In Which I Rant About Weight, Fitness Magazine Models, and Body Image

I love fitness magazines. Ok, ok, I shamelessly love fitness magazines. I love their workout suggestions, recipe ideas, and focus on being fashionable without breaking the bank.

The one thing that I’ve been persistently bothered by, though, has been the models used in the photoshoots. I know it’s weird, but hear me out.

We all know that fashion models generally look totally emaciated — I still think it’d be awesome if a fashion model fessed up to living in impoverished, famine-stricken third-world countries in order to stay so unnaturally skinny (“Yeah, so as soon as Fashion Week is over, I go straight to Darfur…”) — but the models in fitness mags also look, in my opinion at least, unattainably thin.

They’re not horrifically thin like their counterparts on the runway in Paris, but I’d quite literally have to starve myself if I wanted to look like this:

Image source: SELF.com
Image source: SELF.com

In both these cases, the women pictured definitely aren’t emaciated — to the contrary, they look quite healthy — but they’re waaaay skinnier than I’ll ever be (barring a vacay to Somalia, diseases too scary to contemplate, or a close encounter with a tapeworm).

You see, I’m a curvy girl. My mom and all the women on her side of the family are teeny, naturally skinny types who have to try to put on weight; I, by contrast, inherited the hearty Irish constitution that comes from my dad’s side of the family. If my genetic destiny as a descendant of the Emerald Isle is to harvest potatoes and have a veritable football team of babies, well, I look the part.

But when I see these pictures in fitness magazines — which I read because I’m, y’know, really into health and fitness — it makes me think that bodies like this should be totally attainable if I just tried a little harder. The delusion continues: if I just ate more broccoli and did more lunges, I could look as fantastic as these women do!

The reality: I work out 5 days a week. I eat loads of produce and lean protein. I haven’t touched a donut (even a GF one) in years. I rarely eat junk food. I take excellent care of myself. And I will never, ever look like this.

And yet.

These models.

One glance through a fitness magazine, and my inner critic used to be out of the gates like a prize horse at the Kentucky Derby. It would gallop on: You’re not doing enough lunges! You should look like one of these women, because you do all the things they tell you to do! What are you doing wrong? Cereal, that’s what. You eat way too much cereal. You’ll never look like this as long as you keep up that habit. You look like you’ve been busy popping out babies, and you haven’t even had kids yet. Time to ditch the cereal, Thunder Thighs.

In case it wasn’t painfully obvious, my inner critic is quite heinous.

I tried to quiet that inner critic by saying warm and fuzzy things like “I like myself just the way I am,” but that went nowhere fast. The epiphany I needed came when I realized that the only way I’m ever going to look like a fitness model is if I make my entire life revolve around it.

And, um…no. Just NO.

There are a bajillion other things I’d rather do with my time. There are people to hang out with, nerdy documentaries and sappy rom-coms to watch, dinners to cook, blog posts to write, phone calls to make to friends and family…the list goes on, and it’s saturated with things that would have to be neglected if I was going to dedicate my entire existence to achieving my dream body.

It just ain’t worth it.

Is it worth effort to exercise, eat well, and take care of myself in order to be the healthiest and strongest I can be? Absolutely. But is it worth it in order to slip into a size 2? Hell to the no.

Furthermore, I also realized that the vast majority of women don’t look like this. They just don’t. Even if they’re this thin, I’d bet the (proverbial) farm that they don’t have the uber-sculpted look that these women are sporting.

This is why I love the Dove Real Beauty campaign — it helps us see that normal women look, well, real. They certainly don’t look like Victoria’s Secret models, but they don’t look like fitness magazine models either.

Dove Real Women
Image source: http://www.organicmamacafe.com

Now if only the fitness mags could start featuring real women who look like the Dove ladies pictured here, I’d be one exceedingly happy girl.

*Steps off soapbox, thanks you all kindly for listening to my rant*

26 thoughts on “In Which I Rant About Weight, Fitness Magazine Models, and Body Image

  1. chasingchels March 21, 2013 / 11:35 am

    I LOVE this, Liliian. I’m so glad this was the first post I read today haha…it put me in such a good mood πŸ™‚ I don’t read fitness magazines beyond Runner’s Wold, but I have those same thoughts a lot when I read that or other things or see pictures online. I tried for so long to ignore the way my body should be (curvy Irish like you), and it wasn’t worth it. I know that, but sometimes it’s hard for logical Caitlin to hang around and send illogical Caitlin away….finally getting my curves back, and while it’s taking a little bit of time to accept that and embrace it, all I have to do is look back over the past few months and see how much happier (overall) I have been and am, all the memories I’ve made because I’m not worrying about what I’m eating so much, and how much better my running has gotten since I’ve been fueling myself better…makes it all worth it πŸ™‚

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte March 21, 2013 / 6:56 pm

      Aw, love – it makes me happy to know that you’re getting your curves back, starting to embrace it, and being happy with your wonderful, amazing self. You deserve it!

  2. rachwilksdotcom March 21, 2013 / 11:40 am

    Girl, I love me a rant!

    So, one thing I’ve seen with some mags is that they’ll use “real” looking models for regular stories (like, say, a story about being happy at work) but they ALWAYS use super fit fitness models for exercise routines. I suppose they are just trying to say their routines work but it’s still kind of a bummer. I’d just love to see DIFFERENT fit bodies — not all fit women are tall and very thin. I’d like to see petite dancers or super-muscular athletes too. I honestly like looking at beautiful fit bodies, as well as beautiful bodies that look more like mine, so more diversity would be a huge improvement.

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte March 21, 2013 / 6:55 pm

      You make an excellent point: body diversity would be a welcome change. I love the idea of different fit bodies — tall or short, thin or muscular — they’d all be wonderful to see. I think you hit the nail on the head with this!

  3. Rachel Wilkerson March 21, 2013 / 11:44 am

    Girl, I love me a rant!

    So, one thing I’ve seen with some mags is that they’ll use β€œreal” looking models for regular stories (like, say, a story about being happy at work) but they ALWAYS use super fit fitness models for exercise routines. I suppose they are just trying to say their routines work but it’s still kind of a bummer. I’d just love to see DIFFERENT fit bodies β€” not all fit women are tall and very thin. I’d like to see petite dancers or super-muscular athletes too. I honestly like looking at beautiful fit bodies, as well as beautiful bodies that look more like mine, so more diversity would be a huge improvement.

  4. The Siren's Tale March 21, 2013 / 1:19 pm

    Don’t even get me started on some of the terrible messages media sends to women. It’s insanity! No matter where we look/listen, we’re being told our bodies aren’t good enough unless we are starving to death and on death’s door nutritionally. This is a great post πŸ™‚

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte March 21, 2013 / 6:54 pm

      OMG, seriously. It’s insane! Have you seen Miss Representation? It’s an awesome documentary, and it takes an in-depth look at stuff like this.

      • The Siren's Tale March 21, 2013 / 9:45 pm

        I haven’t seen it but I am definitely going to check it out now!

      • PeacefulP March 21, 2013 / 10:33 pm

        AGREED – love that movie!! And can’t wait for the Illusionists to come out…

  5. Alex @ therunwithin March 21, 2013 / 3:06 pm

    this is one of the main reasons I don’t buy magazines. you can’t help but compare yourself to girls and females who are just not realistic. I think the only way I could ever look that way is by only concentrating on eating, exercising and weight. I don’t want that life at all.

  6. Erin March 21, 2013 / 6:48 pm

    Checkout http://www.curvyyoga.com/ for more body-inclusive fitness goodness πŸ™‚ I also love http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/, written by a plus-sized professional dancer. I have to stay away from fitness magazines because they are a trigger for me, but I find healthy encouragement to get moving from these two sources πŸ™‚

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte March 21, 2013 / 6:53 pm

      Thanks, lovely! Healthy encouragement is, no question, the best possible way to go. Thank you for sharing those links!

  7. practicinggrace March 21, 2013 / 8:20 pm

    Straight to Darfur haha. You nailed that one. Healthy choices, healthy perspective. Love the topic and discussion!

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte March 21, 2013 / 9:17 pm

      I’m glad you got the Darfur joke — I had fun coming up with that one. πŸ™‚ Thanks for such a kind comment!

  8. jessielovestorun March 22, 2013 / 6:18 am

    Lillian my dear, this rant was the best rant I’ve read in a longtime. So pure, so honest, and so TRUE! Love it πŸ™‚

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte March 22, 2013 / 9:22 am

      Thanks, Jessie! It’s lovely to have you back in the blogosphere — you were missed! πŸ™‚

  9. Sara @ Nourish and Flourish March 22, 2013 / 6:26 am

    Fantastic and thought-provoking post, Lillian! This is a topic that definitely needs to be discussed more frequently, as SO many women are negatively influenced and impacted by the media’s glorification of the “thin woman.” It’s obvious that this ideal is not healthy–blatantly obvious, actually–yet we as consumers are still fascinated by it; we continue to purchase the magazines; we do the routines; we follow the diets–all because that it’s been pounded into our heads from day one that that “look” (and variations thereof–like those with a little more muscle tone, seen in these pictures) is the ultimate ideal. The irony is that for most of us, these physiques are genetically impossible. There’s a reason these women are sought out by scouts and paid lots of money! They’re rare! They’re freaks of nature, so to speak–one in 100,000 (or more!). What irritates me is that magazines try to tell us that we can look “just like them” if we do A, B, and C. The publishers of these magazines know just what they’re doing by sending those messages, though–they’re ensuring that they’ll continue to sell magazines because we’ll NEVER look that way. Yet if they’re able to convince us, via alluring images, that their fitness routine or diet plan will lead to that ultimate ideal, they’ve successfully locked us in as loyal life consumers. Gah!

    I too love fitness magazines, but now I read them merely for entertainment and inspiration. I think some of them offer good tips, and I occasionally will try out a routine, but I take most of it with a grain of salt. The only fitness magazine that I’ve found to be truly credible is Oxygen. The women in those pages work hard for their muscle–and it shows! But it’s also attainable and real.

    Okay, it’s 2:30am–I need to get some sleep! Happy Friday!! xoxo

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte March 22, 2013 / 9:30 am

      Omigod, that’s so, so true. The profit-driven mechanism here is appalling, and I’m really glad you mentioned it. The “You can look like this!” bag of goods we’re sold is, to say the least, a) a brazen lie, and b) it makes women feel like crap. UGH. I’ll have to check out Oxygen magazine, though — it sounds great!

  10. cjoye7 March 22, 2013 / 1:06 pm

    LOVE it!!! Developing a healthy body image is so incredibly important and the lies we’re fed by companies and magazines are so incredibly damaging for women of all ages. PREACH sister!

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte March 22, 2013 / 3:49 pm

      I’m totally imagining you standing up in a church and saying “CAN I GET AN AMEN!!” right now. πŸ˜‰

  11. Meredith March 22, 2013 / 10:16 pm

    Hi there, I just found your blog and wanted to say hello! This post is great, and it’s definitely a topic that isn’t discussed enough! I look forward to reading more !

  12. Jorie March 23, 2013 / 3:16 am

    Great post! I love Dove for their real body campaigns. It’s so refreshing to see a NORMAL, healthy woman for once! And you’re so right about the fitness modelsβ€”most of them are just skinny little fashion models who’ve been handed a dumbbell for a photo shoot. Annoying!

    • Lillian @ Seize the Latte March 24, 2013 / 12:11 pm

      Amen, sister soultrain! Dove’s campaign is absolutely fantastic — their Real Body ads helped me realize that I look very, very normal, which was a huge relief. πŸ™‚

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