I used to have a problem with Fitness magazines. Whenever I walked through a checkout line I couldn’t help but grab one and toss it on the belt. I never intended to buy one, but the headlines beckoned me: “Lose 10 Pounds Before Beach Season”, “The 15 Minute Routine for Perfect Abs”, “Eat This Not This and Watch Your Waistline Disappear”. I was always enchanted by the promises on the covers. In her book “The Beauty Myth” Naomi Wolf says that “…the aspirational promise of women’s [fitness] magazine that they can do it all on their own is appealing to women who until recently were told they could do nothing on their own.” In other words, women, like me, are so drawn to these magazines because they give them a sense of control over their worlds; a sense that they have the power to fix their own problems.
Being a woman in a patriarchal culture means being constantly told that you can’t accomplish something or that you don’t have the power to change something. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness for women. They look around their lives grasping for things they have the power to control and change and they find little. During this mad search they run in to fitness magazines that promise them that they do have control over their bodies. They may not be able to change the fact that they have been passed up for a promotion multiple times, or that their husband refuses to contribute to childcare or housework, but they can control their bodies. When handed this message women often breathe a sigh of relief. They think, “Finally, something I can do something about!” Fitness magazines thrive because women feel so powerless over their own lives because so many decisions about their lives have been taken out of their hands.
It’s not by mistake that women are given the message that their bodies are the only thing they can control. Keeping women continually occupied with fixing their bodies keeps them out of the more important pursuits of life. Limiting the things women believe they have control over keeps them confined to small spaces within the world, literally and figuratively. The truth that the fitness magazines won’t tell women is that they have control over much more of their worlds than they believe. The promise that women can control their bodies is a lie, covering up the truth that women are actually incredibly powerful beings. Stop letting the glossy paper lie to you. Go find out how powerful you really are.