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Women’s Magazines: Body Shame & Subtle Messages

It’s been a while since I’ve written a “Minding the Magazines” post, where we examine the damaging messages that women’s magazines perpetuate. And, with all the usual suspects – articles on bikini bods and hawk-like watching of your diet this summer – it’s certainly about time.

For starters, please enjoy the brilliant illustration above from the amazing author, illustrator and body diversity crusader Elizabeth Patch. I’m so honored that she let me use this image. Thanks so much, Elizabeth! Be sure to check out Elizabeth’s post on mixed messages from women’s magazines.

Some articles in women’s magazines are crystal clear, blatantly making us feel like crap, and making no bones about it. A sample from Women’s Health:

With so many drawbacks, you might wonder if you’d be better off just accepting your belly rolls. But the perils of being overweight still outweigh the risks of yo-yoing.

(On a side note, yo-yo dieting is dangerous. In fact, the article goes through a litany of reasons why yo-yo dieting is unhealthy; yet it goes back to the same trite – and untrue – statement about being overweight. And last time I checked weight isn’t an indicator of your health. Healthy habits are!)

Other articles, though, don’t throw you under the battle-of-the-bulge bus or smack you with disordered eating sentiment. Instead they buy you flowers and sweetly call you a cab to take you to that place of self-loathing. What do I mean?

In other words, some articles can dish out equally-as-damaging tips but in a subtle way.

In the same article in Women’s Health, they suggest being vigilant to stop yo-yo dieting:

“If you lose 30 pounds and then gain three, it’s easy to think that’s no big deal. But it’s a slippery slope,” Foster says – especially if you have a history of yo-yoing. Weigh yourself weekly, and have a clear plan of action ready if the scale swings too far.

While at first this might seem reasonable, it basically scares you into sleeping with your scale – and eating and showering with it, too. Weighing yourself every week forces you to fixate on the numbers.

But, if you’re engaging in healthy practices like eating well and exercising, then why is your weight important? What if you’re doing these things but the number isn’t budging? Does that mean that eating healthfully and participating in physical activity is pointless, that it’s nullified just because you haven’t lost weight? Of course not!

These subtle, yet pervasive, messages only push you toward unhealthy habits, like counting calories, restricting your food intake, over-exercising and obsessing about your weight. (BTW, I’ve written before about the importance of unshackling ourselves from the scale, and how to stop equating our self-worth with our weight).

Another subtle sample from Self:

To make eating right a lifelong habit, look for regular slim-spiration. Email four or five friends once a month and ask each to reply-all with a healthy recipe; sign up for a race or fitness event to motivate you to stay in shape; or plan an exotic beach vacation and vow not to pack your sarong. If you maintain your new healthy habits, you won’t even need it!

OK, maybe I’m the only one, but when I read slim-spiration, I automatically think of Pro-Ana’s thinspiration, and that just makes me queasy. Also, something tells me that by “new healthy habits,” what Self really means is restricting your eating and exercising like its manual labor. If you’re not doing that, then you should cloak yourself in thick, dark sarongs – or just don a parka. These subtle messages only serve to perpetuate body shame.

Speaking of body shame: Even when you think a magazine may have a ray of sunshine, you realize, well, it’s really a big, black cloud. For instance, this is Self’s version of body confidence:

Next to images of a bathing suit, board shorts, a skirt and tunic, it says:

Hello, body confidence! Feel free to dash for a smoothie. We’ve got you covered.

Next to the tunic: “It’s impossible to be self-conscious in a silk tunic.” These subtle sentences further the idea that you have to hide yourself, because if you aren’t at your fittest or slimmest or whatever, you should be ashamed. Want to feel better? Forget self-acceptance. Try on a cover-up.

The below body-shame goodie comes from this month’s Shape:

It’s officially swimsuit season – that time when the trouble spots you’ve concealed all year (thank you, Spanx) are on full display. But don’t panic. If you’ve been following our Bikini Body Countdown, you’re just about ready for the big reveal.”

This reminds me of a post I wrote last June about how magazines manufacture panic. Again, we can flaunt our curves but only if we’ve chiseled them away. Or at least the fat surrounding them.

And to end on a funny – yet sorta sad – note: Self gives us some inspiration for doing the workouts necessary to slim down for swimsuit season:

First, jot down something about yourself that you’d like to change – say, the way your arms keep waving after you stop. At Self, we rarely give you permission to dislike something about yourself, but in this case, it will actually help. Why? A negative feeling (spark) is strong enough to get you past powerful inertia – then you can operate from a more positive frame of mind.

In other words, hating your disgusting arm fat will be a great motivator for working out. Talk about sheer positivity! And about Self not giving us permission to dislike something about ourselves? Oh, the irony! At least they said “rarely,” instead of “never.”

What do you think about women’s magazines? What’s the worst thing you’ve recently read?

Today’s favorite post. A Big Healthy Girl” by Elizabeth Patch at More to Love.

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!

Women’s Magazines: Body Shame & Subtle Messages

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2019). Women’s Magazines: Body Shame & Subtle Messages. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 30 Mar 2019
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