The Girls of Summer: Female Olympic Athletes

SELF magazine
Image credit: SELF magazine
A good friend of mine recently suggested I maybe take a break from reading my multiple fitness and health magazines. She worried that those images of models I’m bombarded with (that we’re all bombarded with) might not be helping my cause, and that all the articles on health, dieting, and fitness might only be feeding and fueling my disordered eating tendencies.

Although I understand her train of thought and of course appreciate her concern, fitness and food are my hobbies; I can’t imagine not reading them.

I’m smart enough to know that all images are Photoshopped today. (They call it Photochop for a reason). And I know that the study I read today about protecting yourself against, say, skin cancer, by eating X, will be rebutted next month in a different publication, and that suddenly Y will be the new power-food.

We get a lot of mixed messages through the media today. I’ve been moved by Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, and annoyed that Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada is chastised for being a size 6 (“Six is the new twelve!”).

What comforts me in a world of contradictions is that the majority of the magazines I subscribe to don’t glamorize extreme thinness, but rather fitness and positive body image. I look at these models with pure admiration. They give me something to work toward, and ironically, don’t make me feel bad about my body. Even though I know I probably will never have six-pack abs, I have a flat tummy and always have, even when heavy. That’s something to be proud of!

Women’s Health, for example, showcases toned, muscular bodies throughout their pages. And while Fitness, Shape, and Self tend to feature celebrities on their covers who have trainers and personal chefs helping them get back to their pre-baby weight or to tone up, for the most part, the models in their workout sections are built and fit versus skin-and-bones girls like I’d see in, say, Cosomopolitan or — even worse — US Weekly!

With the 2008 Summer Olympics coming up next month in Beijing, many of these magazines have highlighted female athletes. When I see their beautiful figures — chisled from hours upon hours of training, healthy food choices, and sheer determination to succeed — I am truly inspired.

On the pages of these women’s magazines, the nation’s top gymnasts, soccer players and vollyeball players and swimmers and runners and hurdlers that will compete in the Olympic Games this summer have shared their workout strategies, their nutrition secrets, the mottos they live by:

1) Women’s Health
2) Shape
3) Self

These female powerhouses have shared their goals for the future, and challenges they’ve overcome. These gals aren’t a “perfect size X” and their body-mass-indices would probably put them in the “overweight” or “obese” category in spite of their lean, muscular figures. But they are strong and fit. These are the women I think we should be admiring–not the emaciated lollipop stick celebrities we see dominating and In Touch .

I’m not naive; I don’t expect to ever look like one of these Olympiads, nor do I want to. But I think we can take a lot from these women, absorb some of the wisdom they impart and strive to go after the proverbial “gold” every day of our lives with the same gusto they do.

If I had a daughter, I’d want her to look up to someone like swimmer Dara Torres or gymnast Shawn Johnson. These women stand for inner fortitude and perseverance. And they promote healthy body image, something often lost on young women today.

How about you? Are you inspired or discouraged by the media today?

15 thoughts on “The Girls of Summer: Female Olympic Athletes

  1. I try my best to ignore the media. They are beyond ridiculous. And you are definitely right about the reporting on what is the “super food” of the moment. Is it still acai, or have we moved on?

  2. LOL, SELF has 20 superfoods they’re touting this month: tarragon and anchovies made the list. But so did a few of the usual suspect: olive oil and almond butter.

  3. M- I’m totally with you.

    I’d put up a pretty decent fight if someone tried to pry my women’s health magazine or my runner’s world from my paws. I look forward to them every month. I read them cover to cover when I get them. True, WH often does repeat things (as does RW) and it’s basically almost everything I already know, but I love reading about success stories, about people feeling better because they’re healthier or making smarter health choices. What could be a better motivator?

    I’m like you, I’m not jaded by the models in the magazine — I don’t want to do bad things to my body to make them look like the models. I instead feel inspired by these true athletes or by these women who were 200 plus lbs and then decided to make some changes to get down to a healthy weight. These are people who are doing good things for themselves and in turn for everyone around them, and that’s inspirational to hear.

    I have little to no patience with other magazines: Us, People, even Self, Fitness, Shape (which just all too often say the same thing over and over again) — the former two especially really skew my thinking. I find myself judging my body after I read them. Wondering why I don’t look as skinny as they, why I don’t have a better fashion sense, why I’m not more materialistic. I also reach a saturation point with that garbage (sorry to offend any readers) — I can read about one of two of them before I’ve filled my quota for the next month or two. There’s only so much gossip you can take and only so much you can hear about the latest diet trend. I much prefer reading about how to do things for yourself to make your own life better, and that’s why I find in the magazines I read.

  4. Cathy, I agree that often it’s repetition after repetition of what we already know, but I can always glean something new. It’s a matter of not letting what we see dictate our lives, especially since study after study contradicts one another. Soy is good, soy will give you cancer. And so it goes!!

  5. I’m more of an Oprah magazine reader myself….though a picture with Gwenneth Paltro on a bike loaded with cupcakes, a cake, strawberries etc, amazes me. I think the catch phrase is “how sweet it is.” I want to know does Gwenneth even eat that stuff? I bet if her lips even touch the icing on that cupcake she has to bike 20 miles to work it off…

  6. I thought Gwenyth was on that macrobiotic diet or something. I can’t magine she’d ever touch so much as a cube of sugar!

  7. I am just recovering from disordered eating myself, it has resurfaced after I first battled it at 19 years old and I was 98 pounds. Well, I am now 30 and was back down to 102 pounds and I am dealing with this again, even thoughI am a successful single mother.

    With my therapy and nutiritional guidance from a dietician, I am finding out that my disordered eating has really nothing to do with food itself, but my emotions. I simply use food to feel like I have control of some part of my life, all the while not addressing what I am feeling and supressing it.

    I think of myself as a very health conscience person, who loves eating wholesome foods and love what exercise does for me mentally and physically. I do not think that your magazines are contributing to where you are at. good luck as you battle this!

  8. Congratulations on your progress Michelle!! I absolutely agree it has more to do with emotions or in my case specifically, personality traits, than with magazines.

  9. But I think many women probably ARE snookered by magazines, lured by the stick-thin models and covet that look. Not me, but some do.

  10. LOVE runners world and health — but yes, sometimes i wonder why my running does not do exactly what THEIR running does … and I bet it is because no one airbrushes out my dimples … 😦 dang it!!!

  11. I too love to read fitness magazines (I work out 7 days a week, totally compulsive exerciser) and I love reading Oxygen magazine. They are a bit more of the body building types shown, but also tell the reader to be proud of your muscles, not to shun them.

    Also, there’s an Oxygen spin off called Clean Eating Magazine. I love this magazine it arrives quarterly with amazing clean and fabulous recipes.

    I don’t work for either of these companies, so don’t worry, a completely bias free recommendation.

  12. Hi Leila, I haven’t read Clean Eating but I have read Oxygen and I’ve heard good things about Clean Eating. Cooking Light is another good one, but their stuff isn’t always the lowest-cal–which makes it good for entertaining–but a lot of their meals I’d want to make are too calorically or points-dense for my meal if I hadn’t planned for it earlier in the day.

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