The Vagenda

Women’s Health: I Want to Be Strong and Fit, not ‘Hot’ and ‘Skinny’


I’m a big fan of Men’s Health magazine – as a woman I do get some funny looks reading it in public, but the exercises and diet tips generally focus on building muscle and fitness, as well as improving performance, albeit with a testosterone focus. So, when I spotted an issue of Women’s Health, I thought I’d give it a go – expecting more of the same, but with articles targeted to my lady-hormones (in their defence, they did eventually get around to telling me when I should start worrying about my thyroid and how to reduce my risk of osteoporosis, so props to them for that).

So imagine my disappointment when I flip open to this:


FFS. Women’s Health is supposed to be a health and fitness mag. At least try and sell me a bag that I can fit my trainers in, rather than telling me I need a bag that will keep love rivals away from my man. So much for encouraging healthy relationships with other humans (not that many women’s mags do that.) Frankly, if your relationship really needs a handbag to survive, then you need advice on where to get help, or how to get out – not a link to I swear to God, this featurette had me doing a Lady Bracknell for a good ten minutes. A HANDBAG?

But that’s not all. Other comedy highlights include “primal fitness” – one of only two exercise regimens in the whole mag, I should add. Primal fitness consists of a 30 minute work-out they recommend you do at the park which includes “the cat walk” (crawling), “the rabbit walk” (bunny hops) and “the toddler climb” (in case you needed infantilising a bit more). The illustrations indicate that these should be done in a leopard fur bikini, but my local park isn’t really that kind of place and I bet yours isn’t either.

“Is your salad habit derailing your diet?” I’m then asked. SPOILER ALERT: it turns out that Tesco’s chicken and bacon pasta salad is not low fat. Who knew?

Then we have “Get Tess Daly’s Hot Yoga Body: the only 4 moves you need”. Tess Daly does yoga twice a week. Now, I’m sure she’s a lovely lady, but when you consider how Men’s Health tend to interview athletes, twice weekly yoga isn’t really going to cut it. I didn’t finish the article feeling inspired to take up her gruelling training regimen, let’s put it that way. Moreover, the focus on getting a ‘hot’ body rather than a strong, healthy one will be familiar to women’s magazine readers the world over.

In classic, ‘food diary’ style, Women’s Health also interview a celebrity trainer about her diet and exercise regimen (the highlight of this diary is 11am on Saturday, when she consumes ‘2 litres of water’ – YUM). Their comments in response to this are ridiculous – they recommend she tries coconut butter to aid fat loss (why does she need to lose fat exactly?) and suggest she has juice instead of breakfast cereal (!) Although they do quite sensibly recommend she try eating lunch (to stop perilous snacking, obv).

Then we have ‘YOUR FLAT BELLY DIET DAY’. Apparently, if you hardly eat anything all day it will make you look slim (I haven’t road-tested this, because not eating makes me grumpy). I have to say it doesn’t appeal to me, especially not when you contrast it with Men’s Health diet tips: “Split your regular workout into two sessions, boost your metabolism, eat some pizza”. Seems fair.

But of all their tips, my personal favourite is this: “Every hour you sit reduces your life expectancy by 22 minutes”. I guess I must be dead, then.  Apparently half an hour of sitting down has the same effect on your lifespan as smoking a cigarette (If you stand up for a half hour fag break does it cancel out? I need to know).

To lighten the mood after that bombshell, the next page begins a feature on which shades of pink to wear in which decades of your life (‘ON TUESDAYS WE WEAR PINK’). They don’t really go into how this will boost your health or fitness, but seeing as I have a neon pink swimsuit at the back of my wardrobe, I will dig it out and see if it shaves a few minutes off my mile.

Then we have “SHAPE SHIFTING WORKWEAR”, which sounds supernatural, but isn’t. It’s four pages encouraging you to label your body shape after some kind of fruit, before telling you what to wear to work, presumably to make it look like a different (in some way more appealing??) kind of fruit.

Once you’ve been transformed from quince to cucumber, you may or may not have worked out your ‘PERFECT WEIGHT FORMULA’ – also known as “the holy grail of dieting’ which ‘makes you better in bed, more confident in meetings and turn shopping for jeans into a pleasure.” NEWSFLASH, Women’s Health: Shopping for jeans is never a pleasure, no matter what size you are.

Finding your weight formula involves calculating your number and then only being allowed to love yourself if it matches what you see on the scales. You can also “win an extreme body makeover” (don’t write in folks, this mag’s been kicking round my doctors’ waiting room for a couple of months). The prize includes medical weight loss aids which helped their ‘before and after’ model drop from a body fat percentage of 24.6 (perfectly healthy) to 16.2 %

I have nothing against dieting and weight loss – whatever you’re into. But there are already so many magazines talking endlessly about these things. Conflating weight loss with health is a dangerous business, especially when the model that is being featured was healthy in the first place. Women’s Health is too much diet and not enough exercise, and it really is a shame.  I can’t be the only woman who wants to bulk up rather than lose weight? Reading this magazine made me realise that it just isn’t made for the likes of me, and the latest edition just confirms that:


‘Drop one size’, ‘wobble less’, ’87 calorie breakfast’, ‘work your ass off’, Shakira? I’ll give it a miss and stick to the metabolism-boosting pizza, thanks, and if you’re interested in being fit and strong rather than ‘hot’ and ‘skinny’, then I’d suggest you do the same.

- AT

28 thoughts on “Women’s Health: I Want to Be Strong and Fit, not ‘Hot’ and ‘Skinny’

  1. LOL @ the tag line “It’s Good to Be You”…. Is it really?

    Should read: “It’s Good to Be You once you’ve…. dropped one size, taken 8 years off, shed 4KG, earnt more and halved your hunger.”

  2. This is shocking!
    Depressingly, I picked up a magazine for triathletes over the summer, because my friend (Helen) was training for an Iron Man. In this thick, 100pg magazine, I think I found less than ten pictures of women athletes. That included all the adverts.

  3. ‘Then we have “SHAPE SHIFTING WORKWEAR”, which sounds supernatural, but isn’t.’ This part made me laugh out loud! Great article. =)

  4. Hello, would you please take my name off my previous post?
    For professional reasons, I don’t post under my correct name usually.

    Many thanks.


  5. 87 calorie breakfast?!
    That is so wrong and sad. Might as well advocate not having it.
    I was also so disappointed in how diet heavy and unhealthy ‘Women’s Health’ was when it came out, so it’s nice to see it getting the Vagenda snarkalysis. It’s basically the epitome of the ‘Do as much as you can on as little as possible’ diet/exercise philosophy which is at best unattainable, at worst, damaging. Boo to it.

  6. I used to be an avid reader of ‘women’s running’ – pre-pregnancy, that is! Even that seemed to feature a lot of articles about ‘burning fat’ or ‘getting a flat tum’, like these were the only reasons women might run! However, overall it am was pretty focused on running – better than ‘women’s health’ by the looks of things!

  7. And is Shakira supposed to be wearing a gym-friendly outfit on the cover? Imagine the chafing in those leather knickers… ouch.

  8. I had the exact same experience. I really enjoy Men’s Health, so picked up a copy of WH (though from the cover I should’ve known not to). It’s just diet tips! And really bad ones at that!

    And why no pictures of actual athletes or genuinely muscular girls?

  9. Anyone else noticing that despite their predictions that sitting on your arse will kill you, their most recent cover features the statement “Work Your Ass Off By Sitting On It”?

  10. Spot on!!
    And the May cover for the American version is Sofia Vergara sporting the largest thigh gap I’ve ever seen. One of the cover stories is ‘Ultra-Hot Sex Moves – Whip out these sizzling skills tonight.’ Yes I’ll have a blowjob technique with my workout plan. Cheers!

  11. Take eight years off what with lipstick? Hope it’s my mortgage and not my life expectancy.

  12. I’m always disappointed with Women’s Health. It’s either completely ridiculous or really isolating for women who aren’t already uber fit gym buddies. And I despise the fact that on almost every single cover is a woman with as much skin exposed as possible.

  13. I get this magazine on subscription, it usually just gathers dust as I find it quite belittling to read as I do with Women’s Running. They’re boring, same old cr#p each month about the latest diet / wonder drug. I much prefer when runners world lands on my mat each month.

  14. I find it interesting how, often, men’s health magazines/blogs encourage men to get stuck in and engrossed into the diet/workout/lifestyle but with women it’s always “do this one simple thing”. I wonder what this says about what the people who write them think about the gender divide.

  15. @Minka so with you there! Since recovering from a long-term mild ed, in which running to keep weight down was the main occupation, I have gotten majorly into the weights, and absolute revel in being so strong. First time in my life that exercise has been something I progress at and really truly enjoy. My bf is even getting a bit scared I might be able to beat him in an arm wrestle soon. I wish there were more girls who wanted to lift who I could buddy with in the gym!

  16. Just had one of those experiences where I feel like what Vagenda has written has come straight out of my head. I’m SO glad other people feel the same way about this! Even Women’s Fitness, which has FITNESS in the title, isn’t really all that much about fitness. It probably contains more fitness-related articles than Women’s Health, but I came for the fitness and DIDN’T stay for the “100-calorie cakes!” / “Running will improve your sex life!!” / “Spend your life savings on [admittedly beautiful] yoga clothes and do upside-down-lotus-balancing-on-one-finger-whilst-ruling-the-world first time!!!” articles. I promise I’m not bitter, I just want a magazine that does what it says on the cover. Anyone want to start one with me? (No, seriously?)

  17. Women’s Health magazine really is shocking when you compare it with Men’s Health, and for some reason the British version is much worse than the North American version, which still has a bizarre emphasis on make-up and handbags. The North American version of Women’s Health actually used to have fitness models (read: athletic women) on their covers but when they switched to skinny celebrities it all went downhill pretty quickly. I always get odd looks when I buy a Men’s Health but it’s just a significantly better fitness mag!

  18. meh…let’s not pretend men’s health magazines aren’t also loaded with superficial BS like male chauvinism and never-ending emphasis on “manning up”. After all, vegetables are for sissies, right? You gotta eat something manly like a steak or a pizza because otherwise you’re not a man. That’s just how it is.

  19. Ended my subscription when I tired of the ads declaring how to alter your looks without fitness and good nutrition. I was concerned that I was sending the wrong message to my teenage daughter via Women’s Health. Now, we keep physically active and discuss all the benefits we get from riding our bikes. We are gaining strength and fitness without having to think much about it.

  20. I agree with the comments about womens “fitness” mags being utter rubbish. I stopped reading them years ago. However in an act of desperation ,stuck at Gatwick waiting for delayed flight in january, I bought Cosmo Body.Maybe it was Davina on the cover that make me pick up the mag,who knows.Yes, there is the usual crap to make us feel fat and stupid stories about celebs whose” fitness routines” contain the usual lies about steamed veg and 1 glass of wine a week.There were especially dumb articles on makeup, sex and underwear which had no place in a fitness mag ,in my opinion anyway. But there were a few decent stories,really! I even found some advice on food which was sensible,and contraception ,and info on team sports and class trends which hopefully will encourage some women to get involved. Hard core athletes will probably hate the mag, but I found a fair bit of it readable ,certainly less bad than womens health ,which is total overpriced bullshit. I have kept the mag, and actually do some of the exercises in it.