The female body has been in the media for as long as the media has existed, whether it’s advertising a vacuum cleaner in the 60s or selling fitness in 2016.
But while we’re consistently seeing a trend of moving away from the withering thin bodies in fashion magazines, and normalising curvy models, there’s still a debate around whether fit and toned women in magazines also contributes to lower self-esteem.
A recent study suggested that using super-fit models on magazine covers was as bad, if not worse, at lowering women’s perceptions of themselves than waif-type models on the front of fashion mags.
So B&T spoke to the editors of leading health and fitness titles to see if this is a concerning aspect of women in Aussie media.
“There’s a difference between a super-fit woman and a fit woman,” Women’s Health editor Felicity Harley said.
“We see it as empowering. Our stance is to feature diverse body types, not just the toned and toned.”
“We might run a headline on top ways to get a toned bum. We provide the exercises, the food, the clothes, everything to get a toned bum, but we understand we may not always get there.
“We will knock back any pitches that don’t uphold this idea of a healthy lifestyle,” she said, adding that Aussie women need to be inspired by everything in the magazine.
Harley said she has noticed a change in what women aspire to be like, and it’s shifted away from just a good looking body to focus on having a healthy body.
“It’s not just the way you look, but the way you feel,” she said.
Women’s Health & Fitness editor Rebecca Long felt this was an accurate way to inspire a healthy body image in the media sphere.
“’Strong is the new skinny’ was initially touted as a triumph over thin ideals, but this notion is in fact equally dogmatic; I think our more democratic tag line, ‘Your Best’ is more helpful,” she said.
Harley talks about the way in which an image in a magazine needs context, and for Women’s Health that means information on eating better, exercising, and keeping check of your mental health too.
“It’s all about a 360 approach to life,” she said.
“I think social media has a lot to answer for in terms of making women feel bad,” Harley said.
“It’s a bit of a conundrum, why do women follow these women…if we don’t feel good about it?”
And Body + Soul editor Fiona Baker agrees that social media isn’t always as empowering as we’d like it to be.
“Images of women with six packs and big lady muscles are images taken out of context,” Baker said. “It’s unachievable, daunting, and the average woman is never going to look like them.”
“All media should look at using diverse images… it’s important to have context built around it.”
“Readers know this woman is a pro surfer or an Olympic athlete, and their body and their fitness is their currency.”
“There are of course challenges for custodians of media in this category – including demand for images of ‘ideal’ physiques evidenced by the popularity of social media ‘fitspo’,” Long added, citing Amanda Bisk and Kayla Itsines as examples.
“There is a fine line between motivating and inspiring and undermining, which is a delicate and ongoing balancing act.”
Baker said for this very reason, if they choose to run an image of a “hot, toned body”, they try to make it an athlete, or a woman whose job is to look a certain way for a living.
“Bodies vary – it’s not just a size 6 that’s very trim and taut, because let’s face it, not many of us look like that.”
“If you fill a health magazine with six packs and rippling arm muscles, you’re going to feel depressed after reading it,” Baker said. “We want to normalise the healthy look.”
“There’s no point running lots of overweight people because it’s not healthy. Looking healthy should be normalised…neither emaciated nor overweight.”