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Women’s Lifestyle and Fitness Magazines

Write By: Valentin Rosca on

 

Exercise and fitness have come to form a vital segment of the media industry. Exercise has, for a long time, had its own specialist media, including magazines, DVDs and websites, but increasingly items related to exercise have begun to feature in mainstream media. It has long been acknowledged the media not only reflect but help construct women’s social realities (Van Zoonen 1994). The media framing of exercise, therefore, can restrict or expand the imagined possibilities for exercise among women. Within the range of available media, women’s magazines occupy a special place for articulations of fitness and embodiment. Abrahamson (2007) suggested that the unique features of magazines lend them an exceptional capacity to shape social life.

 

While scholars have been critical of the narrow way magazines frame exercise (Duncan 1994; Eskes et al. 1998; Markula 1995), analysis has so far tended to focus on fitness-oriented magazines. As exercise becomes a regular feature within a wider range of women’s magazines, it might be anticipated that the framing of fitness may change. The diversity of women’s magazines extends to titles focused on fashion, lifestyle, slimming, health, fitness and more. Each title vies with the others to attract the attention of the female consumer, and items related to exercise are increasingly featured in coverlines foreshadowing the magazine’s “inside delights” (Winshi, 1987). This wide range of competing titles aimed at different sectors of the female market suggests that women may have a greater choice than ever. This article provides a discourse analysis of the exercise content of titles drawn from across the spectrum of women’s magazines to consider the range of options offered to readers.

 

Feminist Research on Women and Magazines

women-in-saunaFeminist research has understood women’s magazines as a key site for the construction of ideas about women, men and gender relations (Gill 2009). Much of this research has been critical of the magazines’ restrictive image of femininity focused on fashion, beauty and ‘how to get a man.’ McRobbie (1999) pointed to the various ‘stages’ that scholarship on women’s magazines has passed through. The first stage involved an angry repudiation of false and objectified images of women contained in the magazines. The second ‘theory of ideology’ stage drew on Althusser’s (1971) work to characterize the consumer as a dupe of patriarchal power relations. This approach gradually gave way to a post-structuralist orientation that began to consider the role of the magazine in the discursive construction of women’s realities. According to McRobbie, “post-structuralist feminism has argued that there is and can be no truth of womanhood just as there can be no single or true feminism” (1999). The task of feminism is an ongoing investigation of the ways that magazines produce “great bundles of meaning” on a regular basis which compete to construct “the subjectivities of millions of female readers” (McRobbie 1999). Readers might be unconsciously influenced by the messages of magazines, even if they consciously reject them. As a result, the second stage saw a growing interest in psychoanalysis, and the capacity of the magazine to produce desires and pleasures in the reader. 

 

The third stage of feminist magazine research identified by McRobbie (1999) built on an interest in the relationship between the magazine and readers’ pleasures to enable researchers to explore their love-hate relationship with women’s magazines. Critics were able to admit there may be feminine pleasures to be found in the pages of the magazines. Winship’s (1983; 1987) work has been most explicit in this regard. She observed that “above all, whatever practical information they might also offer, the editors of women’s magazines have consistently been concerned to entertain their readers” (Winship 1983). Winship (1983) argued that magazines were intended to provide a pleasurable read and escape and fantasy was an integral part of that pleasure. Winship (1987) has suggested that the defining characteristic of the cover image of women’s magazines is the way that the female model holds the gaze of the reader: “with the model’s gaze on ‘you’, the magazine invites you into its world” (Winship 1987). McCracken (1993) also took note of the pleasures offered by magazines. However, in her analysis, pleasure and insecurity were interlinked. McCracken (1993) argued that the magazine cover presents the reader with an idealized self, a version of identity that the reader would prefer to have. On the surface, magazine images of ideal beauty could be seen as positive projections of the reader’s future self.

 

McCracken’s approach acknowledged that the narrative structures of magazines could only attain “relative closure,” and readers often negotiated contradictions by developing oppositional meanings (1993). The shift from a focus on the text to the reader characterized McRobbie’s (1999) fourth stage of magazine research. This stage aimed to rescue the women’s magazine from its traditionally low cultural status by reconceptualizing readers as active consumers, rather than cultural dupes. Within this research, the magazine reader was considered as having the capacity to produce resistant readings rather than passively accept the meanings of the text. However, Brook (2008) has argued that the emphasis on feminine pleasures and the ability of the reader to make their own meanings has resulted in a depoliticizing of the feminist critique of women’s magazines. This perspective, she maintained, seemed to suggest that “exploitation is in the eye of the beholder” (Brook 2008). Currie’s (2001) study of young women’s magazines found that, rather than resist the magazine’s meanings, readers lent the magazine content a ‘truth value’ that overrode their own experience. Currie argued that the question and answer format of magazine advice pages encouraged young women to attribute authorship of the questions to a typical teenager, to whom they could compare themselves “and reject self-constructions in favour of those of the text” (Currie 2001). While adult women may be a good deal savvier, Currie’s study gives an indication of the power of textual constructions.

 

Active-Young-Sport-WomanGill (2009) observed that a more satisfactory response to the vexed question of ideology and reader agency would be to give up the search for one, stable meaning within the texts of magazines. For example, Winship (1987) argued that there was a plethora of contradictory and competing ideologies of femininity within the pages of women’s magazines. Women’s relationship with magazines needs to be understood, therefore, as entailing a complex exchange of meanings, involving the reader in multiple investments in the shifting discourses of the magazine. Magazines may produce both disciplinary and pleasurable subjectivities for the reader, which she must negotiate. This confusing array of meaning in women’s magazines is captured by Smith (2008) who argued that ‘chick lit’ such as Bridget Jones’s Diary (Fielding 1996) involves a critique of the problematic consumption practices endorsed by the magazines that their heroines read. Discourses of restrictive femininities may exist simultaneously with the promise of pleasurable possibilities within the magazines. 

 

Research on magazines’ construction of exercise, however, has tended not to focus on the possible pleasures made available to the female reader. Instead, this literature has adopted a post-structuralist approach, situating it broadly within the second stage of McRobbie’s classification of feminist magazine research. Scholarship has drawn attention to the predominance of messages in women’s magazines encouraging female bodyshaping in line with restrictive ideologies of femininity, for example, dieting, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery (Bordo 1993; Greer 1999; Wolf 1990). Magazines have been condemned within this research for “promulgating pernicious gender ideologies” (Gill 2009). However, exercise and fitness have required a more complex theorization. Physical activity has the potential for women’s self-transformation (Markula and Pringle 2006). Nevertheless, scholars such as Eskes et al. (1998) have denounced women’s magazines for co-opting feminist exhortations to exercise to support their postfeminist empowerment ideology.

 

Research on exercise and physical activity has tended to concentrate on fitness-orientated titles, rather than mainstream women’s magazines. Contradiction has been a theme within these studies. Following Bartky (1990), Duncan (1994) argued that women’s magazines were involved in the duplicitous practice of encouraging women to alter their appearance in line with unrealistic feminine body ideals. While the overt function of this bodily discipline may be the pursuit of beauty, Duncan observed that “the covert function is female physical disempowerment” (1994). It is no surprise, therefore, that the recurring theme of all women’s magazines is “how to become healthier, fitter, thinner and more attractive” (Duncan 1994). Duncan’s analysis of two editions of Shape magazine drew on Foucault’s (1977) discussion of the ways that the invisible but constant surveillance of panoptic prison architecture produced self-monitoring docile bodies (1994). Duncan identified two “panoptic mechanisms” (1994) used by Shape to encourage women to internalize unrealistic body ideals, becoming “objects for their own gaze” (1994). The first of these mechanisms was seen in the magazine’s focus on the “efficacy of initiative”—all you need is commitment—and the second was the subordination of health issues to beauty—“feeling good means looking good” (Duncan 1994).

 

active-woman-stretchingEskes et al. (1998) highlighted the contradictions involved in magazines’ employment of female empowerment ideology to promote exercise because physical health was reduced simply to beauty. Readers were told that, through fitness, they could become strong, healthy and attractive. However, while magazines may praise “perfect curves,” “curvy is not intended to mean ‘round’” but rather references the figures of the magazines’ celebrity models, all “thin and muscular” (Eskes et al. 1998). Scholars have also pointed to the contradictions involved in magazines’ ostensible attempts to overcome this narrow and restrictive image of ideal femininity. Markula discussed the way that magazines can sometimes appear to present a diversity of body types, suggesting that “there is no single great ‘look’” (1995). However, the magazines continue to present versions of the same, thin, young and toned body, where the “only variable is their height” (Markula 1995). While the magazines ostensibly encourage women to accept their bodies the way they are, they simultaneously present highly contradictory advice, suggesting women should disguise their bodies through judicious clothing choice. Since the identification of the condition labeled ‘body image distortion,’ fitness magazines have even adopted a critical approach to representations of sculpted bodies that appear in their pages (Markula 2001). However, although the magazines may argue that images of impossibly slender bodies may help produce this condition in their readers, Markula (2001) observed that they prefer to disaggregate their responsibility by suggesting that readers should change their approach to the images, rather than change the images themselves.

 

Much of the research on exercise and fitness magazines points to the importance of consumer society as the context for the promotion of impossible ideals of bodily perfection that function to discipline and disempower the reader. However, there has been no corresponding exploration of the ways that exercise within women’s magazines may be discursively constructed to produce pleasures for the reader. Bordo (1990) argued that advertisements for diet and exercise programs try to mask these contradictions by using the imagery of instant gratification. Considered in this way, women’s magazines are likely to present exercise as part of the pleasures of consumer society and the wide range of women’s magazines available may construct exercise as differently pleasurable for their target readership. However, existing studies of exercise and magazines have tended to concentrate on fitness titles and focus on close readings of one or two issues or articles within a single issue. The fitness boom shows no sign of abating, and in the U.K. context, exercise and physical activity are being regularly promoted in the mainstream media by both the government and the fitness industry through campaigns such as “Change4Life.” It is, therefore, pertinent to consider the ways that exercise has begun to permeate the pages of mainstream women’s magazines, and the different ways that fitness and fitness-oriented magazines construct physical activity. Within the pages of women’s magazines, ranging from youth-oriented fashion and beauty titles, magazines aimed at older women, to special interest magazines focused on dieting, yoga or spa holidays, are there multiple fitness pleasures on offer to women? Health and fitness titles are differentiated on the basis of seriousness, fitness level or activity (for example, Zest, Ultra Fit, Pilates Style). Do these titles offer the potential of experiencing the fitness imperative in qualitatively different ways? This article presents an analysis of exercise in a range of women’s magazines available in the U.K., posing the question, what are the similarities and differences in the ways exercise is discursively constructed in women’s magazines? Is exercise part of the pleasure of women’s magazines?

METHOD

woman-glazing-on-beachIn order to discover the limits of exercising subjectivities offered to women across the range of women’s magazines, we conducted a discourse analysis of 34 women’s magazines across a spectrum of fashion and lifestyle, diet, health and fitness. Titles comprised: Brand New You, Cosmopolitan, Diet and Fitness, Easy Health, Easy Living, Elle, Essence, Essentials, Fitness, FitnessRx for Women, Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Health & Fitness, Healthy and Organic Living, InStyle, LighterLife, Luxury Spa Finder, Marie Claire, Natural Health, Pilates Style, Red, Shape, She, Slim At Home, Slimming World, Spa World, UltraFit, Vogue, Weightwatchers, Women’s Fitness, Women’s Health, Yoga and Health, Yoga Journal, Yoga Magazine and Zest. To analyze discourse is to pay attention to the repeated ways in which an issue is framed and to consider the effect of that framing on individuals’ behavior, thoughts and opinions. Gaps or silences are equally important, since what is left out can have as powerful an effect as what is present. We were particularly interested in identifying repeated patterns of representation, or discursive formations (Foucault 1972) in the women’s magazines. Our aim was to consider the way that the discursive framing of exercise within the different magazines addressed their readers. We wanted to identify the characteristics of the range of subject positions made available to the consumers of magazines. In order to do this we drew on scholarship on women’s magazines by considering how combinations of visual and linguistic codes constructed an ideal self for women to identify with on the cover and inside the various magazines. All of the magazines in our study were bought in the U.K. in June 2008, but the magazines’ publication dates ranged from April to August. We identified all references to exercise, nutrition and bodyshaping in each magazine. We were particularly interested in the cover page as the first point of address to the ideal reader. We considered the title, cover image, coverlines and colors. Inside the magazine, we were interested in images accompanying the text, page layout the headings and subheadings. In total we examined 266 articles as well as each magazine cover. As a result, the number of magazines included in this study produced a very large data set. Our large data set enabled us to identify common patterns of representation both connecting and distinguishing the magazines. We discuss these differences and commonalities later using examples to illustrate our results. 

 

The Same but Different — Exercise Across the Spectrum of Women's Magazines

Workout_Wagga_girls_warming_up_the_competitors_before_the_start_of_the_Lake_to_LagoonIt was possible to identify broad differences within the discursive construction of exercise across the range of magazines. Magazine types could be differentiated by the images of bodies they contained in terms of size, age, fitness and activity. There were differences in detail and proposed intensity of exercise as well as the amount of space devoted to exercise. The magazines contained varying amounts of diet and nutritional advice, emphasis on appearance, weight loss, well-being, spirituality, fitness and performance. The range and type of expert advice and reader testimony included also differed, and the amount and character of advertising associated with exercise varied. On the basis of shared characteristics, it was possible to differentiate the magazines into four general types: ‘fashion and lifestyle,’ ‘slimming,’ ‘health and spirituality’ and ‘fitness.’ Taking Elle as an example, fashion and lifestyle magazines shared repeating features which included images of very slim, young bodies, with no discernible muscle toning or definition, depicted in passive poses linked to beauty and fashion. The emphasis on appearance throughout the magazines was reflected in their approach to exercise. For example, Elle contained one page devoted to yoga, but no practical guide, one page describing sporty fashion, and a page advising how to “style yourself slimmer,” written by an expert “fashion director.” The magazine contained a section called ‘Ellediet’ which presented a reflection on readers’ (assumed) interest in what other women eat, rather than nutritional advice or tips.

 

Slimming magazines such as Weightwatchers presented images of slightly older, fuller bodies, including women in their 30s, 40s and 50s. In Weightwatchers, models were posed in simulated exercise positions (for example, a model was dressed in a martial arts outfit with an arm outstretched as if punching the air). Eight pages were devoted to exercise and encouraged readers to start gentle activities such as walking or swimming, but also suggested less realistic goals such as learning water polo. Activities were accompanied by an estimation of typical calories burnt per hour. Expert advice drawn from personal experience was provided by named authors with designations such as “Head of Programme Development for Weightwatchers.” A total of 32 pages were given over to nutrition, mostly recipes. There were advertisements for a range of products including healthy or low-calorie food, beer, weightloss aids, spa holidays and Weightwatchers products featured in the articles. Health and spirituality magazines contained images of similar body types, with a slightly extended age range. As an example of this type, Natural Health depicted models in natural settings with some adopting yoga positions. The emphasis was on well-being with articles such as “Hands On Healing” giving advice about positive mental and physical health strategies. The magazine contained 6 pages of advice and information related to nutrition, including a “Q and A” section and 2 pages of recipes and advertisements for healthy food products. Expertise was provided by named authors, but without information as to what qualifies them as experts.

 

Fitness magazines such as Health & Fitness contained images of mostly young, slim, defined and toned bodies in a range of active exercise poses, including fencing, running, weight training and stretching. Specific exercise routines were described, and 13 pages were collectively entitled an “exercise handbook.” The emphasis on fitness was underscored by the inclusion of diagrams indicating which muscles were being activated by the exercise. The magazine contained 8 pages of diet and nutritional advice, including recipes, and expertise was provided by medically qualified, named individuals with the title ‘Dr.’ Advertisements were for fitness equipment, clothing for exercise and healthy food. However, despite the different types of magazine, we also saw that there was an overarching pattern that united them all. There appeared to be a similar contrast between the way the magazine cover announced exercise-related contents and the way that exercise was covered inside the magazine. Pleasure was central to the construction of exercise in the magazine, but while the cover foreshadowed pleasure in exercise for the reader, this did not materialize inside. In the next section, we will explore the contradiction that existed between the promises made on the magazine cover and the related content inside the magazines. 

 

Great Expectations, Dissapointing Results

woman-checking-weight-lossThe ideal self constructed on the cover of many of the magazines contrasted sharply with the subject position offered by the article content inside. Many of the magazines portrayed exercise as easy to do with the promise of desired results without strain. For example, the cover of Essence (July 2008) suggested that readers should “Love Your Body” and promised an “Easy Summer Shape Up Guide.” Easy Living (May 2008) demanded readers “Feel better!” and “Start Getting Results,” suggesting that the magazine offered readers a way to “Achieve what you want at the hairdressers, in the shops and at the gym.” A coverline from Glamour (April 2008) promised that it was possible to achieve “Your Perfect Weight” with “5 tiny tweaks and you’re there.” However, inside the magazine, promises of achievable workouts were not met. Easy Living’s article on gyms was entitled “Are you being dim at the gym?” and presented seven rules of behavior to follow at the gym. The article warned readers that going to the gym was not enough, and that their workouts were unlikely to be effective unless they heeded the magazine’s advice. The image accompanying the article showed a glamorous woman in full make-up, with an expression of delight, red high heels and long flowing hair, wearing a smart, silk summer dress, billowing behind her, on a stationary bicycle. The model wore a silver bangle on her arm that picked up the metal of the exercise machine. The image visually equated the experience of going to the gym with attending a summer garden party, linking exercise with ease, pleasure, good looks, health and high society. The model’s attire and demeanor could not have been more unsuited to a workout.

 

The impossibility of this image was reflected in the logic of the article, since the advice given provided unrealistic guidelines that readers would be unlikely to be able to follow. For example, readers were advised against trusting erratic gym equipment such as calorie counters. The magazine advised that workouts would not be effective unless the exerciser can just “barely carry on a conversation and you stay in that state for about 45 minutes—then you are working hard enough to lose weight” (Le Poer Trench 2008). Later, however, the article revealed that such exercise would still not be enough: “the fittest women might have a circuittraining programme they complete three times a week and then they choose a high-impact cardio class for their fourth and fifth workout to mix it up” (Le Poer Trench 2008). The magazine also addressed readers’ anticipated concerns about correct etiquette in the gym in a question and answer column accompanying the main article, where common gym situations (like meeting an acquaintance working out or being naked in the locker room) were presented as problems in need of solutions. Articles such as these build anxieties by asking readers to find fault with even the toughest of fitness regimes, as described earlier, and the everyday social encounters that surround exercise. Since the solutions offered are highly demanding, restrictive and inflexible, greater anxiety is likely to be generated by readers’ inability to follow the advice. The magazines imply that it would be easier not to exercise at all. 

 

A different approach but one with the same effect, was to persuade readers that it was normal for women not to exercise. Glamour (2008) asked readers “How normal are you about exercise?” suggesting that it was normal to exercise at home, to have a ‘justified’ reason not to work out (like hating school PE), to give excuses not to exercise, to be embarrassed to go to the gym, or to use the gym as a social network. An image of a slim model sitting on a beach in a bikini, casually holding a small pink dumbbell, accompanied the article, with the ironic caption “What? You mean I have to lift the thing as well?” This humorous item constructed a comforting, pleasurable discourse about ‘normal’ femininity, but in order to step into this normalized subject position, readers should give up any intention of engaging in exercise. There was a similar disjuncture between the address of the cover of the health oriented magazine, Zest (May 2008) and its content. The cover presented a slim, blonde model on a beach, wearing shorts and a bra top, in semi-profile, looking over her shoulder and smiling. The coverline “The super simple 7-day diet” was positioned beside the model’s flat stomach. This image of health and happiness was repeated inside the magazine, as the related article was accompanied by a close-up of a smiling model about to eat a slice of watermelon. However, in contrast to these images of pleasure and the promise of the relaxed and easy, super simple diet on the cover, the introductory words of the actual diet positioned the reader as “Desperate to lose weight?” While the cover image presented an ideal self to the reader, the diet implied the reader was out of control. The diet itself was not simple, containing the names of dishes without any preparation details. At the end of the article, the reader was encouraged to buy the book on which the diet was based, suggesting that the only solution is continued consumption of commodities.

 

woman-squatting-gymThe cover of Health and Fitness (April 2008) promised to make readers look and feel amazing. Coverlines such as “Stretch yourself slim” and “Exercise myths busted” promoted the possibility of knowledge and technique to help the reader construct herself in the image of the slim, smiling, blonde, relaxed and toned model. However, the articles inside the magazine contained conflicting advice about how to exercise safely. The article, “Fitness myths busted” sought to alert readers to dangers in exercise of which they may not be aware. For example, in challenging the “Myth” of “I should always stretch before I do a workout,” the article presented the “Fact” that stretching cold muscles before a workout can cause serious injury, despite stretching before exercise being advocated elsewhere in the magazine. In response to the “Myth” that “my workout shouldn’t feel uncomfortable,” the article presented the “Fact” that it was necessary to negotiate the fine line between discomfort and pain, and to challenge yourself “which feels tough.” Nevertheless, “Stretch into shape” advised readers not to “push your body to the threshold of serious discomfort and pain.” The magazine presented a confusing message that could create anxieties in the reader attempting to interpret the magazine’s advice correctly. Pleasure and insecurity are both part of the packaging of exercise within women’s magazines. For McCracken, the magazine discourse exaggerates the importance of physical appearance to the neglect of other aspects of readers’ lives. This emphasis is bound into the logic of consumer capitalism that supports the magazine industry. Magazine contents encourage readers “to dissect themselves conceptually into fragments that various products are promised to improve” (McCracken 1993). Pleasure in exercise gives way inside the magazines to a more complex terrain where exercise advice becomes fraught with difficulty. McCracken argued that, while magazines may not be the initial cause of anxiety “they often encourage and exacerbate these feelings, and suggest that increased consumption is the remedy” (1993). Accordingly, a repeated link to the consumption of commodities associated with exercise and fitness was a pattern across the magazines in our study. The next section explores the discursive construction of the relationship between exercise and consumption within the magazines.

 

All-Consuming Fitness

An ideal self was assembled for the reader to identify with on the covers of the magazines, and exercise was presented as an easy means to step into that identity. However, inside the magazine, articles reminded the reader that this identity was out of reach. Instead, exercise was constructed as something ‘normal’ women did not do, and conflicting advice presented barriers to engaging in exercise. The articles no longer presented exercise as a simple step to an ideal self, but a minefield of anxiety and confusion. The ideal self of the magazine cover was disassembled inside, constructing an identity loop, whereby readers were promised a ‘new you’ only to find that the ‘old you’ was impossible to shake off. Across all the magazines, the reader was directed to the consumption of commodities associated with fitness, as the only progressive option. Exercise and consumption were inextricably intertwined. 

 

For example, a Good Housekeeping (April 2008) coverline announced the possibility for readers to simply “Walk yourself slim with our achievable fitness campaign.” The corresponding article inside the magazine was illustrated with images of readers who had signed up to join the magazine’s walking program. The readers appeared to range in age from 20 to 50, and were not slim. The program presented a week-by-week guide to walking, with instructions of increasing complexity for walking in “time zones” and “ab walkin”. Despite the low cost and straightforward nature of the activity (notwithstanding the refinements in the article, the reader was advised to consult the websites of two experts—a diet and movement specialist and a happiness coach—for further information. The expert websites were covered in sponsors’ logos and associated products to buy. In addition, the magazine contained a promotion for a cholesterol-reducing yoghurt four pages further on from the walking program. The promotion took the form of a page-long article entitled “Positive steps,” accompanied by an image of a woman (looking fitter and slimmer than the readers featured before engaged in energetic walking. At points, the wording of this sponsored article was virtually indistinguishable from the previous article: the walking program advised “Aim for at least 30 minutes’ continuous walking”, while the promotion suggested “Aim to do at least 30 minutes physical activity”. Exercise advice that purported to come from the magazine itself blended seamlessly into an advertising strategy for its sponsors. The fitter, slimmer image associated with the yoghurt promotion suggested also that the route to the ideal self was through the consumption of this product and not the walking program alone.

 

Conclusions

woman-sunsetWhile exercise may have permeated the spectrum of magazines aimed at women, contradictions remain. There are differences in the ways that exercise is framed across the variety of magazine types, with varying amounts of space devoted to exercise and varying levels of detail in the articles. However, despite the differences, there was a pattern common to all the magazines. Exercise, diet and bodyshaping were built into the linguistic and visual codes of the magazine covers. Together they discursively constructed a better, fitter, firmer self made possible through exercise. The words and images on the covers constructed exercise as a simple and pleasurable means to achieving the desired future self. Yet, inside the magazine, women readers were no longer addressed in these terms. The articles dissuaded women from exercise, created problems around exercising, or presented complicated or conflicting advice that was difficult to follow. The discourse inside the magazines addressed women as struggling, flawed or imperfect and constructed obstacles to exercise. Articles constructed exercise as a complicated and anxiety-ridden activity. The simple exercise solutions promised on the cover evaporated inside the magazine, where the ‘ordinary’ state of femininity was revealed to be anxious and resistant to physical transformation. The mismatch between the cover and the inside features was a regularity across all of the magazines, as was an orientation toward the promotion of consumption. Commodity consumption was presented as the only progressive option available to women in all the magazines. Despite the range of magazines types and identifiable differences in approach to exercise, these commonalities severely limit the ways of engaging in exercise presented to women. The magazines are all involved in the manipulation of readers’ anxieties about exercise. The promise of identification with the ideal self on the cover is disassembled inside where the reader is left anxious and confused. 

 

The seemingly pleasurable constructions of exercise within the magazines give women readers an indication of the transformative potential of movement and physical activity. Exercise, however, needs to be performed not consumed. The intertwining of commodity consumption and exercise undermines its potential for transformation, since it transforms it into something it can never be. Pleasures of consumption may provide the framework for exercise but cannot substitute for the activity itself. To extend the pleasure of exercise beyond the cover constructions, the discourse of women’s magazines needs to imagine exercise outside of the logic of consumer culture and begin to frame exercise as pleasurable from image to practice.


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