Women’s health magazines using ‘Cosmo’ tactics do more harm than good

    “His Best Sex Ever” “The Sexy Confidence Men Can’t Resist” “78 Ways to Turn Him On” “What Men Find Hot” And this isn’t even the Sex Issue. Reading these headlines on a magazine as a woman may make you think: “Hey, what about me?”

    “His Best Sex Ever”

    “The Sexy Confidence Men Can’t Resist”

    “78 Ways to Turn Him On”

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    “What Men Find Hot”

    And this isn’t even the Sex Issue. Reading these headlines on a magazine as a woman may make you think: “Hey, what about me?”

    “Cosmopolitan” does a great job of educating women on male sexuality, while, for the most part, ignoring that of women.

    Unhealthy obsessions

    “So you ate a cupcake? Fast moves to burn it off!”

    “Flatten Your Belly”

    Headlines like these are all too common in “Cosmo,” as well as many other women’s publications, including those advertised as “health” magazines. While it might seem like this encourages women to be healthy, the obsession with thinness can actually be extremely harmful, giving many women a negative body image by encouraging the acceptance of only a certain type of body — a slim one.

    These publications also stigmatize eating, which can propagate eating disorders as well as a phobia of fat bodies. By promoting exercise and making women ashamed of eating, “Cosmo” is far from promoting body acceptance and positivity among women. This is also tied into the fact that most of the “health” tips featured have an emphasis on losing weight in order to be more attractive to men.

    Women’s magazines promote being sexy and attractive to men more than being healthy and accepting of one’s body. This is even present in magazines like “Women’s Health,” in which 43 percent of the advertisements feature beauty and fashion advice, as stated on their website; appearance trumps health and nutrition by a long shot.

    Health magazines focus on weight loss and maintenance and not on general health for women of any weight. Many of their headlines are eerily similar to “Cosmo”: 

    “The 8-Hour Diet!”

    “Hot Body Secrets”

    “Strong & Sexy Workout”

    “Flat Belly Finally!”

    The covers accompanying these headlines all feature thin white women, not-so-subtly enforcing a certain expectation for a woman’s appearance.

    Real danger

    None of these articles would include an important finding by the CDC that, to a certain extent, weight does not have a significant effect on health or mortality. Only when a woman’s body mass index rises above 35 (the equivalent of a 5’7″ person weighing upwards of 230 pounds) is her health significantly impacted. Despite this, health magazines push dangerous dieting and an intent focus on appearance.

    Some may argue that men are just as negatively impacted by the media, since men in magazines and on television are depicted as being more attractive and fitter than your average guy. This is, however, a false equivalence. When women are represented in the media, they usually fill the role of a sexual object that exists for male fulfillment. For this reason, they are typically portrayed as physically weak and submissive, oversexualized, objectified, and focused solely on men. Men are usually portrayed as strong, muscular, dominant, and, most importantly, independent.

    A study published by the journal “Body Image” in 2007 found that young girls’ body image is much more influenced by the media than that of young boys, and this influence is hugely negative. Girls are more likely to be body conscious and feel insecure about their weight and appearance than boys are, and this study says that the negative portrayal of women in magazines like “Cosmo” is a likely cause.

    Underrepresented groups of people, such as African Americans, large-bodied women, and transgender women, are rarely shown in women’s magazines, though they presumably need health information too.

    Next time you look through the magazine rack at the convenience store, take another look at the women’s section, and you will notice that what are branded as women’s magazines could easily cause more harm than good. Think again about what their headlines are really instructing women to do and how to view themselves — through the eyes of men and society, or for their own satisfaction?

    Kate Power is a student at Ursinus College, class of 2015, majoring in biology, minoring in German.

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