How One Magazine Changed My Life

How one magazine changed my life.

In present day society, diet culture is everywhere you turn. Hundreds of television commercials advertising the latest beauty products and fitness brands, your favorite celebrities talking about what diet they're currently on and even the publications we read.

There are many reasons and ways one can be susceptible to disordered eating or an eating disorder. The factors which contribute to these issues are often multifaceted, meaning there are usually multiple factors. These factors include, but are not limited to: family pressures and dynamics, images portrayed by the media, experiences with peers throughout childhood, genetic predispositions, trauma, and more. We cannot always control for all of these factors. In fact, many are out of our control. However, I do believe we can work towards creating a more positive environment by creating personal boundaries.

When I was a pre-teen adolescent, verging on the entry of those dreaded middle school years, I was very susceptible to the influences of the diet and fitness industries. Like many young girls (and young boys) the puberty years are some of the toughest to endure because of all the bodily changes that take place.

During this time of my adolescence, I can remember wanting very much to change my appearance. Whether it was so boys would like me more or to fit in with my peers, I was desperate to learn everything I could about how to change my appearance to look more like what I was exposed to at the time. Magazine publications became a huge influence for me and how I would cultivate my identity, or at least what I thought my identity should be based on the messages I received.

I can remember wanting to buy all the magazine publications I could. I would inpatiently wait every month for new editions of my favorites to hit the stands. Teen, Seventeen, Glamour, Cosmogirl - I spent my allowance on all of them. What articles was I most interested in reading? Everything that had to do with diet, fitness and beauty.

The magazine industry is a multibillion dollar industry that bases all their earnings from the advertisers that support them. Flip through any given magazine and you're likely to find more than half of it is advertisements about beauty products, fitness brands and diet companies. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of these publications, is that many of them masquerade as a way to try and help and improve you. With headlines like, "Age proof your whole body," and, "Flat Belly Finally - Score Flat Abs," the headline sounds like it's trying to solve a problem you have, when in actuality, it's telling you that your body is the problem.

But that's how advertising works. It's a cycle. The magazine publication headlines and articles need to convince you that there is something wrong with you so that you will subscribe to wanting/trying to fix the "problem." To do so, you have to buy beauty products, diet supplies and fitness gear. And that's how they earn their money, because the advertisers pay the magazines to publish these articles convincing you to feel bad about yourself so that you will buy their products. (Mic drop.)

To this very day, I can remember a very specific issue of a magazine called YM. I can remember exactly what the cover looked like and most of the content of the magazine. I read this issue SO MANY TIMES that I practically had it memorized. This issue was their "Fitness and Beauty Special Edition" for that year and was riddled with hundreds of tips for "getting the body you want," and "finally getting thin." I soaked up all of these messages like a dry sponge. I read this magazine cover to cover so many times that the actual cover did eventually wear off. I read it so many times that even now, nearly twenty years later, I had no problem picking out the cover of the magazine from a Google image search.

YM Magazine

Action Challenge

Looking back, these magazines did not teach me how to prioritize my health, but brainwashed me into having a diet mentality. As an adult, I am amazed even to this day how many of these magazines are still using these same tactics. Magazines that by the very title and definition should be helping you to achieve long-lasting health, have a very different motive entirely. One of the challenges we complete in my Break the Mold: Building Better Body Image course is to complete a Google image search of your favorite magazine publication. In this example here, we search for the popular Women's Health Magazine.

Women Health Magazine

When I think of my health, I think of it as a part of myself that is comprised of many different aspects. There's my mental health, physical health, emotional health and my social health (how I relate with others). However, a quick Google search for the Women's Health Magazine blatantly demonstrates that the magazine's definition of "health" primarily focuses on appearance, NOT other important measurements of health.

What You Can Do

It is unlikely the magazine industry is going to read this post and make drastic changes overnight. After all, they are already aware of the damage they cause, but do little to make changes unless pressured by greater demands. For example, YM magazine acquired a new editor who boldly decided to stop publishing harmful articles and headlines for their magazine. Subsequently, advertisers began pulling their ads from the magazine. YM ceased publishing shortly thereafter.

It will not be enough for one editor to make the decision that these articles and advertisements are harmful. We will only see change once consumers begin spending their money in other industries other than beauty products and diet brands. Perhaps that begins with you. I challenge you to take a look at the publications, advertisements and other media avenues you subscribe to and ask whether or not the messages you are supporting are helpful or harmful to you and your values. We CAN make a choice to spend our money on things that bring us joy, peace and harmony with ourselves and our bodies. Instead of spending your money on the latest beauty trend or diet food, think about investing that money in a evergreen experience which will bring you joy for years to come, such as travel or relationships. 

My hope for the future is that we see more and more of these publications respond by pulling advertising targeting towards beauty and diet brands. Instead, I believe if we (as women) demonstrate that we want to be valued for other reasons, then we will begin to see different features in the media. I, for one, would rather read about travel experiences, personal stories of growth and health articles that speak of health in the many different ways that are NOT related to weight or size.