Words from a Self-Proclaimed Fitness Junkie: My Problem with Fitness Magazines


*This article was originally published on Find Your Strength: Words from a Self-Proclaimed Fitness Junkie. Republished with permission.

I like to ask people where they get their fitness and health information. Let’s say that’s a hobby of mine.

What do you think is the most common answer?

Fitness magazines, of course. Especially Shape, Self, Muscle and Fitness, and Fitness.

Now, my problem isn’t with the magazines themselves. Sometimes there’s good information in there, especially good recipes.

My problem is with the images.


Flip through one of those magazines, and tell me what you see. I see a bunch of unrealistic bodies and ideas of beauty. It’s true that mainstream media is starting to show more body types and shapes as being healthy. But it doesn’t mean that these images are being shown as desirable. Nor does it mean that these images are diverse.

For example, I looked at about a year’s worth of covers of Shape magazine, and all the covers featured white women, who all had similar body types. No diversity at all. Well, they had different hair colors. Maybe that’s their idea of diversity?

Yoga1dapperQ yoga instructor Zsuzsi Bork

Anyway, not everyone can identify with those images. Yet when people see those images in fitness magazines, they want to end up looking like them.

They can’t, and they won’t look like them. But people try the workout plans, buy the magazines, order the products in the advertisements with the idea that they will magically lose weight, change their bodies, and look as beautiful as the women (or men) they see in the pictures. And when it doesn’t happen, guess what…they quit. They get frustrated. You get frustrated.

But then next month, you see another magazine featuring a program promising a loss of 30 pounds without dieting or exercising, without changing your behaviors to create a healthy lifestyle. So you buy the magazine with renewed hopes that this time you’ll look like the model posing next to those words.

The goal shouldn’t be to look like the models. It should be to adopt a healthy lifestyle for the good of your health, not for what you’ll look like.

This is especially difficult for minorities to deal with. On a subconscious level, the lack of diverse images feeds into the insecurity some minorities feel about their own beauty.

V Magazine Studs Editorialvia V Magazine

This isn’t a new phenomenon; the dominance of European beauty standards has long plagued minorities and influenced how minorities feel about their own features and themselves. The images found in fitness magazines are images of beauty, and the lack of diversity in fitness magazines feed into what is essentially self-hate.

Body Positive Balletvia Tumblr

So there’s my rant. I could go on about how reading fitness magazines while working out can be counterproductive and even depressing, or how fitness magazines spread misinformation issue after issue (which makes it hard to fight against the myths through education–just because you read it in a magazine doesn’t make it true).

As usual, leave your comments. I welcome your rants (or raves, just express yourself).

About the author: DSC00418

Jess is a PhD candidate studying public health with a focus on health equity in the US, especially on using public policy to improve the health of the most vulnerable populations in the nation. Jess is also a certified personal trainer and runs the blog Find Your Strength: Words from a Self-Proclaimed Fitness Junkie.


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  • I don’t look at fitness magazines. The cover you have above looks heavily photoshopped. The model also looks like she doesn’t work out at all!

    Getting fit takes work but it can be really fun! And getting fit isn’t just for youth. The cool thing is that as I get more fit I feel better & I look healthier.
    We do need more diverse images of what fit looks like.

  • I appreciate this, but you know when I look at dapperQ I mostly see models who are thin or skinny. Not a lot of larger-than-ideal models in dapperQ. You guys do great on the gender diversity and ethnic diversity, but not so much as far as body shape is concerned.

    I love your work, just a little note that we do notice these things. .

  • Hi Elisa,

    We appreciate your feedback. dapperQ is run completely by volunteers, generates absolutely zero revenue, and has absolutely zero budget. Most of our volunteers work 9-5 jobs (I’m an HIV research nurse who works 12 hour days, M-F), and between working, spending time with friends and family, and just living (shopping, cooking, working out, etc.) we manage to find time to blog. We have made multiple attempts to recruit, with what little time we have, models that represent our community. However, the reality is that most of the models featured on our blog contact us or are eager to accept our offer to be featured. We cannot force anyone to be featured, we have no money to pay folks to be featured, and we have limited time to spend scouting models on the street.

    If you know of anyone who would like to be featured, please send them our way.

  • I started Pilates Reformer 2 years ago, just because my health. I always liked activities/sports, but there was a long period of time that I couldn’t practice any. Anyways, I never bought a fitness magazine, people there seems like obsessive with the image and they cover it by saying “it’s about having a healthy life”. No way, you can be healthy without looking like those images. This is my opinon of course. But I like to encourage people just to have a healthy life without the stress of pursuing an image that is not natural for their own image/body/genetics/rutine. I’m not agree with imposing ideal images to anybody. Is so logic, that we are so different inside and outside. So we should focus on every person’s right to be happy with their own image and circumstances in the best way they can. And plus, having a healthy life just because health, as you said.

    ps. I just loved the Tumblr’s image you posted here.

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