Meg Clark

Is the Fitness Ideal Any Less Damaging to Women Than the Beauty Ideal?

In light of recent conversations about the deleterious effects of an impossibly thin beauty ideal, some women’s media outlets have offered an alternative that purports to be both healthier and more realistic: fitness. But to what extent is the “fitness ideal” portrayed in many magazines equally unattainable and connected to wider social issues regarding women, bodies and class?

There’s no question that nutrient-rich foods and physical activity are important for bodily health, but a gym membership does not guarantee a disease-free life. Even the most athletic among us may suffer from a variety of health issues, whether they are genetic (celiac disease), circumstantial (strep throat), or related to athleticism (tendonitis, a torn ACL or exercise bulimia). Despite the importance of fitness to vitality, it’s a fallacy to conflate a six-pack with immaculate health.

Yet mainstream women’s health and fitness media still offers us one very narrow vision of what it means to be healthy, and that vision greets us daily from the covers of magazines and Nike billboards. Unfortunately, the means through which we are advised to obtain this healthy and happy ideal are often hindered by paradox. Flatten your belly, but stop weighing yourself so much! Almonds are great for you, but don’t eat more than a handful a day! Love yourself and find happiness everywhere, but burn calories all day long! Going gluten-free is healthy even if you aren’t celiac, but don’t develop an eating disorder as a result!

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