How healthy are health magazines? This is the question that researchers from Appalachian State University posed in their research article that was published in the Sex Roles psychological journal. The team led by Doris Bazzini investigated how “health” messages are marketed to men and women. They did this by analysing the text and visual content of the covers of two popular health magazines, Men’s Health and Women’s Health. These magazines are common in most news-stands and generally feature some celebrity or fitness figure portrayed in a manner that accentuates their fit physique.
In terms of what themes emerged from their analysis, Bazzini and her team found that both magazines used language that objectified the body, focusing more on its aesthetic than health values. As somewhat expected given the unfortunate fact that women are generally scrutinised based on their appearance more than men, the objectifying language was more prevalent in Women’s Health than in the equivalent male publication. Nevertheless, objectifying language was found to be commonplace on the covers of both magazines. Additionally this language was found to feed into and promote male and female stereotypes such as the muscular male and the petite and slender female. Bazzini and her colleagues concluded that the health messages featured on these magazine covers were secondary to the image related messages.
Body objectification is described as the process of viewing or treating a body as an object and therefore negating what that body is capable of doing. This concept emerged from Feminist theory and was once considered a female only phenomenon, however the increasing societal demand to look a certain way has meant that this term is commonly now applied to men also. The effects of objectification have been studied in great detail and research has shown that an increased focus on appearance over function can impact negatively on an individual’s overall sense of self and their self-worth. It can also impair several areas of functioning including sexual and can contribute to the development of psychological disorders such as depression, disordered eating, anxiety and substance disorders. Furthermore messages that promote gender stereotypes, such as those found on the covers of health magazines, only further act to tell people that they need to look or behave a certain way and therefore add no value to the arguments of gender politics.
So to relate back to the earlier question, the answer (at least from a psychological perspective) is likely that health magazines are not in fact that healthy. For every instance where a health magazine is deemed to be useful and informative for encouraging healthy practices, it is likely that there is a contrasting instance where material in the magazine objectifies the body, therefore inflicting extremely unhealthy ideas on the reader. Such ideas can cause an individual to develop and/or maintain extremely unhealthy thoughts and behaviours that may become extremely detrimental to the individual later on. The influence of media sources such as the aforementioned health magazines, that promote unhealthy and unrealistic ideas about the body can be seen everywhere. Avoiding this influence is extremely difficult and we are likely to be currently or to have been in the past, affected by it. The most important thing to remember in order to buffer the negative consequences of such exposure is to always try to value your body more so for what it can do instead of what it looks like.
Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.