Self Magazine not so selfless

22nd April 2008

Self Magazine not so selfless

Sixty-five percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 45 report having disordered eating behaviors, according to the results of a new survey by SELF Magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. An additional 10 percent of women report symptoms consistent with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, meaning that a total of 75 percent of all American women endorse some unhealthy thoughts, feelings or behaviors related to food or their bodies.

The online survey garnered responses from 4,023 women who answered detailed questions about their eating habits. Results and analysis appear in the magazine’s May 2008 issue on newsstands through May 19. Click here to read the article online.

Self magazineWhile I don’t doubt the high levels of unhealthy relationships with food amongst a national cross-section of women, I do have to point out that Self isn’t exactly a paragon of body size acceptance. Every edition touts some kind of diet and weight loss plan, along with some half-naked airbrushed woman on its glossy cover.

Consider a sampling of recent headlines: “New fixes for stubborn fat!,” “A Diet to Shed Pounds Fast!,” “The 10-Calorie Secret,” “Drop Weight, Look Great and Never Go to the Gym,” “Shortcut to your Best Body,” “A Super Simple Slim-Down!,” “The One-Month Total Body Makeover,” “Peel off the Pounds!,” “Lose Weight Every Day!,” “The Beauty Diet,” and so on.

The magazine even boasts an online section dedicated solely to dieting, with “healthy eating” thrown in almost as an afterthought. Members here can join the Self Diet Club complete with “powerful tools can track your progress, analyze your diet and even tell you exactly what to eat (and what to skip) to slim down.” Because eating according to software dictates is much better than intuitive eating, right? Readers can also read about how to jump start their diet to drop a size in 30 days, take the Self challenge to achieve a “dream body,” learn fitness moves designed to burn more calories, and get such helpful reminders like how calorie-laden beverages can make you fat.

In the article “Scale Stuck?” Self urges women to consider 10 reasons why they’re not losing weight and genetics isn’t one of them. Such sage recommendations include recommendations to grocery shop online, count calories and don’t celebrate workouts with M & Ms. Other stellar recommendations are to deliver messages in person instead of email so you can lose nearly a pound a month!, as well as the same kinds of advice distributed on pro-ana boards, like encouraging women to wear tight jeans on weekends so you don’t overeat and to give away clothes the moment you drop a size to “ensure you won’t drift into them again.”

While Self does include constructive articles on how to beat stress, healthy recipes and basic nutrition, health issues like breast cancer, and green fashion and living trends, its overall emphasis is that women need to change. Specifically, that women need become thinner and more beautiful and ergo better people. I have to wonder if there exists an audience of women who don’t accept themselves as they are and Self simply fills that need, or does magazines like Self help to create and perpetuate such audiences?

With its predominant emphasis on dieting, weight loss and unrealistic beauty standards, it comes as no wonder so many of Self’s readers have unhealthy relationships with food, weight and body image. Perhaps the magazine ought to see its study more as an indictment of itself and less as a reflection of a national trend.

EDIT: Claire of 5 Resolutions advised me the survey was a national survey, and not solely of Self readers. My comments about the magazine still stand.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008 at 11:20 am and is filed under Body Image, Diets, Eating Disorders, New Research, Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

There are currently 17 responses to “Self Magazine not so selfless”

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  1. 1 On April 22nd, 2008, Zilly said:

    I made the mistake to read that and was especially dumbfounded by “You prefer comfy clothing.” Uhm, hi? So we’re supposed to wear uncomfortable clothing exclusively? Because it’ll make us thin? Excuse me, I’d rather get fat then.

    In a world that makes sense, they really should have seen the connection. It’s their own readers they’re talking about … and people who love their bodies probably wouldn’t read the magazine in the first place.

  2. 2 On April 22nd, 2008, Rachel said:

    Yeah, it’s kind of like conducting a study of hospital patients and then concluding that America suffers from poor health.

  3. 3 On April 22nd, 2008, Ashley said:

    I love how the thin people in the world have all the answers be it unheathy and wrong answers but answers none the less on how we can be thin just like them and to waht extent….. well let me tell you

    I was watching Fox news and they had a woman on there talking about how the life exspectancy for woman is decreasing among women in over 140 counties in the United States, of cource she blamed most of it on weight but the worst part of all she said that polution and toxins(ie the whole plastic baby bottle thing)was not importent to our health that we the obesity issue is. Can you believe this woman I am just stunned, this post about self and then this woman on Fox News today and lots not for get Ms KNow It All Mimi Roth are why so many of us have eating disorders and they are why if we don’t do something fast our childern will to.

  4. 4 On April 22nd, 2008, BigLiberty said:

    I like how they also assume the average woman is amazingly stupid.

    “Recalling what you ate may remind you of how filling that food was,” says lead researcher Suzanne Higgs, Ph.D.

    What?! Hey, great, now that pesky hunger is gone because I can remember being full after my last meal six hours ago.

    I remember being full many times in my life. Consarnit, not a one makes me less hungry than I am. Even that *really big* Thanksgiving dinner. Strange thing — people actually get hungry more than once in their day (or lifetime). It’s true, RLY!


  5. 5 On April 22nd, 2008, Meowser said:

    Oh, and of course, they didn’t mention what the socioeconomic and/or ethnic profile was in those counties where life expectancy is decreasing, right? POVERTY and DISCRIMINATION can’t possibly have any effect on how long you live, can it? Oh no. It’s all those greedy people who won’t stop EATING. *headdesk*

  6. 6 On April 22nd, 2008, OTM said:

    I saw the “Lose Weight Every Day!” issue in the arms of a woman waiting for the bus and my immediate thought was, “Every day? How? With a tape worm or a terminal illness?”

  7. 7 On April 22nd, 2008, Andrea Wren said:

    “I have to wonder if there exists an audience of women who don’t accept themselves as they are and Self simply fills that need, or does magazines like Self help to create and perpetuate such audiences?”

    Whilst I think it is a combination of the two, I would suggest that such audiences are continued to be perpetuated under advertiser influence – because if self-acceptance existed, a lot of companies would be out of business. And just try getting anything into the mainstream women’s press that contradicts the diet message – then it becomes clear that the media dare not bite the hand that feeds it.

    I haven’t seen a recent copy of Self in a while (though I’m based in the UK, I used to subscribe to it), and I’m sure when I last looked it was full of adverts from diet or pharmaceutical companies promoting their latest shakes or fat-burning miracle pill. Please correct me if this still isn’t the case.

    As a journalist (who used to write for the diet press. incidentally), I have pitched anti-diet ideas and have pretty much been told that while the editor may think the message that diets don’t work is an important one, they can’t can’t upset their advertisers, who virtually fund the publications.

  8. 8 On April 23rd, 2008, Fauve722 said:

    I will check out the SELF magazine ed article before I comment directly on it. Re: women’s magazines, I try to take the good (like the ed survey article featured in SELF) with the crap (all the extreme emphasis on dieting/being thin/fit). I really get a kick out of mag called “Woman’s World” (I think that’s the title). Every cover (and I do mean EVERY cover – and this is a weekly mag) has two things, w/o fail on it: a “new” diet that is prominently being touted And a recipe for the gooeyiest dessert imaginable. It’s so crazy! I think they know what many many women crave: thin bodies and lots of food. Having the cake, eating it And looking like a super-model. It’s a really very bulimic mindset, I think.

  9. 9 On April 23rd, 2008, Liza said:

    I used to subscribe to Self. A couple of years ago, at first glance, it seemed more health oriented and not as awful as other fashion magazines. I was wrong about that, especially seeing the issues back to back.

    Needless to say, I canceled that subscription. I’m now looking to subscribe to Bust.

    Actually I’d REALLY like to start my own magazine with body positive articles about fashion and health, along with feminist-oriented real world issues articles. I’m getting all tingly thinking about how awesome that would be. (I’m taking a magazine class right now and that’s my final project)

  10. 10 On April 25th, 2008, Nicole said:

    First of all, I would just like to point out that the word “diet” doesn’t always mean “cutting food out.” It can also mean “the way you eat.” Saying “join the Self Diet Club” is not saying, “join this group of women to learn quick and easy ways to drop the pounds” but it’s saying “join them to learn ways to IMPROVE your diet, or improve what you eat every day.” Self advocates healthy eating–not anything chemical or unhealthy.

    And if you really took a close look at their magazine, I think you’d be surprised by some of the models they use, who have noticeable amounts of curves. They do not promote the skinny anorexic look in their publication.

    Also, to the person who wrote assuming they know about what’s inside Self, I’m going to correct that and say that Self does not promote “miracle diets” or “diet pills.” In every issue I have read, they have a professional opinion and always vote for the high road (that is, eating right and working out) to lose weight. They really focus on healthy living overall, so promoting things like diet pills would be completely outside of their purpose. It’s also not the audience they seek, who seem to be a group of dedicated, determined women who WANT to improve themselves as much as they can WITHIN REASON.

    I would like to direct you to this article:

    It’s about finding your “happy weight,” or the weight that is right for you. The problem is that most women are NOT happy with their weight currently or spend a lot of time worrying about it (which is apparently also verified in their most recent story). Self is trying to say, “Okay, but be reasonable. Can you really expect to lose 20 pounds and get down to 125 pounds? Is that really the best decision for your body? Why not take a look at the whole picture and realize that instead, maybe you can be at your best at 135 pounds instead?” They encourage women to work, yes, but not to drive themselves crazy. Their magazine is about being your best, which does not at all mean, becoming a stick.

    I think in the future you should really take a look at their web site and you’ll find that the language does not tell women that they need to be a size 4 to be pretty. Even their style slide shows cater to women of every body type. Please be conscientious enough to look over that before making these judgments.

  11. 11 On April 25th, 2008, Rachel said:

    Nicole – Rest assured, as an avid former Self reader and as one who can read in general, I don’t think I came to any knee jerk conclusions about what it is Self promotes. Anyone can go to their website and read for themselves; it’s not like I’m making the quotes above up or taking them out of context.

  12. 12 On April 28th, 2008, Liza said:

    The “happy weight” article was in one of the last issues I read.

    It was a small step in the right direction, but it is a really, really, really tiny step.

    First of all, it still implies that the women need to lose weight, while when I saw the pictures I thought they looked beautiful the way they are.

    Second, when I went to your link, I saw “Chart your weight history.” That keeps playing into the notion that women’s lives are defined by their weight.

    Third, the little quiz thing to find your “happy weight” was a joke. Far too abbreviated to be effective. Too little detail in the questions. Barely any mention of family history. Asks about exercise (sort of) but barely glances over food.

    Fourth, the celebrity “skinny or curvy” is appalling. Their definition of curvy is slightly less emaciated. Not to mention that Nicole Ritchie’s “curvy” was pregnant!

    I’m relatively certain I don’t need to go on.

  13. 13 On April 28th, 2008, Liza said:

    “And if you really took a close look at their magazine, I think you’d be surprised by some of the models they use, who have noticeable amounts of curves. They do not promote the skinny anorexic look in their publication.”

    I found it offensive that their exercise moves were almost always demonstrated by someone who is skinny but doesn’t actually look like she does much working out, meaning she doesn’t normally have muscle definition that implies fitness. It just implies a lack of body fat, which is 99% genetic and NOT a result of their moves.

    I have no recollection of seeing anyone in that magazine and being in any way pleasantly surprised that they used someone with curves. I remember always seeing models and rolling my eyes, thinking “another magazine with twig people” and wishing they used different body types.

    They may think they are using multiple body types and different weights, but I don’t consider 110-130 pounds a very wide range.

  14. 14 On May 13th, 2008, Fat Pun Goes Here » Blog Archive » Don’t you think I know that? said:

    [...] was reading this post at F-Word and I realized the part I hate the most about weight loss advice.  (Other than it simply [...]

  15. 15 On July 2nd, 2009, Dieting, repackaged » said:

    [...] magazine isn’t known for embracing body diversity, so I was semi-surprised to see the oh, so cleverly titled Self piece”Sip ‘n Starve: [...]

  16. 16 On July 2nd, 2009, Lucy said:

    That “happy weight” article was a load of bullshit if I ever saw one. I took the whole questionnaire in full, and being a 5’3″ sort of smallish-boned 24-year-old (at the time) who had never had any kids, they told me my “happy weight” was 115 pounds. WHAT?! Even when I was anorexic, I never got to 115 pounds. When I was at my smallest, I had 18% body fat, but I was still a D-cup, I still had pretty wide hips and thighs, and I was definitely not 115 pounds. I can’t even imagine what my face would look like if I weighed 115 pounds- I’d probably look about fifteen years older than I actually am.

    After reading that, I decided I didn’t need to buy any more Self. I don’t know what world they’re in.

  17. 17 On August 13th, 2009, Want to reach your “dream weight?” Buy Photoshop » said:

    [...] SELF magazine’s supposedly altruistic study last year in which it found that 65 percent of women between the ages of 25 – 45 have an eating [...]

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