A Letter to “Health” Magazine

Dear Health Magazine,

We’re past “the top 10 foods that are secretly making you fat” and “11 ways to stop overeating after a workout”. We’re past “Superfoods that help you stay super slim”. We’ve FINALLY arrived at “all bodies are beautiful” and we call that the body positive movement. We’re reclaiming words like “fat” and “plus size” as descriptors of people rather than critiques. We’re not really into “no offense but that makes you look big” anymore. We’re definitely over mistaking “thin” for healthy and we’re tired of seeing only slim fitting, toned bodies as ideal bodies or how we should aspire to look if we want to be perceived as healthy. Nearly 50% of women in the U.S. wear a size 14 and even with this reality knocking down the fragile notions of the garment and retail industries countless headlines are STILL encouraging us to make more changes, swaps, or restrictions. Change your food, your home, your friends, and your workout. THEN you’ll be better – you’ll be healthy. And yes, some changes sometimes are warranted but, why can’t you tell me I should be happy with who I am or proud of doing enough? Is that too much to ask for? Honestly, we’ve moved beyond the misconceptions about women that fund your initiatives and fuel your subscriptions. Well, we’re trying! You keep shoving it down our throats with promotional orders we didn’t ask for and by flooding the internet with ways I didn’t even know I should be disappointed about my lifestyle and my body.

Here’s an example, last week this article was posted: Here’s How Far You Actually Need to Run to Reap the Health Benefits. As an avid runner I clicked on the link and initially this article met my expectations. Running has a number of associated health benefits which were mentioned in the post. I felt good about my weekly mileage and exercise accomplishments. I thought I was doing enough! What made me cringe, and I’m still thinking about it today, was the end of the article, “But of course, if you’re running to lose weight, the same logic still applies: More steps means more calories burned”. So basically as I’m reading along I’m thinking I’m liking this, I’m liking this and then BAM I’m not liking this anymore. To conflate “here are the health benefits” with “oh yea and you can also lose weight if you do MORE than this” is a BIG problem. Women who read this may start out feeling great about their lifestyle and exercise habits (maybe even encouraged to pursue running) only to feel ultimately defeated to know that if they want to lose weight (which apparently every woman should want to do) then they need to do more.

In the past week alone, the headlines on this site reminded me why we can’t let ourselves be consumed by what mainstream media articulates as the standard for healthy women. It also made me wonder why we think we can “tell” if someone is healthy just by looking at their body and judging their actions. [Side note: BMI is a messed up measure too! – because apparently I’m obese but can run a 10K!?!?] Furthermore, assuming every woman who reads Health Magazine is trying to lose weight is dangerous and insensitive. We’re beyond exclusively equating “health” with weight.

So, based on the unsettling conclusion of the article above, I did some investigating and found more disappointing headlines from that same week! Here are some that are entirely focused on weight loss and food: “12 Foods That Control Your Appetite” and “10 Types of Hunger and How to Control Them”. These articles tell you the “scientifically proven” ways to “reach your weight loss goals” and “say goodbye to unneeded calories”. Why not just put up a sign that says “you only matter if you are thin so you should probably start starving yourself now?” I won’t get into triggers and eating disorders too deeply right now but, for some women, this is where disordered eating habits and body image challenges begin. We’re inundated with new ways to fear food and reasons why we shouldn’t quench our hunger or respond to our body’s natural indication that it needs something – like food! So, we’re being encouraged to listen to our body but, what that really means, what the subtext is saying, is decide if you’re really hungry so you don’t eat for no reason and waste calories. Because calories are evil, food is evil and even your go-to foods should be changed so you can shed more pounds. In fact, we fear “fat” so violently that it’s encroaching on every aspect of our livelihoods.Red apple and tape measure. Image shot 02/2008. Exact date unknown.

Here’s another example: “10 Signs Your House Is Making You Fat”.  Now in your pursuit for “health” you can be averse to your own home too! Probably a deserted island with limited resources is the only safe place. Really, did you know that having stocked cabinets is putting you at risk for being “fat”? This statement is so problematic I don’t even know where to start! Oh also, “family style serving” is another no-no. First and foremost, I just want to scream “check your privilege!” What I’m reading here is a complete inattention to what this article is actually saying which is “your privilege, access, and food security is making you fat” and that’s horrible. Am I supposed to be sorry for your privilege or just ignore it like your editors did when I read this article?

These perspectives, these pseuo-bibles to living “correctly”, are dispelling a version of womanhood that requires us to expect that healthy living can only be achieved if it initially comes from a place of immense, intense dissatisfaction with our bodies and ourselves. These publications encourage constant criticism, crafting a narrative that misconstrues womanhood, and more specifically what/who is a “healthy woman”, to be a compilation of never ending changes and improvements based on overwhelming proportions of articles that tell you how severely you’re doing everything wrong and that you’re doomed to be “fat”. THE HORROR! Kidding. But really, where’s the “you’re doing it right” or “you’ve done enough” article? That’s an article I’d like to read.

Sincerely,

Someone who’s trying to do enough (Me)

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