For a Different Self

Sometimes when I’m bored and tired and don’t have much energy to muster, let alone put toward doing something productive, I’ll just flip through pages on StumbleUpon. Occasionally, I find things that are interesting; sometimes I find things that I feel entirely indifferent toward; and at other times, I find things that I can’t help but stop and consider just because of how disconnected from them I am in my day-to-day life.  Case in point, this page:

Screenshot from Self magazine depicting different exercises and diet foods.
Image via Self Magazine










It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up an issue of Self, Fitness, Shape, or any magazine of their ilk. I used to be an avid reader. In fact, I used to tear out pages from them and keep them in a binder, vowing that I would do the exercises in the vain hope that I would end up like the model demonstrating the moves. Most of the time, trying to do this resulted in me feeling frustrated, sore, and extremely disappointed in myself. To top it all off, the articles and features always made me feel slightly inadequate, like I hadn’t cut enough calories, or I had overindulged, or there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t thin like the women in the pictures. So much of my life was wrapped up in my body, how it looked, how it felt, and what it was able to do. Reading women’s fitness magazines as often as I did only served to enforce the negative messages I was already sending myself, and affirmed my belief that I wasn’t working hard enough to really feel good about myself.

I would be lying if I said that since throwing out all the back issues of those magazines that I had lying around, my relationship with my body changed entirely, because it didn’t. That fact is well-documented here on this blog. Indeed, as I sit here writing this post I can’t stop thinking about my mid-section, and how unhappy I’ve become with it in the past couple weeks. But I can say in all honesty that my priorities when it comes to fitness have changed dramatically. I no longer exercise to fit a certain standard, and these days my reasons for wanting to change my body have much more to do with athletic performance than appearance. I do need to invest more time in core work, for example, but it’s not so that I can look like the woman in the yellow bikini above, it’s because last year during the Philadelphia marathon, that part of my body fatigued far earlier than it should have, and I want to avoid having that happen again.

I’m relieved to be mostly free of my near-compulsive need to act in a way that would be consistent with the lifestyle described in women’s fitness magazines. In spite of my current struggles, I have come a long way and I’m far from being the person I was for most of the last decade or two. My definition of health and fitness differs pretty drastically from the one these magazines share, and to me, that’s a victory. Now when I see a headline about flat abs, guilt-free treats, or losing X number of pounds quickly, I find myself hoping that other women can take a step back and see that there’s more to a healthy lifestyle than whatever’s on the cover of Self.

(This post originally appeared on my blog.  I was kind enough to give myself permission to crosspost it.)

By Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at

4 replies on “For a Different Self”

I no longer exercise to fit a certain standard, and these days my reasons for wanting to change my body have much more to do with athletic performance than appearance.

I appreciate this statement so much- you verbalized what I have been attempting to put into words for a while. For me, I feel like taking up martial arts in the last year-ish has really changed my life. For years I ran and did aerobics to stay down in the teeny tiny size range , and truthfully, started judo and jiu jitsu with the same intent. Only that didn’t happen, instead I loved the sport, the people I met from all walks of life in it, and instead of whittling my waist in the way I intended, my shoulders broadened, I got leaner, and tougher with a rather different body than I have ever had. Now, my other exercise on non class days is to improve my ability to do the sport well. Exercising for performance rather than weightloss is one of the most freeing things that has happened in my relationship with food, exercise and my body.

Long, long ago, when Self first came out, I thought it was a godsend. I’m 51, now (well, my body is 51- the person inside has been about 25 long enough to learn a lot of lessons,) and the world has changed. Possibly, the magazine has, too. At the time, seeing athletic womens bodies in a magazine was a revelation! The idea that one could aspire to be like *that* rather than like the standard fashion model body, in the heyday of heroic chic, was such a relief, even if my actual experience, like yours, was of disappointment and frustration at my inability to achieve the results promised. Thankfully, I eventually accumulated enough wisdom to leave the magazines behind and, if not make peace with my body, at least stop tormenting myself with trying to beat it into someone else’s shape. It seems that the magazine has, in that sense, outlived its time. Instead of being a refreshing change from the norm, it’s just another expression of it.

At this point in my life, I am leery of the term “aspirational”, which seems to be a buzzword of the past decade or so. I wait for the day when it falls out of common use. While I think its great to have goals, and to work towards greater health, the pre-packaged vision of what we ought to aspire to, promoted by the various media outlets, is far too narrow and commercialized. For that reason, alone, I will no longer support the magazine publishers who produce such pap. (Not that Self is really relevant to me, any longer, but More, which is aimed at my age group, is little different.) I don’t aspire to be a clone of the popularly accepted body, or the currently fashionable bride, or of any of the other versions of magazine perfection that the media can produce. The older I get, the more I find that that is the exact opposite of authenticity and individuality which, I find, are far more rewarding, useful, and achievable values than a “bikini body” and whatever is the current vision of conventional beauty. It seems to me that many more young women now, as compared to my own youth, recognize this as a truth. Progress is slower than we might like but, thank goodness, we do keep moving forward!

I completely agree with you about the term aspirational. It’s one of my big pet peeves, because all it really is is a buzzword that is used to mask the actual message–you’re not good enough, and you need to change. A friend of mine put it really eloquently when she said she felt like magazines like Self, Fitness, Prevention, and even those without a specific focus on the body (the example she gave was Real Simple) really just wanted her to be less of something–less cluttered, smaller waist, thinner thighs, etc.

If we aspire to anything, it should be to be *more*, in whatever way makes us feel best.

Thank you for pointing out that progress has been made–I tend to forget that a bit too easily!

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