Shape Magazine: Misogyny Disguised as Women’s Health
Shape Magazine has been around for as long as I can remember, and is one of the most popular women’s magazines that has ever been. It is a cultural icon, especially in terms of media directly produced for consumption by women. Shape is a significant part of our culture and our heritage. I remember my mom reading Shape. I remember references to Shape in popular movies and shows of my adolescence. I even began reading Shape as I became a teen and young adult.
Shape Magazine is very well known for their tips, tricks, advice, and exercises specifically designed to make a woman look and feel better than ever. And for a long time, I believed it. I believed that Shape had good intentions and ideas for women and what they should aspire to be. However, as my goals for myself and how I viewed the world changed, my thoughts regarding this magazine changed.
As I became more active and healthy, as well as more aware of women’s social issues, my view of Shape morphed from “Shape has good intentions and ideas” to “Shape has good intentions, but is misguided.” After my view on Shape changed for the first time, I stopped buying their magazines, even when I was looking for something fun to read. This magazine actually became a running joke in my life because after I had my change of heart, it appeared that someone bought me a subscription to the magazine. I have been receiving this magazine for 3 years now and have not been paying a single penny for it (I am pretty sure my grandma buys magazine subscriptions from teens trying to go to camp or something). I didn’t ever read them when I first received them and I still continue to not read this magazine. I hate wasting this much paper, however, these magazine usually are used as scrap paper for fires, and the like, until I eventually throw them in the recycling bin.
Well, a little while ago, I was bored and couldn’t find anything “fun” to read in the bath. I didn’t want to start a novel because I didn’t want the time commitment, so I picked up one of the Shapes I had lying around. In the past few years, my opinions regarding fitness, health, women’s issues, rights, and a number of other topics have become more clear and some would say, progressive. I am a self-identified feminist (some might even say femi-nazi, but those people apparently don’t understand how horrible nazis actually were, how nice I actually am, and are usually men’s righters). I want women (and all people) to be healthy and happy and I have found that the media (and the diet and fitness industry section of the media) are huge culprits in women being neither. Anyway, needless to say my viewpoint about this magazine shifted.
Sitting in the tub and flipping through the pages, my viewpoint of Shape morphed from “They mean well, but are misguided” to “This is bad. This is real bad.” Now, I am not talking “bad,” like what I would say about a book that is poorly written. I am talking “bad” as in “this causes harm.” While I was soaking my feetsies in the tub, I realized that Shape Magazine is one of and has been one of the largest negative influences on women’s health and happiness. Shape Magazine promotes a misogynist viewpoint, that while it may be popular and displayed as “fun and flirty,” promotes the oppression of women and inequality in our world. Shape Magazine is misogyny disguised as women’s health.
Dissecting Woman into Bit and Pieces
Shape publishes many articles each month on how to fix your trouble spots – you know, the bits and pieces of you that keep you from being beautiful. Shape offers exercises in order to achieve “Flat Abs, Tight Tush, Lean Legs” (May 2013 issue). Most issues offer ways to give you the abs you desire, such as March 2013’s “Sexy Abs Fast” and “Showstopping Abs: A Toned Tummy in 21 Days,” as well as May 2013’s “Flat Belly Super Foods: Whittle Your Middle.” Don’t forget about June 2013’s “Tighten Your Tummy” and “Sculpted Arms, Sexy Tush, Sleek Thighs.” You have a piece of your body that you don’t like? Well, Shape has a cure.
Why This is Misogyny
Dissecting people into bits and pieces makes it easier to not only cause them to doubt themselves (a whole different discussion), but it also creates an atmosphere where it becomes very difficult to view them as whole, complete people. This is a tactic known as “otherization.” It is very handy for the diet industry to “otherize” its patrons because if people do not even view themselves as whole and complete people (but instead, bits and pieces that need to be fixed), it becomes easier to treat them like dirt for profit and not even feel bad about it. It also makes it easier to sell “products” and “ideals” to people who have had their entire sense of self ripped to shreds. When people become otherized, they become desperate to feel whole again. If they can just fix those bits and pieces that are holding them back, then they can begin to feel like a real person. Shape profits from people feeling unwhole.
Repeat with me: You are a whole and complete person, worthy of love and respect, especially from yourself and most certainly from a stupid magazine.
Have Sex, But Not Because You Enjoy It and Want To
No, no. You can’t possibly just want to have sex because you enjoy it. That is impossible. You are a woman, after all. Shape appears to be pretty sex positive, as long as you are having sex for a particular reason, and that reason is not because you enjoy it. Acceptable reasons to have sex include reasons like building a better body and burning calories (“Sexercise: Torch Calories in Bed” – May 2013). Shape also offers a variety of reasons to have sex anyway, even if you don’t feel like it (“4 Ways to Have More Sex – Tonight!” – published online).
Why This is Misogyny
The idea that women should be slutty (have sex), but not be too slutty (women are not supposed to enjoy sex and thus, should only have sex for other reasons) is the Whore/Virgin dichotomy. This diminishes women’s entire personalities to their sexuality. It dehumanizes us by making diminishing our moral value, and thus, our worth, down to two possibilities: good and bad. The dichotomy forces women into two tightly managed categories of sexuality. Oftentimes, the morality of the good versus the bad/ whore versus virgin is tied directly to how much a respect a person deserves. If a woman fails to adhere to strict social norms that dictate when and how she can have sex, she quickly falls from grace (pun intended) and is no longer seen as a person deserving of respect. Shape, by insinuating that woman need reasons (besides pleasure) to partake in sexual activities, are setting these strict social norms, which women, in turn, can fail to meet.
Shape Perpetuates Negative Stereotypes Regarding the Emotional State of Women
Nearly every issue of Shape Magazine, ever, features an article detailing a specific way in which you can get rid of the stress in your life, like their articles, “Stress-Free Dinners: Shop Once, Eat All Week” (March 2013) and “Strip Away Stress” (June 2013). Now, I have no doubt in my mind that each and every single person who reads my blog has stress in their lives. I frequently have stress in my life. However, Shape’s instance on “fixing” our issues, by ceasing our emotions with these simplistic fixes, reduces our very complex and real emotions we are feeling into simple caricatures of who we are and what we may be feeling.
Why This Is Misogyny
By offering simple fixes, Shape trivializes our emotions and feeds into the stereotype that women are high-strung, usually in hysterics and always looking for people to solve our problems. Shopping once a week for groceries may reduce a smidgen of stress felt by a random time crunch, however, it most certainly will not make me feel less stressed as it does not solve the root of my problems. My emotions are not a thing to be bandaged. Additionally, by offering these very simplistic, easy-to-apply bandages, Shape insinuates that women are unable to think of these easy fixes, themselves, which is completely untrue! I actually shop for groceries every two weeks because 1. it saves time and 2. it saves money and 3. I am lazy (Take that, Shape! I outsmarted you!).
Shape Tries to Make Us Less and Not More
Shape is consistent about one thing: This magazine has always tried to make us lose something…stress, fat, weight, acne, etc. You get the gist. By always telling how to lose parts and pieces of ourselves, Shape Magazine is sending one very clear message: Be less. You will never see in Shape messages to gain mass (whether lean, healthy mass or not), eat more, work more, be more passionate.
Why This is Misogyny
Shape, in fact, is not unique in this sentiment; at this point, the magazine is just presenting social, cultural, and media norms. Women are always to be less. We are to weigh less. We are to eat less. We are to work less. We are to make less. In fact, being more is frequently discouraged. Gaining weight is bad because it makes us not beautiful. Eating more makes us weigh more. If we work more, who takes care of the kids? Making more is also bad because breadwinning is a masculine trait.
Encouraging women to be less and not more is directly related to whom society thinks is more important. Women are not to outshine, outwin, outBE their counterparts, and we are certainly not to outeat them. Society continues to view women as second-rate citizens who deserve less space and to have our issues ignored. Why? because according to society we are unimportant objects to be seen and not heard. We are merely here to look pretty and breed children. Being more implies that we can have purposes and goals for our minds and bodies that are not at all related to how we look, nor our reproductive organs.
All Diet and Fitness Tips Are to Look Better
Shape magazine is classified as a women’s health and fitness magazine. Shape does, indeed, feature several health articles each month – usually related to sex or illness that female bodies are more prone to developing. Now, when one usually thinks of health and fitness, the things that pop into mind (at least my mind) are diet and exercise. Shape, does, also, feature many articles each month on diet and exercise. However, these diet and exercise articles are rarely linked to health (if ever). Instead, these articles usually emphasize how your body looks and how to change how your body looks. Articles like “Walk This Way: Slim and Sculpt As Your Stroll” (June 2013) and the regular diet column “The Skinny On…” which features articles like, “The Skinny On…Ice Cream Truck Treats” (June 2013) and “The Skinny On…Thai Food” (March 2013) emphasize diets and exercise which promote one goal, and one goal only: to be thinner.
Why This is Misogyny
To be clear, my issue with the emphasis on thinness is not an issue with wanting to look “better” (although, I prefer to look like the best version of myself). Naomi Wolf, in her book “The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women” expresses my issue with the emphasis on thinness better than I ever could. Naomi writes: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” By constantly inundating us with images and thoughts about what we should look like and ways to look like that, we have become consumed with becoming those desired images. If people cared as HALF as much about learning and voting as they did what their bodies look like, I think the world would be in a much better place.
Additionally, by forcing us to be consumed with all of these wants and desires for how our bodies look (forcing, in this case is akin to socialization), our society is forcing us to forget about having other desires – such as equal rights. People only have so much time and energy. It is easy to control groups of people and have them be obedient (instead of outraged) if those people are too malnourished and tired to care (history has shown this, time and time again).
Women Need Things to Be Easy
Being healthy and fit is hard work right? Well, don’t worry. Shape has your back! Shape very much believes they have mastered plans to make losing weight and look great much easier, like in their article, “Easy Diet Plan” (June 2013). No matter what you want (as long as those things you want are to be thinner and prettier), Shape has a tip or a trick (or possibly both) on how to make your journey easier.
Why This is Misogyny
This is a classic case of “White Knite” Syndrome. Women need to be saved. We need to be helped. If something is difficult, we need an easy fix. By always trying to give us an easy fix, Shape Magazine is not only insinuating that do we not have the ability to do hard things, but they are also insinuating that we also do not have the willpower to do hard things; We are too fair and weak physically, and mentally, to persevere through hardships (even though plenty of women face hardships day-in and day-out) and difficult times. Women do not need to be saved! We are more than capable of taking the long route and do not need to be offered “quick fixes.” Most of us are more than willing to put in the work and effort to become who we want to become.
Why This Is A Big Deal
By now (for those of you who made it all the way through this monstrosity), the people reading this article are probably divided into three groups:
People raging along with me.
People who love Shape and think I am evil.
People who think Shape is stupid, but also think that I am blowing things WAAAAY out of proportion (and that I generally overreact because we have made great strides as a society because we aren’t cutting people’s heads off with swords anymore and things are all that bad, blah, blah blah).
Yes, I may be making a huge deal out of what is supposed to be a “fun” magazine. Yes, I am sure that Shape believes that its intentions are good. Yes, I may have a tendency to hyperbolize.
However, I make a big deal out of issues like this for one very important reason: Every little bit counts! Every single step in the right direction is incredibly important because every message (it doesn’t matter if the context is merely for entertainment or “fun”), no matter how small, that conveys the idea that we need to change ourselves and our bodies and our emotions and that our bodies need to be picked apart and fixed piece-by-piece, sends a signal to our daughters, our friends, our mothers and ourselves about our value. And little-by-little, we are told that we are worth very little.
That is why this issue is so important and that is why I will continue to make a big deal about the little things. And, I will continue to remind you that you are a whole, complete person who is worthy of love and respect, especially from yourself – despite what Shape Magazine tells you.