Column: Health and fitness magazines take different approaches when motivating women and men

Posted: May 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm

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I'm one of those women who likes reading men's health and fitness magazines. Though they all promise bodies and sex lives that most of us will never have, I'm drawn to the funny, self-deprecating tone, the functional workout tips and the emphasis on sweat, competition and strength training.

Yes, women's magazines have these elements but on a vastly diminished scale. They're fluffier, in part because beauty products and clothes are considered health-related, but also because women are still plagued by the irrational fear of "bulking up." We won't get huge without added testosterone, but some magazines still perpetuate the notion that men should build insanely huge muscles and women need to lose fat.

A recent Muscle & Fitness magazine cover, for example, promised "75 of the Best Muscle Building Exercises." By contrast, Muscle & Fitness Hers, the female counterpart to the bodybuilder mag, featured thinspiration, including "The Skinny on Fat Loss" and "The Best Natural Appetite Suppressants." The majority of advertisements touted fat-burning supplements, stimulants and weight loss products.

Men's Health and Women's Health magazines have plenty of overlapping content. Both recognize that both genders compete in marathons and triathlons, want great abs in 15 minutes and need nutritional guidance. But the editors use considerably different voices to reach their male and female readers.

"For Women's Health, it's a confiding, challenging, sisterly thing equal parts encouragement, sympathy and advice. It comes from a place of 'just us girls,'" said David Zinczenko, editor-in-chief of Men's Health and editorial director of Women's Health.

"Guys tend to be a bit more bracing with their counsel, with a healthy dose of humor plus self-denigration thrown into the mix," Zinczenko added. "First we laugh at ourselves, then we laugh at you, then we deliver the goods straight up, with an expert chaser."

Women's Health also uses a larger typeface than Men's Health. Though it may be simply a design decision, larger fonts can elicit stronger emotional brain responses, according to a study by German researchers.

The direct "male" approach is what I find appealing. Men's workouts are usually cast as a way to build a stronger body. Women's exercises are given cute, superficial names, such as "The Wedding Dress Workout" or "The Bikini Body Booty routine." Rather than sending the message that exercise builds muscle, confidence and improves mental health, the emphasis is on looking good. If your workout goal is to fit into a swimsuit, you're using an unsustainable approach to fitness. But if your goal is to get healthy which means incorporating it as a lifestyle you'll have a body that you want to show off.

Still, some women and magazines are catching on. At Details, where 32 percent of the online readership is female, there's a growing recognition that "the gender boundaries in fitness studios and gyms have been blurred," said Details senior editor Sheila Monaghan, who edits the health, fitness and nutrition section. "Fitness has become this sort of equalizer between the sexes," she said. "Everyone wants the same results."


Column: Health and fitness magazines take different approaches when motivating women and men

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May 22nd, 2012 at 2:17 pm

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