A girl I knew in college works for a major women’s health magazine. You’d think after my long journey through health stuff and now training for a marathon, we’d have more in common now.
When I knew her my friend was more athletic than I was, but not a fanatic — just one of those naturally skinny people who, in the way that college students do, exercised on and off in brief fits of fervor. Over the years she has become more absorbed in the stuff of her job, which she loves, and all that is great. But in her personal life she has taken on that tone of women’s health magazines, which preaches that all you have to do is do everything differently — and if you can’t, it must be your fault.
I used to subscribe to the magazine she works for. I would religiously rip out the monthly workouts, but never do them. I wanted to believe that I could drop 5 or 10 pounds in a month, as promised. I’m sure my friend doesn’t believe that this is necessarily healthy for her or for every reader, but still, practically every month, the magazine makes the same claim. Just do everything they tell you and you will be stronger, skinnier, happier.
When I failed to do better at losing weight, when I never dropped those 5 or 10 pounds, I blamed myself. I could have made one change, like that summer I accidentally lost weight just from walking to my job and back. But when I tried to make ALL the changes, and inevitably I fell down. And soon I saw my monthly subscription as emblematic of all the things I would NEVER be. Maybe this month, I’ll do that workout using only a chair and two soup cans! Or maybe next month I will just regret that I didn’t lose those 5 pounds, regardless of whatever else happened in that time.
It’s not just weight loss either, in which you’re supposed to change. Here is a list of things you have to do to make your sex life better; here is a list of beliefs you need in order to be happy; here are a list of powerfoods to jam into every meal. My friend even worked on a special guide for “taking control” of cancer, as if we wouldn’t ALL want to control that, even though IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.
Hurry up and get busy!!! Do all of these things now!!!!! Why are you waiting fix your life immediately!!!!! What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you? What is wrong with you?
I don’t know where this post is going. Maybe it’s just my neuroses that keep me from relating. I know the people who create mainstream health magazines do so with the best of intentions regarding their readers; they aren’t just whole profit addicts. A lot of them (like my friend) see that type of health journalism as a sort of calling, and they work freakishly hard not to be incorrect in the advice they give. But maybe these magazines aren’t any better for me than looking at weddings I won’t have in US Weekly or clothes I can’t afford in Vogue. The drumbeat of inadequacy that they all run on is unavoidable, and it beats under everything, and I find myself getting pulled into step with it more than I want, into a march that never ends.