At beginning of the 19th century, women were excluded from certain sports and physical activities. (Vertinsky, 1994) Sport culture was traditionally established to train and socialize the entire male ruling class to prepare them for elitist ruling; therefore, women were not included in this. However, women were encouraged to participate in passive sports like tennis, golf, archery, swimming, and gymnastics, which didn’t require too much strain on the body or physical contact with other players because it was believed that women bodies could not withstand too much physical exertion. (Vertinsky, 1994).
Thus, women were discouraged from exercise because their bodies were viewed as being weak, fragile and incapable. It was considered masculine for a female to take on certain roles that were outside her gender role. (Vertinsky, 1994) However, after Title IX was established more women started to participate in sport and physical activity. Women were encouraged by institutions like government, health practitioners and mass media to exercise to stay fit and healthy. At the beginning of the 21st century women are encouraged by magazines to follow strict exercise and diet regimes in order to attain the perfect body.
I have chosen to do an analysis on the Oxygen magazine. I aim to address how the advertisements and messages produced by editors and publishers put huge emphasis on portraying women’s bodies as a project that must undergo strenuous exercise, diet and materialist rejuvenation as mean to stay fit, healthy and happy. Additionally I will like to draw attention to how women’s body is constantly being hyper feminized in various ways to ensure heterosexuality of the body is maintained and presented in the public.
Finally, I will focus on how women’s body is constantly being bombarded with various contradicting messages of health, fitness and perfection. I am interested in looking at the portrayals of women’s bodies through this particular magazine because I have always been a huge supporter of Oxygen magazine and have found it be empowering for myself. Also, Oxygen magazine has not been analyzed before; therefore, believe it is important to critically analyze it to see what this magazine actually projects and determine if it actually pushed traditional gender boundaries of women.
I hypothesize that fitness models will be portrayed in ways that reject traditional gender roles of women. Literature Review: As one of the mass medias, magazines are powerful tools used to portray women in certain ways in their photographs. Previous literature shows that magazines portray women in terms of their physical attractiveness. (Knight & Giuliano, 2002) Research indicates that fitness and sport related magazines show images of women being portrayed as sexual objects.
(Lumpkin & Leath, 1998) Therefore, magazines like Shape and Sport Illustrated have been noted as being the worst magazines for portraying images of women in these sexual contexts. (Fink & Kensicki, 2002) Likewise, a study conducted by Carty also indicates that women were depicted in magazines as a sexual object or in sexual ways to appeal to men. (2005) Women’s bodies are positioned in ways in the photographs so that certain body parts are extenuated making the body more appealing in a sexual way.
For instance, the camera frames the chest, glutes, thighs in sexual ways so that the main focus of the photo is that body particular part. Additionally, some research show that in magazines like Shape and Sport Illustrated, women are photographed wearing extremely revealing clothing such as bikinis and lingerie to attract readers. (Thomson, Bower & Barnes, 2004) Research indicates that magazines portray the female body changing from the curvy body into the thin body. (Grosez, Levine & Murnen, 2001) With that said, there are more and more picture of women in the magazines with a thin body that has no fat or flab showing.
(Malkin, Wornaian & Chrisler, 1999) Therefore, the thin and sexually appealing female body is advertised in magazines to sell a certain image of what the ideal female body should look like. Malkin, Wornain and Chriler conducted a study and examined the gendered messages regarding weight and bodily appearances on magazines covers. (1999) They analyzed 21 different magazines cover of sport and fitness magazines. They used a content analysis approach to determine if the magazine cover contained a message regarding diet, exercise or cosmetic message to change body size or appearance.
The results of this study indicate that 78% of the magazines covers contained a message regarding bodily appearance. The covers also contained messages about diet, exercise and cosmetic surgery to change ones body size. Also, the magazines covers show images of only young, pretty and thin women who wore revealing clothes. Similarly, a study conducted by Guillen and Barr aimed to look at how fitness and nutrition messages in magazines are related to body shape portrayed. (1996) These authors used a data collection and coding method to code nutrition and fitness related ideas and advertising.
These author assessed body shape portrayed by measuring bust to waist and hip to waist ratios of the models in the magazines. The results of this study indicate that both nutrition and fitness related coverage emphasized weight loss, physical appearance, being thin and having an ideal feminine looking body. Another study done in 2005 by Hardin, Lynn and Walsdorf looked at how women were depicted in editorial photos in four sport/fitness magazines. (2005) They used a content analysis to examine editorial photos in Sport Illustrated, Real Sport, Women’s Fitness and Shape magazines.
These authors found that women were illustrated in passive and non-aggressive roles in the editorial photos, and that women were depicted in more neutral and individual type sports or activities indicating that women were portrayed as being non aggressive, passive and weak subjects. This portrayal of the female body in photographs coincides with the traditional stereotypical image of women. This embodies that idea that traditionally women’s bodies were believed to being physically weak, frail and incapable.
With that said, there are very little number of pictures of women in magazines who have muscular bodies because it is believed that being muscular is reserved for the male body. (Hardin, Lynn & Walsdorf, 2005) Research shows that because the ideal female body is feminine, thin, soft, and flawless, there is no room for a muscular female body because it rejects traditional ideals of femininity and therefore is classified as the other body, which in some cases can be sought as being the marginalized body. (Hardin, Lynn & Walsdorf, 2005) Methods: The most recent March 2010 issue of Oxygen magazine was selected for the analysis of this study.
First I began with a qualitative analysis of this magazine. I took a casual glance through the magazine, just looking at pictures and images and reading the odd headline of the page. After the first glance and took a few notes of the things that stood out to me the most and what I thought the main message of the magazine was. I recorded these thoughts immediately after and asked myself how I felt after my first glance through the magazine. After the first go through of the magazine, I went through each ad in the magazine and recorded the main message I got
from each ad and pictures I looked at each picture in detail, and looked at each picture from different perspectives looking at images from a functionalist, socialist and critical lens. Second, I did a quantitative content and text analysis. I counted the total number of pages that contained women wearing revealing clothes, the total number of pages that were supplement ads, the total number of pages that contained some sort of weight loss message or dieting message and finally I counted that total number of pages that showed women in sexualized position while they were exercising.
Background Information of Oxygen Oxygen is a magazine published by Robert Kennedy. This is a health and fitness magazine for women between the ages of 20 to 50. It is primarily a fitness magazine that provides ways for women to have an active lifestyle while still managing the home life. It is dedicated to making women fit and healthy through dieting tips, nutrition advice and specific exercise techniques. Thus, the editorial staff of Oxygen magazine is dedicated to providing weight training, and nutritional advice to help to women to achieve their fitness goals.
There are also various ads for supplements for weight loss like Hydroxycut. Additionally, there are various pictures and images of fitness models from fitness competitions along with little blurbs or stories about their goals and desires. The magazine also provides fashion and beauty tips for women who exercise. There is a section where Oxygen also advertises their own products such as clothing, bikini boot camp videos, PowerBlock dumbbells and gym bags for women. Obviously, this magazine has a lot to offer to its readers because there seems to be just about everything for the female body.
Data and Analysis: My research findings are that 73% of the pages in this magazine showed women wearing revealing clothing. These revealing clothing are defined as being bikinis, push up sport bra that reveals the entire midriff area, and very short and tight spandex shorts. Second, I found hat 48% of pages in this magazine were actual supplement ads that’s advertised products like Hydroxycut, Lean Extreme, Protein Plus and Slims. Also, I found that 87 % of the pages in this magazine contained some sort of weight loss message or dieting message.
Finally, 48% of the pages contained sexualized images of women while they were exercising or posing. Therefore, these research findings indicate that this issue of Oxygen magazine was composed of three major themes: Female body as a project, hyper feminization of the female body and contradictory messages of health, fitness and the body. The Project: Firm, Tight and Sexy Oxygen magazine show that women’s bodies as being projects. The models bodies are projected as being something that is materialistic, something that needs to be refined and constantly maintained through vigorous exercise.
The training journal named “no pain no gain” is also advertised in this magazine alluding to the idea that women need to put themselves through excessively vigorous exercises (“pain) to attain that perfect body (“gain”). There are pictures of fitness models who are posing in front of the camera to show off their firm, tight and sexy bodies. Additionally women bodies are portrayed as being machines because they are told by this magazine to “get the perfect body in just 10 easy step” indicating that women need to follow the steps prescribed by nutrition and fitness experts to attain the perfect body.
The perfect body in this magazine is portrayed as being completely flawless which is firm, tight and sexy. There are messages like “tone those flabby areas and become a healthier and happier person. ” These magazines emphasize the fact that women need to exercise to tone their bodies to stay healthy, fit and happy. However, they focus their attention on indicating to women that they must tone specific parts of their bodies like their chest, gluteus, and thighs to attain the “perfect body” to stay healthy and fit.
Furthermore, there are images of women toning their bodies through very particular types of strength training techniques. For instance, there are various pictures showing women doing fully body lunges weight free weights to tone specific areas like gluts. Women are encouraged to do squats, bench press small weights, and use free weights to ensure they stay lean and not gain to much muscles that would make them look butch or manly. With that said, images and pictures in these magazines highlight the fact that women should exercise in ways that keep themselves updated with exercise that is not building to much muscle bulk.
Women are encouraged to create the super body, a body that is perfect in every dimension, a body that is sculpted to the tee, a body that is completely flawless and finally a body that is created for the presentation to others for their assurance and approval. Images in this magazine show women’s bodies as being beautiful with golden tanned skin, rock hard abs while still being soft, with the perfectly shaped butt, arms, and chest. Their bodies are portrayed as being strong and firm but not too muscular that their bodies look too ‘masculine’ or ‘manly’.
Likewise, women are also encouraged to maintain a skinny figure through low fat diets. There are various ads for dieting tips, low fat food, and fast ways to burn calories. With that said, there is a huge emphasis on the female body to look thin while still looking sexy and curvy. The Hetro-Sexified and Hyper- Feminized Prop Media advertisings in this magazine show that women are being portrayed as sexual props and materialistic objects that must exemplify perfection by being sculpted through specific exercising training and diet regimes.
With that said, there are numerous pictures of women dressed in skimpy and revealing clothes such as low cut push up bras and tight spandex shorts that show hints of the bare butt and reveal the entire midriff area to show off their sexuality. There are images of women standing passively near a treadmill/ elliptical or weight bench in revealing clothes, with their hair nicely done with long curls hanging down to her shoulder and with makeup on. Women are portrayed as being sexy and beautiful as they “work” out at the gym.
Also, there are pictures portraying women as being passive, holding weights in their hands that have fully polished and painted nails, with jewelry and naval piercing. Thus, women bodies are feminized in ways to ensure that their bodies and external features are appealing while they exercise to promote the idea that women need to be sexy, beautiful, and girly as they work out at the gym. For instance, images in Oxygen show women sitting on weight benches next to free weights with their legs spread open while their pelvic area is extenuated towards the camera so that more emphasis is given to women’s sexual areas.
The exercise positions of women are presented in pictures that put emphasis on the female body parts like chest, butt and thighs. There are no pictures of women actually sweating and engaging in exercises. They are put on display for the camera to take pretty and sexy pictures of the female body while giving the illusion of exercising. Also, various sexual messages are presented in this magazine that emphasis women to attain the perfect feminine and sexy body; “get nice and sexy abs,” “get a tight and firm butt that he will love,” and “get that sexy summer bikini body.
” The fitness models are constantly proving themselves as being heterosexual women. For instance, in the magazines texts describe these women as being mothers or wives. A textual blurb describes one fitness model having goals and desires to become a mother one day and to have her own family that she can love and nurture. One particular text describes a fitness model exercising and maintaining the perfect body for her child and her husband. She also claims that she wants to stay fit and beautiful for her family because they are her inspiration.
Thus, by being described as mother, wife or girlfriend, these fitness models are alluding to this idea that it is okay for them to exercise through weight training as long as they are still feminine and heterosexual. Pills, Pills and More Pills, The More You Take, The More You Burn Along with women’s bodies be portrayed as feminine objects, there are numerous ads for weight loss supplements and beauty products. 48 % of the pages in this magazine were supplement ads and 87% of the pages contained weight loss or diet messages.
Superpumped, QuickStart, Viper, ProBody, SlimBody, and Hydroxycut are just a few of the many weight loss supplements presented in Oxygen magazine. Women are encouraged to take these products as a means to lose weight. Women are encouraged to consume various products to attain the perfect and ideal feminine body. Thus there are contradictory messages presented to women in this magazine. Women are encouraged to eat healthy and exercise but at the same time told that they must take these products to actually attain the ideal feminine looking body.
Women are bombarded with messages like “melt fat fast”, “Get your sexy six pack with the SlimBody”, “create your perfect body with Hydroxycut,” get a hot body that will make him melt” and many more. With that said, there is a huge emphasis on losing weight to attaining the perfect body through the consumption of supplements. This message contradictory to the other messages presented in the magazine, because other ads indicate that women need to take part in cardio, certain weight training techniques and low fat diets to attain the perfect body.
The supplements presented in this magazine may cause certain dangerous side effects on the female body; however, these risks are completely downplayed in this magazine because they are not even mentioned in any ads. Also, women are encouraged to take these supplements to “lose weight for that special occasion for that special someone” indicating that women should lose weight for their husband or boyfriend rather than doing it for themselves for health benefits.
There is huge emphasis on weight loss/ fat burning and counting calories that it takes away from the actual meaning of health and fitness. Discussion: After an in depth analysis of my findings, it can be said that Oxygen magazine portrays women not only as sexual objects but also as heterosexual and hyper feminized commodities. My findings also indicate that there are numerous contradictory and mixed messages about health, fitness and the body in this magazine.
My findings were similar to some of the previous research conducted because women’s bodies were photographed in sexual ways to make an appealing and seductive statement about their bodies. (Bishop, 2003) My finding are similar to the findings in previous literature because magazines photographed women wearing revealing clothing like bikinis, tight and small spandex shorts and push up sport bar. (Cusumano & Thompson, 1997) Women were presented wearing these types of clothes to reveal more of their skin and to look “sexier” while working out.
Research shows that magazine advertise the female body in sexualized and hyper feminized in ways is to ensure that heterosexuality of women is maintained and not questioned. (Hardin, Lynn & Walsdorf, 2005) Therefore, the female body is constantly fighting masculinity and muscular characteristics, identities and traits that come with exercising and physical activity. Thus, by displaying feminine cues, the female body is protecting its image of being labeled as a lesbian. There are images of women posing in passive ways.
For example, the cover girl models in Oxygen posed for the camera as she held dumbbells passively to her side. Thus, my research is similar to the research conducted by Hardin, Lynn and Walsdorf, because they also found that images in Sport Illustrated, Shape, Real Sport and Women’s Fitness portrayed women in passive and non-aggressive roles. (2005) This shows that women are being portrayed as “body” models who are selling their images of their bodies rather than being portrayed as fitness models who are engaging in aggressive weight lifting exercises.
Equally, a study shows that women are encouraged to participate in activates that do not build too much muscle but rather tone the body to still look feminine and curvy because this is appealing to men. (Grosez, Levine & Murnen, 2001) Therefore, these images and pictures emphasize traditional gender ideas about femininity. Women’s’ bodies were seen as being weak and fragile which should not be physically and mentally exerted because it could be risky and cause harm to women.
(Gilman, 1985) Shilling argues that it was thought that traditionally the female body was viewed as being inferior to the male body because it was less muscular; thus, it was not as strong and incapable of doing the same things as the male body could do. (1993) Thus, these ideas are still present in peoples perception of the capabilities of the female body. It was a common belief that if a woman exerted her body through vigorous sporting events then her body would break and no longer function. (Gilman, 1985) Thus it was traditionally forbidden for women to exercise in ways that would risk them being viewed as being masculine.
However, I did find in my research that there were images of women actually holding dumbbells even though they may not have been engaging in vigorous weight lifting; there were images of women standing near or on top of certain weight lifting machines. Also, my findings indicate that the cover girl models on the Oxygen magazine covers do have muscular bodies; however, this finding is unique because in magazines like Shape and Sport Illustrated, previous studies show that cover girl models have the typical skinny, non muscular and feminine bodies.
(Grosez, Levine & Murnen, 2001) Even though there were various pictures of women’s bodies with muscles, these cover models overcompensate for their muscles and weight lifting abilities by emphasizing their femininity by wearing revealing clothes to prove to the reader that they had ideal feminine body parts like the large chest, curvy butt and smooth looking thighs even though they had a muscular looking body. They also emphasized their femininity through application of makeup, wearing jewelry, and having long flowing hair.
The muscular cover model was portrayed doing lunges while holding dumbbells with her fully manicured nails to prove to the readers that it is okay for her to do weight training type exercises as long as feminine cues are present. This finding were parallel to previous literature because in other sport and fitness magazines, images of women were portrayed in ways which their models femininity was emphasized through specific clothing, exercise, or behaviors.
(Lumpkin & Leath, 1998) Likewise, a study shows that women are encouraged to tone body parts that are appealing to men to attract men. (Malkin, Wornian, Chrisler, 1999) Thus, women are taught to view their bodies as mean to attract men and to gain the admiration of other women Furthermore, I found numerous contradictory messages about health, fitness and the body in this magazine. Oxygen shows that women’s bodies should be put through exercise and diet to lose weight so that external beauty and “health” is maintained.
This shows that advertisements from fitness magazines measure health through external features of bodies. For instance, if a woman is skinny, beautiful and toned then she must also be healthy, fit and happy. Therefore, women are required to sort through these contradictory messages of health and fitness and figure out for themselves what is risky and what is considered to be safe. Thus, there is an increase for this risk society due to increases in technology of certain substances.
This risk society is created in reflexive modernity, where due to various increases in technology, people in society are bombarded with numerous messages and this may lead to them being uncertain and may ultimately lead them down a confusing path. (Millington, 2010) Thus, it leaves the readers of this magazine in situations where they have to sort through different messages themselves and find their own meaning to certain messages. Magazines have created this superwomen whose body is constantly self-policing itself to ensure that society is accepting of it.
Thus women are exercising to lose weight, improve body tone and improving their attractiveness rather than exercising to obtain health benefits. Ultimately, this leads to the idea that women’s bodies become known as a docile body that places value on outward appearance. (Mikosza & Philips, 1999) This coincides with the functionalist lens because women are expected and encouraged by an institution like media to abide by rules created by them in order to be considered acceptable.
(Millington, 2010) With that said, Oxygen magazine media presents this idea that there is no room for women to have deviant or imperfect bodies. Women are viewed as being successful if they have a perfect feminine and flawless body. The invisible apparatus of presentation creates messages about fitness, health and the body. Robert Kennedy, the publisher of Oxygen and along with the camera men capturing the images presented by this magazine are the men behind the scenes who hold power to make decision. Their beliefs, values and biases are portrayed through the pictures they capture and present to the public.
Conclusion: Oxygen magazine portrayed the female body in sexual and hyper feminized ways to ensure heterosexuality and traditional gender roles were maintained. The female body was viewed as a project that needed to be sculpted through exercise, diet, and supplements in order exemplify perfection. Supplement ads in the magazine reinforced the notion that women’s bodies must consume products in order to attain the ideal feminine looking body that is healthy and fit. Therefore, there were contradictory messages in this magazine as well.
These research findings are very important to consider because magazines like Oxygen hold powerful positions in society; thus, women are constantly looking through these magazines and are being bombarded with various messages about health, fitness and perfection; thus, it is important to consider the impact they have on the choices and behaviors of these women. A limitation with my study was that I only analyzed one issue of Oxygen magazine. Also, I was the only person to analyzed this magazine, perhaps interviewing different women about the messages they take away from this magazine after they look at it would be advantageous to this study.
It would be beneficial to look at how this magazine has changed over time from the time it first established to present day. Additionally, it would be valuable to analysis more than one issue of this magazine. Finally I think it is also important to analyze portrayal of masculinity in this magazine. Although there were only three pictures of men in the whole magazine, it would be interesting to look at how these men are being portrayed by this magazine.