By Heidi Stevens
Dear Women’s Health Magazine:
Help me out.
I’m trying to raise a daughter who doesn’t hate her body. Who, in fact, will continue for many years to appreciate and enjoy her body for all the things it lets her do, run, flip, dance, play Twister.
This is why I don’t subscribe to women’s magazines. I flip through them at work, where I receive several each month, but I’m quickly put off by the scolding disguised as tips, the gleeful cataloging of my flaws (followed by the aggressive pitching of products to fix them), the one single body type that graces each and every page.
So I make sure they don’t come anywhere near my daughter, who at 9 is still thrilled to put on a swimsuit.
Women’s Health, for some reason, started arriving at my house in January. I never subscribed, but somehow I landed on your mailing list. Which is why I’m writing to you.
With “Health” in your title and a handful of legitimately instructive pieces (“A twisted truth,” about the alarming rise in colon cancer among young women, was eye-opening in the April issue), you have an opportunity to change the conversation about women and our bodies.
You have a chance to upend the assumption that women want, universally, above all else, to lose weight. That being fit equals tiny.
That cravings are weakness. That calories are the devil’s handiwork.
So here’s my idea: What if, when you’re assigning stories and writing headlines and hiring models, you imagine a healthy, joyful, impressionable 9-year-old girl reading your magazine? Let’s look at April, for starters.
Would you still instruct readers to tap their foreheads methodically for 30 seconds to avoid giving into a potato chip craving? (Page 27)
Would you still sell your 15-minute workout with a “Turbocharge your slim-down” banger? (Page 58)
Would your strength training tips still offer to “sculpt muscle and drop pounds”? (Page 60)
Would your meal-planning page still carry the headline, “Buy 5, Drop 5: Put these power foods on your plate and eat your way to a smaller size”? (Page 94)
Would you still write an entire piece on foods with “chub-melting powers” (grapefruit, cauliflower, mushrooms) and offer ways to make them enjoyable, so we can “laugh all the way to the scale”? (Page 96)
Would you, in other words, continue to peddle the falsehood that the only point of moving, strengthening and feeding a body is to make it thinner?
Your magazine isn’t written for 9-year-olds, I realize. It’s called Women’s Health, not Girls’ Health. But here’s the thing: Plenty of us, at any age, have the potential to appreciate our bodies the way many young girls are able to. We may be 30, 40, 60 years old, but we haven’t lost the ability, or desire, to run, flip, dance, play Twister.
Plenty of us view health through an entirely different lens from the one you’re using. Our quest for good health doesn’t begin and end at dropping pounds and melting chub and laughing all the way to the scale.
So try this: Remember that your readers are impressionable, multifaceted, bright, joyful creatures who want to go on adventures and eat fabulous foods and live big lives and, through it all, maintain our health, both mental and physical. Remember that you can either chip away at our hopeful resolve with your constant prodding to mind the scale and shed the pounds, or you can lead the way toward a saner, more authentic path to women’s health.
If you do the latter, I’ll let your magazine into my home. If you continue the former, I’m hiding it from my daughter until my mystery subscription runs its course, never to be renewed.