Are they men’s health magazines, or just more toxic masculinity?

Men’s health & fitness magazines, reinforcing stereotypes of toxic masculinity

Are they men’s health magazines, or just more toxic masculinity?

Last night while waiting for some food at a restaurant I glanced over and spotted a popular Men’s Health & Fitness type magazine on the magazine stand in the restaurant. On the glossy front cover was a topless, muscular ripped guy; it had been years since I had read anything like this and was drawn to pick it up and have a flick through to see if there was anything of interest.

The first article was about the latest study that found a few beers a night for a man actually helped fertility with couples that were trying to conceive a baby; the next was of a couple of guys that were taking low doses of illicit drugs to assist with their business projects, citing that the drug doses were enhancing their performance… and then the next was the type of mushroom that when added to the post-workout smoothie would combat weight gain, apparently allowing men to go to town on the junk food without suffering the ill effects of the extra kilos being put on. Then there was the mandatory centrefold girl in sports gear that is meant to be the epitome of the type of woman we as men should aspire to be with, and a spattering of gym workouts and more ripped guys. After reading the magazine I couldn’t help feeling like there was something missing: here is a Men’s Health & Fitness magazine telling us it’s ok to chug back a few beers after work, condones drug taking as it may actually have some positive effects, that we can eat whatever we like after our workouts as there is something to remedy it, and that it’s okay to sexualize women. In my experience these things could only have an adverse effect on my health.

I couldn’t help feeling that there is much more to our wellbeing as men, like what about our relationships and how we relate in them; do we let others in and our love out? What does intimacy mean to us beyond the sex and positions? Our work and how we are in it, beyond increasing production and increasing income – how do we feel when we are at work; can we let ourselves be as sensitive at work as we are at home? And what about our families, and how we are with our families, how are we with ourselves, our relationship with God?

Then there’s the ever-growing symptoms of what happens when we are living with an imbalance in our bodies; higher rates of cancer, heart disease, depression and suicide, showing us that we don’t quite have it all sorted out – that things are way out of balance.

Research in Australia has shown that – “living up to the pressures of being a ‘real man’ causes harm to young men and those around them, particularly women. Young men who most strongly agree with these rules report poorer levels of mental health, engage in risky drinking, are more likely to be in car accidents and to report committing acts of violence, online bullying and sexual harassment.”[1]

Why aren’t these issues on the front page of our magazines?

As these magazines are so popular, is this what we’ve come to believe health to be – the picture perfect of the fit guy and the acceptance of the things that actually dull down our sensitivity, so what is actually peddled to be men’s health is quite the opposite? How can something that takes away from the true sensitivity, the warmth and the solid gentleness of what a man naturally is be anything else but harming to men?

These ‘health magazines’ should be labelled for what they are – men’s desensitizing magazines or men’s distraction magazines.

Furthermore, this is not something that is just fed to us, this is something we are asking for and paying for: we are paying to be desensitized by the media, we are funding the magazines, paying to be tricked into thinking that the alcohol, drugs and objectifying women actually has some benefit for us, that it’s healthy. We’ve created a consciousness that says that it’s okay to desensitize ourselves to not feel the vast depths of our sensitivity.

What would happen if a magazine like this would all of a sudden start printing stories on these issues that really affect men? Sales would no doubt plummet and the magazine company could soon be out of business. It seems there are too few of us wanting to face the facts and see what’s going on below the distractions and addictions…

The fact is that we as men find it easier to stick our heads in the sand about the things that really matter and can easily go to the opposite – the things that keep us away from knowing who we are and what truly matters. This works for a while, or seems to work, as the issues don’t go away, they are just hidden from view. Sooner or later we will have to get around to asking the deeper questions about the things that are really affecting us.

One day we will all have to awaken to the fact that alcohol and illicit drugs are not of any benefit to us, and that our true power lies in our vulnerability and sensitivity – not in becoming bigger and more muscular. When we are open to the possibility that there is more to us than this 3-dimensional flesh and blood being – and it requires sensitivity to feel this – we can start to understand that there is so much more to us than this world of distractions we’ve created for ourselves.

We need to rewrite the book on what health is for men to include not just what we are putting into our bodies, but also how we are running them; to get in touch with our bodies to feel the quality of our being and our choices, how we are with ourselves and all others, including our partners, families and in our communities. Then we can let our naturally sensitive, caring and deeply loving qualities be expressed. This is where our true power lies – not to divide and conquer, as is the way in our current form of society, but to connect to and live more from our inner connection and let that light lead the way.


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Men's health Truth in mediaBody image

  • By Chris Vale

  • Photography: Clayton Lloyd