – burning 10 calories in 10 minutes
  • Learned 242 ways to be slim, gorgeous and healthy
  • Achieved flat abs in 4 minutes
  • Learned the super market cheat sheet to just shop, eat and lose weight
  • learned the sexy body secret to a flatter tummy
  • Learned the single best workout (which makes me wonder why they keep publishing more workouts)
  • Lose 8 pounds in thirty days (8 pounds. not 7, not 9, 8.)
  • Burn 200 calories without working out
  • Learned the #1 way to burn fat (which makes me wonder why they keep publishing more ways to burn fat)
  • Become a happy healthy eater
  • Achieved leaner legs and a tighter tush in 6 like-magic moves
  • Learned 231 tips for a sexier, fitter me
  • Learned the simplest slim down (makes me wonder why they keep publishing other ways to slim down
  • Learned to Eat up, Lose Weight like 6 other women
  • Lose weight without trying with my weight loss grocery list (apparently different from the 25, 50, 15 food and the super market cheat sheet)
  • Stay slim all winter

This is ridiculous. They’ve been publishing these same types of stories once per month since January 1979.  Based on the numbers from 2010 my year they would have published about 1152 ways to be skinny, and they are just one of many magazines doing this.  They are selling millions of magazines by playing to the omgdeathfatiscomingforusanditwillgiveuscankles terror, and since Self claims a circulation of 5,5 million readers, according to its corporate media kit, the marketing appears to be working (never mind that the diets are not.)

My little project led me to three main conclusions:

  1. If this stuff actually worked then they would be out of the business of selling magazines.  Would you buy a magazine if it told you every month that it had a new and exciting way to teach you to be 6 inches taller, knowing that it had been giving that same advice without success for 32 years? How many times can the find “The Single Best Workout” and if they have, why bother publishing more workouts, just keep posting that one, as it is the single best.
  2. I think that it is highly unethical to tell people to try intentional weight loss without being clear that it fails 95% of the time. I think that telling people that intentional weight loss is “easy” should probably be punishable by death.
  3. I think it’s time to demand a little more from our reading material than superlatives, hyperbole and bullshit, with a heaping helping of advertising meant to convince us to hand over our self-esteem so that someone can cheapen it and sell it back to us at a profit (with a nod to CJ Legare who is the first person I heard put it like that.)

Activism Opportunity:  Refuse to subscribe to these magazines, don’t give them as gifts, cancel the subscriptions that you have until these magazines provide us with something other than tired, recycled diet advice, ads that make us feel like crap, and a never ending Photo Shop of Horrors.

Reminder:  the awesome Golda Poretsky is doing a 30 day “HAES for the Holidays” e-course.  I’ve done workshops with Golda and she is really a fabulous teacher, you can find out about it here  (Full disclosure – Golda offers an affiliate program so if you register for the class you support yourself, Golda, and me!)

Like my blog?  Here’s more of my stuff!

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Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

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Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

47 thoughts on “Seriously Self?

  1. Maybe get them something along the lines of National Geographic? They might realize there’s far more interesting things in the world than being told how everything you are is crap by whatever supermarket rag they’re into.
    Magazines, though, like the ones you listed sound like the world’s most inane thing to ask for as a gift. Thanks for this rundown and braving their article titles. :3

    1. One problem with that. I think it was last month’s but I usually look through National G although I don’t read something unless it interests me. I was browsing and I came across the picture first. It was a soda bottle with what looked like money papering it. Hm what’;s this I thought, so I looked at the text. It was about a soda tax in a country (that I can’t remember and I refuse to go back and look at it again) to “combat obesity”, obviously based on the false presumption that soda makes people fat/that fat people all drink a ton of soda. The text underneath started something like (again I’m sorry but I just can’t go look at it again but it was very close) “Its obvious that obesity is a global problem…”.

      I was so angry I couldn’t even believe it. This is a magazine that has an image of scholarly minds. People who research things and discover new information and facts. People I would think would card about true information. And they printed that shit. I decided to try to continue looking at the magazine but a few pages after I briefly saw the headline on their usual “graphs of things” page that said Calories and I was done, just lost the entire desire to look at the rest. Will not be looking at that anymore.

      It’s sad because I really like ancient cultures especially Egypt and I enjoyed reading their articles and looking at their pictures of that stuff. This is probably not the first time they have done something like this (I vaguely remember a past graph that was about how much sugar each country eats or something) but it’s the first time I had noticed something that blatant. I expected better than that from them and it was extremely disappointing.

      1. care* typo. Just clarifying, so the soda has wrapping around it that is one of the bills of that country’s money and that is to show you how much the tax is. So anyone drinking soda in that country has this publicy visible wrapper so people can see how BAD they are.

        Also about that sugar graph, a graph of the average of sugar people eat in countries wouldn’t be so bad, but it took that tack of SUGAR IS BAD and of course then the countries with the most sugar consumption are the baddest and also implied to have the most fat people since it’s just fat people who eat sugar, thin people have evolved not to need sugar to survive and/or naturally eat only what they need and not any more unlike those nasty fatties, of course.

  2. I believe that one begins to be an fat activist when it begins to be many questions that do not have a solid answer, or that are not real in the solution.
    At least so I started eight years ago and will finally officially declare fat activist, a little over 1.5 years.
    The truth comes to us all sooner or later I guess

  3. I’m willing to bet that people in the diet industry believe the same things the general culture does (that dieting is good, and if the person doesn’t lose weight stably, it’s because they didn’t try hard enough). If I’m right, then people in the diet industry are about as likely to be trying (and failing) to lose weight as anyone else. Is there any way to check?

  4. One of the reasons I have up women’s magazines was their obsession with weight. As well as the diet you find articles on every other page about this celebrity or that who has got fat/got thin/got too fat/got too thin/got fat-all-over-again.

    I only buy home design magazines now and don’t miss the women’s mags at all.

    S x

  5. It always amuses me that the covers of Women’s Day always has some sort of “How to lose weight” on the front cover, as well as a picture of a great looking dessert.

  6. Oh… so much this! I hate those stupid magazines! If their stupid diets worked, they wouldn’t have to publish a new one every month! And heaven forbid they should talk about mindful or intuitive eating. Of course, none of those magazines really mean it when they talk about self-acceptance. They mean “accept yourself within the ideals that we think you should meet.” Bah!

    About six months ago, Glamour magazine showed up in my post office box. My first thought was that it was for the person who used to have the box. Check the address label, nope. It has my name. WTH? I checked with my Facebook friends (many of whom are also friends offline) and asked if any of them had sent it as a gift. It wasn’t any of them. I hadn’t taken it home from the post office, and didn’t leave it on the table as a freebie for someone else. I took the mailing label off and tossed that atrocity into the recycle bin that our P.O. conveniently provides. There was no way that piece of trash was going home with someone else.

  7. (Triggers)

    Oh, good. I was afraid they had missed the these-chronic-weight-cyclers-lost-eight-million-pounds-on-the-last-downswing-so-you-can-too cover, the one they use to reenforce the toxic myth that anyone can (and will) lose weight if they’re really good, moral, worthwhile people who deserve to. But there it is near the end! Whew. And of course in five years, they’ll be doing a follow-up to see how many of their Good Dieters *headpat* actually kept that weight off, right? Because they wouldn’t want to be deceptive or exploitative or anything. /sarcasm

    I was just thinking of this the other day, though. I know one reason readers buy these magazines is because they’ve been marinated since birth in the belief that Fat is Bad and that anything trying to Stop Fat People From Existing is Good. But does anyone think another reason is that fighting for the right to exist in a natural genetically-inherited body in a society with an irrational hatred for it sounds… you know, HARD, like it’s going to take a long time and their friends and family won’t like it, while these diets are promising readers an end to stigma that’s *fast* and *easy* and will get the dieter tons of social approval? “Lose thirty pounds in three months!” they promise, and Fat Jane Magazine Reader thinks, “Wow. If I fight for fat rights and acceptance it might not happen for years, or even in my lifetime, but my hell could end in *three months* if I follow that diet!”

    I dunno, maybe I’m rambling incoherently. I love how you always say they’re stealing our self-esteem, cheapening it, and selling it back to us for a profit. It seems to me they do the same thing with hope.

    1. ^Addendum to that middle paragraph: Then, it’s important to note, though we all know it, the diet does not work, because diets don’t, but Jane blames herself. Like every other aspect of the wretched weight loss industry, the magazine gets her money once, and then gets it again when she buys the next issue for its “guaranteed!” diet plan.

  8. I’ll take a subscription to either Food & Wine or Fine Cooking… and just either rip out or ignore the diet food ads they run. Every issue has at least one or two ads for lo-fat this or reduced-calorie that… but the articles are all about cooking delicious things and not about losing weight. It’s a lot easier to ignore a quarter-page ad than a front cover headline.

    Still, it kind of annoys me that even my food porn includes fat-shaming messages, albeit less of them and less intrusive ones.

    1. Video game magazines have fat-shaming ads. The Old Spice ones are particularly nasty; they (MAJOR trigger warning) show “nerdy” fat men *cut open* to reveal “cool” thin men, with the tagline, “There’s a man in there somewhere.” I don’t know if they still run those because I haven’t read ’em in awhile, but yeah, I winced every time I saw one.

        1. I Am Not Making This Up. I was able to find one by googling the tagline, although I decided not to post a link to it (free traffic and all). What kills me is the guy who’s been bisected doesn’t even bleed; apparently, he’s made out of vaguely fleshy Plasticine it’s perfectly safe to just cut away.

          Funny… when it isn’t YOUR kid in the kitchen trying to use a carving knife to liberate their “inner thin person.” 😡

              1. Hee hee! I’m a LONGtime Dave fan and commenter on his blog. We have a great community on facebook and I love those people like family. If you’re a Dave fan, you are good people!!

    2. In the UK, Woman & Home do a ‘Feel Good Food’ recipe magazine thing, and it drives me insane because they seem to feel the need to assign some kind of objective moral value to 90% of their food. Like, a recipe for a chocolate mousse roulade with a raspberry garnish will have a blurb at the top telling you that raspberries contain selenium which helps grow healthy nails and hair! Or some meat dish that contains 1tsp of turmeric is blurbed with something about turmeric having [vitamin] which helps [XYZ]. Like you can’t eat anything because it’s delicious/filling/varied/you just fucking want to, you have to have some bullshit faux-objective ‘excuse’ for ingesting the calories you need to fucking live.

  9. Are there any fitness magazines out there that DON’T focus on weight loss? It would be nice to have an HAES friendly choice to read in the sauna, or to flip through to get some ideas for changing up workouts.

    1. The last time I saw fitness tips on glossy paper that didn’t assume that “fit” and “healthy” were both spelled T-H-I-N, I was reading BBW. I would also like to see something like that again. At the very least, a magazine that didn’t photoshop out all of a model’s body fat and some of her muscles(!) in an attempt to make her look “ideal.”

  10. Yeah, I stopped subscribing to “Self” magazine about two years ago. It’s not targeted toward me, and there was little between the pages to that I found of interest. And it made my BP go up to see all those fake bodies being held up as an ideal.

    Occasionally there was a good article about stretches to relieve back pain or muscle aches, but it was nothing I couldn’t find for myself on the internet. I don’t like to open a magazine (which I read for fun) and close it feeling like a failure because my body isn’t slim, brown, hairless, and glistening.

    I’d rather go play squirt guns with my kids.

  11. There are those that actually read those magazines for the diet tips and the recipes for chocolate cake not me! I like to go to the major book chain and go to their magazine section which is huge and then thumb through some of my faves that are usually British and usually a home type magazine and they’re kind of $$ but they’re so nice and very little fat shaming in them at least from what I’ve seen in Ideal Homes or Country Living Brit version. Or I go to the crafty section or the food section of the magazines and they’re so much better than the crap that is usually by the checkout in the grocery store!

  12. – Vol Up 2 is probably the best fashion mag ever and the only one I would ever seriously read or remotely consider subscribing to…Seriously, if fashion mags are your thing, check it out! Also warning: NSFW!

    Other than that, it’s National Geographic, Smithsonian, and professional journals only at this household!

  13. I think the reason people still believe the weight loss myth is that almost everyone gets an initial result. Nobody gets an initial result trying to grow taller (unless they haven’t finished growing).

    EVERYONE I have ever talked to about dieting (including me) gets all excited when those first pounds melt off. Then somewhere the process stalls and you get frustrated and depressed and maybe give up on the movement part of your routine and eventually the pounds come back and you feel worse. Since nobody admits that this is exactly how most bodies work, it feels like a personal failure, rather than what’s normal.

    Seriously, I had about three people this year regularly announcing their weight-loss and how happy they were. All that talk has stopped. Some of them mentioned hitting a point of not losing, or maybe gaining back a pound. Maybe they have gotten too busy to post about it. I suspect they have stalled, though and are frustrated and maybe blaming themselves. It makes me sad.

  14. Ragen, this is a lovely example of quantitative content analysis, a research method that involves critically analyzing some form of human communication. More reading fodder for my Methods students? Why, thank you! 😀

  15. I somehow ended up with a free subscription to a teen lifestyle magazine when I was 12 or 13 (I think it was just called “Teen”). It pretty much assaulted my self esteem in every way possible. All of the models had long, thin legs, porcelain skin, and perfect hair (now I realize these pictures were likely edited). Somehow my tween brain decided that I should look like them. The magazine also made me more aware of how unfashionable I was…and they would make suggestions for “cheap” outfits that my parents could never afford (my clothing allowance was $100 per year). I’ve heard that magazines for tweens have stopped airbrushing and have started using models of different sizes, but I haven’t looked at any to see if that’s true.

    1. When I was, oh, I forget, somewhere between 9 and 11, my grandmother started giving me subscriptions to Teen and Seventeen every year “so I would have a role model of what to look like” (her words, she totally disapproved of my hippy mother –this was my father’s mother.) By the time I was 12, I was borderline anorexic. This is not a coincidence.

      1. Wow…I hope you’ve been able to recover from that. I think I’ve had some sort of eating disorder too as a young adult, but it’s more related to having health issues and trying to solve them with various diets, and then becoming obsessed with food and going overboard. My primary body concern as a thirteen-year-old was my severe acne. The magazine, with its airbrushed models, did not help with this (I never knew that some models and actresses had acne). I hated my skin so much that I did stupid things like soak it in a dish soap solution while breathing through a straw, and pouring hot candle wax or using a hot glue gun on my face because I thought it would stick to the blackheads and I’d be able to peel them off.

        As to where my subscription came from…I think it was related to signing up for a music club through BMG. I was able to get 12 CDs for the price of one (by cancelling membership before being billed monthly), but of course it required providing my name and mailing address. It’s also possible it was a relative who wished to remain secret in order to avoid tension in the family, but if that’s the case, it would have been more about helping me become exposed to secular society than about body size. My parents were Christian Fundamentalists and would never have bought the subscription for me.

        I do think that when the fundamentalism started to sicken me, I sort of threw the baby out with the bathwater; I wanted to be the opposite of what Fundamentalism said I should be. I’ve recovered enough now to realize that not ALL of the Fundamentalists’ values are terrible. For example, I can admit that the pop culture industry and the stuff it produces (like those magazines) sometimes have a negative impact on society (but I no longer believe that it is an agent of Satan).

      2. When I was 16, I sometimes bought YM. The only parts that were funny were the letters sections, other than that I didn’t read it.

        1. My brother had a subscription to a Christian magazine for teen boys which actually discussed objectification and unrealistic portrayal of the female body in magazines and catalogs. I’m an athiest now, and if I looked back at that magazine I’m sure some parts would make my stomach flip, but the discussion about women in catalogs was very helpful for me–in fact, I think that was where I first heard about airbrushing.

  16. Woman’s World has a “different” diet and something sweet and rich on the front cover every week. The diets are basically all calorie restriction plus the latest greatest magic thinness trick. But I actually did see one useful diet tip: If you are feeling draggy and dull all the time, perhaps foods high in substances that encourage the production of dopamine in the body would help. Of course, they ruin it by recommending 1200 calories a day . . .

  17. God, this is all so depressing and of course true and it’s more or less the same here in the UK. But why do most women who buy these magazines, believe this crap and keep buying them, making the companies richer? The bosses of these must be laughing all the way to the bank?

    I have also noticed here that some organisations, that are not commercial ones are trying to “dress up” the dieting lecturing and going down the road of the health companies/Doctors and saying it’s for your health. I’m sure I’ve mentioned on here previously that I have various medical conditions and subscribe to an Arthritis and Fibromyalgia Magazine. The Fibromyalgia UK magazine is pretty good, in that it rarely does the diet&lecturing thing, but the Arthritis magazine had a major overhaul/revamp earlier this year, unfortunately just after I had paid my yearly subscription fee. This has gone from a gentle magazine focused on treatments/medical advice/support etc.,to just a lot like other weekly women’s magazines, but I’m told has proved very popular! I read a lot but it goes to show how it’s hacked me off as the new one(it’s every 3 months)came in recently and I still hadn’t read the previous one!

    Some of the headlines on the front cover are, “Eat for Energy” and “Think Positively”, the whole premise when you read further inside are that it’s your fault that you’re not eating right or thinking a certain way. This doesn’t work on any level for me, as I feel that health.disability, eating etc., are greatly affected by your life experience, lack of money, long term stress and more. I am tied in until early next year and though it’s not a lot of money, I will be cancelling as I don’t need this kind of lecturing, pointing the finger coming in to my home. Lets face it, there’s enough of this in the shops and many other places once we step outside our door, as you, Ragen found doing grocery shopping.

    This is also brings me to something I read online recently, here in the UK, 7th richest country in the world, I believe, we have the “growth” of food banks, because people can’t afford their bills, housing and to eat, even if working. Because of the nature of how they’re run, they give out specific tinned&long life food, yet some well meaning people are raving on about those poor not eating fresh, healthy, cheaper food!!! Some wise people did attempt to put them straight, i.e if a person only has a tiny amount of money in their pocket, little means to cook etc., they will just buy a bag of chips(french fries to you) or something else, “not fresh/healthy” as they just need to eat!!

    Take care, Marion

    1. Personally, I would write a letter explaining why I no longer wish to subscribe and asking for the return of the unused portion of your funds. Most magazines will do this, and including the explanation of why is valuable to them.

    2. “But why do most women who buy these magazines, believe this crap and keep buying them, making the companies richer? The bosses of these must be laughing all the way to the bank?”

      I think people are insecure and don’t know how to deal with it. If you don’t grow up being accepted for who you are by your family, then you start looking elsewhere trying to figure how to be accepted and magazines and advertisers play into that.

      I’m not trying to say we are all from abusive families (although some are) but nobody is born knowing how to get through life and we all spend some time figuring it out. This gets frustrating and if someone claims they have the answer, well, who wouldn’t want that?

      Until any given person can accept that there really is no right or wrong to move through life, that person is in danger of buying into a pack of lies.

  18. Years ago i was a bit obsessed by these magazines, buying several every month for about 2 years. Then i realized i have so many of them everywhere, so i decided to stop and just tear out what i think is useful and sort it in a binder. Not surprisingly i found out that they keep publishing several topics over and over again and instead of tons of magazines (with 50% pages filled with advertisments) it is much more practical and at the end cheaper to buy a book (or use a google) about whatever i am interested in (makeup, excercise, gynecological health, self defense, what to pack for vacation, how to mix and match your clothes, etc …. ) ans spare myself of topics i hate and the adds that try to lure me to spend money on useless stuff.

  19. I haven’t read any “women’s” magazines in years. Sunset fulfills all my magazine recipe needs along with a healthy dose of travel, garden and home improvement. It’s sad, though, that “healthy” recipes are so often marketed as for weight loss. A crisp apple is just plan delicious, despite being full of vitamins, fiber and no fat. Salads can be divine, especially if you branch away from iceburg. My favorite is equal parts celery and radish, with a few olives and a lemon juice/olive oil dressing. I won’t lose a pound eating them, but they sure are yummy!

  20. I see people say things along the lines of “It’s so easy! Just diet and exercise to lose weight, duh!”

    So then the fat person does the diet and exercise, weight comes off at first, then the loss stops and gain will start.

    Then I see people say, “Ugh fat people just want it to be easy and not do any hard work! Of course it’s hard! You have to work hard(er) to get results!” and of course the accusations that you must be cheating.

    Sometimes it’s the same people saying both. Do they pay attention to what comes out of their mouthes?

    1. I think this ties into the idea that fat is a character flaw. If you are fat, according to mainstream society, it is a sign you are doing something immoral. The person who says those things knows this, because Everybody Knows this, but if they see you starving and exercising piously (often more than they themselves do) while fat… well, you must be doing something wrong, because if you aren’t, and are still fat, it’s a huge blow to their worldview that fat is an outward manifestation of inward immorality, and not having it makes them Good People by default.

  21. My God… All the promises of a “flat” stomach… As a woman who weighs 100 pounds, I can tell you there’s no such thing. NOBODY has a completely flat stomach. That would be like trying to get a flat butt or trying to get rid of your hips.

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