On "Pseudo-Fitness" Magazines And Eating Disorders

Illustration for article titled On "Pseudo-Fitness" Magazines And Eating Disorders

The hypocrisy of women's "health" magazines becomes fairly obvious just by looking at their covers. For example, this month's Self magazine features one cover line, "Be Happy And Healthy At Any Size" tucked below a much larger cover line:

"3 Easy Ways To Lose Weight."

As Katie Drummond of True/Slant notes, "psuedo-fitness" magazines are "like heroin for the eating disordered. They often offer misleading diet information, along with airbrushed photos of impossible physical ideals, and perpetuate ugly myths about how health ought to look. It's obvious that these monthly doses are hurting us – but we can't help shell out for our next fix." Drummond, like myself, is in recovering from an eating disorder, and is careful to note that while these magazines don't cause EDs, they don't do much to perpetuate a healthy body image, either.


We already know Self editor Lucy Danziger's take on her own publication, as she notes that photoshop is used to "inspire women to want to be their best." By "their best," naturally, she means, "their thinnest." But Drummond's issues aren't with Danziger at this point—they're with current Shape magazine cover model Katharine McPhee, who posed for the magazine "airbrushed and in a bikini," despite her past, public struggle with bulimia. Drummond is understandably sympathetic to McPhee's struggles, but notes that "after purging as often as seven times a day, for five years, you'd think McPhee would know better than to perpetuate the very same unrealistic physical ideal she admits to struggling with...I'm not faulting McPhee for wanting to celebrate her health and recovery. But I am faulting her for doing it in a way that's likely going to do more harm than good for other women."

Sometimes I think those of us who have struggled with eating disorders have a radar that non-eating disordered people don't have: for Drummond and myself, seeing a confessed bulimic in a bikini on the cover of a fitness magazine, surrounded by articles on how to blast fat and cut calories, sets off a ton of alarm bells: the entire push of magazines like Shape and Self is that thin=healthy, and that weight loss=fitness, two very warped ideas of both health and body image that are dissected pretty handily during ED treatment. It's a tough call to make, honestly, regarding McPhee: on one hand, you have to give her credit for feeling confident enough in her body to open up to a health magazine, but on the other hand, it's pretty infuriating—not at McPhee, mind you, but at the illness in general—that she's standing amongst a sea of "lose weight now," and "drop that ab flab" bullshit.

That said, Katharine McPhee is not the Queen of Eating Disorder Recovery, and as with any recovering anorexic or bulimic, the choices she makes to continue along a healthy path are her own. But I'm with Drummond in that I find it both sad and irritating that someone who knows the disease, it's triggers, and the media bullshit that surrounds it would willingly participate in the promotion of skewed health and body image ideals, something that's troubling not only for ED sufferers who may be reading McPhee's article, but also for McPhee herself: "As anyone who has recovered from an eating disorder knows," Drummond writes, "the last thing – the very last thing – one should focus on is their bikini body, and, by extension, their weight or their size."

Drummond admits that she hasn't read the full interview with McPhee, and I'll freely admit that I won't read it, either. The last time I bought a Self or a Shape, I was relapsing, hard. I didn't look at them as "fitness" magazines as much as I looked at them as "diet" magazines. They may be okay for some people, but for those of us who view the world through eating disordered brains, they're just a pile of dangerous bullshit, a perpetuation of all of the lies our illnesses want us to believe. I eat right for my brain, for my body, for my overall health. I exercise for the same reasons. I don't do it to fit into a fucking bikini. Life, and health, is about so much more than dropping a dress size.

A Lesson In Health Hypocrisyy: Katharine McPhee And Shape [True/Slant]
Jessica Alba Covers "Self Magazine" [JustJared]


Phillipa Marlowe

When I had an eating disorder in high school, the effects of which are a distorted body image that is still an issue, I kept copies of Shape to make myself feel guilty for being 'fat'. Not that regular women's magazines don't also promote body issues, but they don't focus every single article and column on physical appearance.

I really can't stand these types of magazines, and I do feel that McPhee is irresponsible for knowingly participating in this with her past experiences. It makes me wonder if she isn't still in the throes of disordered eating/body image because of her continued focus on her body and appearance, and maybe even some feeling of achievement because she's finally 'skinny'. I can imagine that if I got really slim with disordered eating I would probably want to show everyone that I 'win'. I don't know if this makes sense...