Is popular women’s health content written for today’s modern woman… or Barbie?
Among the web and print pages of chick health media, there’s a conspicuously high volume of pink. There’s also Hollywood gossip, beauty advice and ample sex tips — which often figure more prominently than health advice.
I noticed all this before stumbling upon the Shape website last week, which managed, in one 4-second homepage load, to bring all of these elements together. Right down to the Barbie weights:
If we weren’t sufficiently engaged by the pink, sprinkles and phallic fruit in women’s health content, don’t worry. The editors will capture our flighty feminine attention with a hyper-emotive headline.
Take the daily email digest from a popular women’s health magazine, in contrast to its version for guys. When I subscribed to both last fall, I watched in awe as the daily pair came in, one on top of the other:
M: 7 Weird Brain Tricks That Make You Smarter
W: The WORST Time to Break Your Diet
M: How Smart Brains Handle Stress
W: 7 PROVEN Weight-Loss Tricks
M: The Gut-Blasting Gauntlet
W: The BEST Way to Blast Cellulite
Yes, for a solid two months, the women’s emails OMFG’d into my inbox…
The 10 WORST Face-Washing Mistakes
9 NEW Ways to Tone Up With Dumbbells
The BEST Way to Start Your Workout
BIG NEWS About Male Birth Control
The 13 SEXIEST Lessons of 2013
The 3 WORST Treadmill Mistakes
5 NEW Equipment-Free Exercises
The 9 BEST Weight Loss Tips of 2013
The 5 BEST Late-Night Snacks
The 14 BEST At-Home Workouts
4 CRAZY-Effective Diets
The ULTIMATE Sex To-Do List
The WORST Way to Diet
5 GENIUS Ways to Cut Calories
The WORST Time to Get Sick
… while the men’s matter-of-factly followed:
The Fat-Frying Trifecta
The Best Tablets for Any Guy
5 Food Labels Decoded
8 Lies Your Doctor Tells You
5 Ways to Generate Some Genius Ideas
The dramatic delivery of these women’s daily digests finally calmed down over the past few months (thank you), but on many days the ladies still get a heftier dose of superficial:
M: 6 New Food Rules to Follow
W: The State With the Biggest Penises
So I have to ask… why aren’t the gents getting all-capped? Why do they get tips for being a genius, while we only get GENIUS ways to cut calories? And why, since I know guys like sex as much as we do, do they seem to get less content about sex and how to appeal to the opposite sex, and more content that is actually about health?
Maybe women get more emails, so competition for our inbox attention is (forgive the pun) stiffer. But the ditzy cheerleader sex object stereotype creeps into print, as well.
Here’s an excerpt from a story about oral care in the April 2014 issue of Women’s Health:
“Dental talk: yawn, right? Maybe not — oral health just got a whole lot more interesting, thanks to research showing that what goes on in your mouth can directly reflect what’s happening elsewhere in your body, from your brain all the way down to your private parts. And that conditions such as gum disease can be precursors to scary stuff like cognitive decline, diabetes, and certain STDs.”
Scary stuff like disease? Yawn? And what research, exactly, are they referring to? The source wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the article.
In contrast, a piece about heart health in the Jan/Feb issue of Men’s Health:
“There aren’t too many ways to survive a bullet hurtling toward your heart. You could be wearing a Kevlar vest (unlikely), possess bona fide Matrix moves (even more unlikely), or watch in stunned silence as the hand of God reaches down and miraculously plucks the projectile out of the air (not gonna happen unless you’re in a Monty Python movie).
But there’s an upside to this scenario. Actually, make that two. First, the lethal round you need to worry about moves quite slowly: It’s called heart disease. Second, you can count on at least 30 ways to survive it.”
Two observations: this was written for someone over the age of 12. And the author is a woman.
So why are women getting the lite version of health guidance?
Do we need a pair of sparkly lips in order to not get grossed out by the human body, or freaked out by our health concerns?
Personally, I want the gore. And while I can’t speak for all women, I know there are many who seek smart content about real health issues and who engage in rigorous exercise in non-pink clothing. When I wrote an article about how women need to lift heavier weights, it got 16,000 Facebook likes.
As Russell Brand will attest, headline razzmatazz isn’t purely a chick mag phenomenon. But women’s health content has more than its fair share of CRAZY-NEW and SURPRISING headlines. Healthcare providers have been told to get real (and stop using pink) when marketing to women. Could we pass the memo along to health publishers?
It seems worth mentioning that a lot of Men’s Health articles are written by women. Overall, the content is funnier, better researched and assumes an intelligent audience. And the subscription costs twice as much.
It also seems worth mentioning that over the past couple of weeks, the Women’s Health daily dose has been going straight into my spam folder.