Why Don't Women Wear Shirts in Magazines? Women in the Media and How We Should Respond

SAPT receives all kinds of magazines for free. I’m not really sure how we acquired such a privilege, but magazines grace our mailbox every week. We, unsurprisingly, receive magazines related to health, fitness, and (oddly) fashion.  GQ, Men’s Health, Muscle and Fitness, Vogue, Glamor and that ilk show up at regular intervals. Last week, Muscle and Fitness for Her arrived.

I glanced through it for the sole purpose of finding the recipes that are hidden amidst the ads for various products I don’t need and articles that merely repackage the same information month after month. As I flipped through the pages, it dawned on me: 99.9% of the women in it were in a sports bra (no shirt) and booty shorts. (The only woman with a shirt on was the feature in an article about her sailing endeavor.)

The following rant is not directed at the women in the magazine. They look fantastic and I know they put in a LOT of work to achieve and maintain their physique.

The following rant is directed at the rest of us.

Why do we, as a society, continue to elevate a woman’s look over her accomplishments? Granted, I know that a fitness magazine will have the aesthetic slant, but really? 168 pages with only one shirted-woman???

I’ve written before about the movement “Strong is the New Skinny,” in relation to marketing to women. I applaud the thought to promote strength training and muscles over stick-like physiques and eschewing all exercise.

However, when you search images for the phrase “strong is the new skinny” most of the pictures are of muscular women, yes, but they’re also incredibly lean, long-legged, and (usually) well-endowed in their bosom region.

Ultimately, the pictures are still focused on how our bodies look not on what they can accomplish. Women are still portrayed as sex symbols.

To me, being strong is more than having 10% body fat and wearing sexy clothes so you can see my abdominals. Being strong, I think, is harder to portray than what we see in staged “fitness” poses.

The most obvious is physical strength- you can easily see this if you watch an Olympic weightlifting competition, a track and field meet, or a women’s rugby match (they are amazing athletes) to name but a few instances.

(listen for it… at the 52 second mark)

Speaking of physical strength, women grow, carry, and bring forth human beings for crying out loud! You don’t see any pictures portraying a pregnant woman touting “strong is the new skinny.” Better yet, a pregnant woman with her toddlers running around- that is strength. I am amazed at moms who care for their young children while carrying one inside.

Strength is also more than how many muscles we can see or how lean our waists are. Strength is showing up for practice or training even when you don’t feel like it. Strength is putting forth your best effort at work even when it goes unnoticed. Strength is getting up for the umpteenth time in the night to care for a crying child even when you're total sleep for the week is less than three hours. Strength is consoling your best friend for hours when her heart is broken even though you have a thousand other things vying for your attention.

Strong has always been the “new skinny.” As women, we are imbued with strength and ladies, we are so, so, SO much more than our physical appearance.

Believe me my compadres, it’s tempting to point the finger at the guys (and we can all instantly conjure up a dozen reasons why men are to blame for the state of women in society- blame shifting is easy). Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “sex sells,” and we can rage and protest all we want, but that won’t necessarily foster drastic change overnight.

But we can change our society incrementally. How?

We can change the way we respond.

Will we let the societal expectation to be a “sex symbol” the raison d’etre? Or, will we embrace the strength we’ve been given, build upon it through training, life experiences, and encouraging one another? (and maybe stop posting workout selfies that are provocative...? That's a whole 'nother can of worms!)

It’s our responsibility to teach our daughters, sisters, and nieces to embrace their abilities and pursue growth in them and not in their dress sizes. And we must teach our sons, brothers, and nephews to respect women and seek relationships based on the whole package- not just female anatomy.

We can rail against the media, we can blame men for our problems, we can fume and storm at the way women are viewed, but until we, women, change the way we respond and teach our children to do so, the cycle will continue. Therefore, my challenge to us is to start that change, today.