The Separation of Body and Mind

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How did so many of us get so far detatched from our bodies?

We intellectualise our existence, elevating the fluff between our ears into higher and higher reverence, and leave our bodies neglected on the earth… which we also neglect.

The trans movement talks in circles about ‘identity’ and ‘I am what I say I am’, completely shunning the physical reality of the body that only knows what it feels and does what it is instructed to with the tools we give it.

We learn to treat our bodies with disdain, women in particular learn to hate our bodies, to see only flaws and inadequacies and never to marvel at the delicacy and intricacy of the vessel that labours faithfully to support the very mind that mercilessly criticises it.

We expect our bodies to run at full capacity when loaded with substandard and inappropriate fuel, and while deprived of proper rest and left to languish, idle, in front of screens. We complain of fatigue when we know that it comes from a lack of care and sleep.

We submit our bodies to dozens of chemicals in the name of ‘hygiene’ and even more in the name of ‘beauty’. This beauty is never achieved, never attained, we go on endlessly applying chemicals and removing our body’s natural protections, causing pain and irritation, in a time-consuming regime that exists solely to avoid the uninvited and unconstructive criticism of others.

We eat food from packets that is many steps removed from natural ingredients, we choose ‘99% fat free’ without caring about the sugars and the additives and preservatives we replace that fat with. We forget how to listen to our bodies, filling up on kilojoules rather than nutrients, trying to satisfy a hunger that we don’t understand.

The bitter contempt we harbour for our bodies is exploited in order to sell us products that won’t fix the problems we don’t actually have, and won’t ever make us satisfied with how we look.

We are our bodies. Our bodies are not the enemy, not there to be conquered or exploited, but to be harnessed and conditioned to provide us with a physical link to an incredible world where many sensations await us. Our bodies want to go on. They want to be well. And while there are times when things don’t work out for our bodies, times when things go wrong, generally the better we care for them, the better they can serve us.

Our bodies can be a refuge for our overstimulated minds. They can be strangers or they can be our dear friends and comrades.They can be an appendix, an adjunct, to our minds or they can be partner and resource.

Our bodies do not exist to provide visual stimulation to others. They exist for our own use, under our own terms. They are what we are and where we reside. They are miraculous and fabulous and come in many shapes, sizes and colours, all with untapped capabilities. They should be loved and appreciated and celebrated for what they are.

Love and appreciate your body. Forget all the things you have been told are wrong about how it looks. Care for and nurture your physical self. The rewards will be great.

Why No Kid of Mine is Going to a ‘Presentation Ball’

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A couple of weeks ago, my older son and two of his friends had a sleepover featuring pizza and video games.

On this night most of their grade five and six peers were at the school ‘presentation ball’.

Now, there is no attempt to hide the fact that the term ‘presentation ball’ is pretty much interchangeable with ‘debutante ball’ these days. Girls get dressed up in long white dresses like mini-brides, have their hair and make-up done and dance with boys in suits. The ‘couples’ are presented to the attendees, who are made up of family and friends. Hours of dance practice is required to make sure that the ‘couples’ don’t forget their steps on the night.

The debutante ball was developed in high-society Europe in the 19th century for the purpose of helping fathers find suitably-ranked young men to marry their daughters off to. The tradition spread and today these events are still held all over the world.

It is mostly girls in late high school who ‘do their deb’ in Australia. But the ball that was held by my children’s school was for students in grades five and six. Children aged between ten and twelve years old.

I don’t know who had the idea that presenting such young girls essentially as objects suitable for selection by potential husbands was in any way ethical. This is a dubious practice even when it involves older girls. But from where I sit, it is particularly distasteful to subject such young children to a tradition that reinforces the notion that girls are nothing more than pieces of chattel to be decorated and traded.

No doubt all the girls involved would have been under pressure to look as attractive as possible, dressed up and styled to look like adults, and told repeatedly how beautiful they looked. No doubt most would have been insecure about their appearance, worried that they were too fat, too skinny or too flat-chested to look good in their fitted white dress.

In between all of this we have the boys, who were essentially accessories and dance partners. The boy/girl pairs are referred to as ‘couples’, and all ‘couples’ must be boy/girl. There is no room to blur the lines of binary gender segregation and heteronormativity.

Even had he wanted to go, I would not have let my son attend. I will not let his brother attend when his class have the option to participate in two years time. And I hope that in two years time I will have the courage to present an objection to the organisers. To tell them that it is unhealthy to present children as property to be traded. That it is unhealthy to dress young girls up as adults and put them on show. That it is unhealthy to reinforce the notion that girls must be desirable and decorative and that any other qualities they possess are much less important. Unhealthy to reinforce the notion that girls exist to be paired up with men.

There are ways to have fun with your friends that don’t involve sexualising and objectifying girls. And a small group of boys, my son included, did precisely that on the night of the presentation ball.

The debutante or presentation ball is a tradition deeply entrenched in a patriarchal society. It is the precursor to marriage, which is directly descended from a church-sanctioned ceremony for passing ownership of a girl from her father to her husband. It has no place in a society that has any ambition at all with regard to treating women and girls as human, rather than as objects and property.

The Magic Number

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The other day I read this article about a woman who didn’t weigh herself for a year and I thought, gee, it has been a while since I weighed myself.

So I jumped on the Wii Fit to see how long it had been.

288 days. That’s about nine and a half months.

That’s two new jobs and a new house ago.

And in that time, without the scales to keep me in line, had I totally let myself go?

Not really.

I’ve gained a couple of kg, but still in what Wii Fit considers to be the ‘ideal’ range.

Which is not bad considering that nine and a half months ago I was mixing swimming, running and yoga. Now, with finishing work later, I don’t get an opportunity to go to the pool regularly. And my ongoing knee problems have vetted me out of running even semi-regularly. But I have managed to schedule in yoga two to three times a fortnight.

On one level I think it shows that I eat pretty well and I have made some progress when it comes to listening to my body and giving it the nutrients it needs without overdoing the calories.

But I think a lot of it is also the fact that I don’t feel the need to look a certain way any more. Or, that I don’t expose myself to as much media that tells me that I have to be young, thin and blonde in order to be a worthwhile human being. Or a hefty dose of both.

Yeah, I lay off the sugar, I don’t eat when I am not hungry, and I don’t keep eating when I am full. But I also don’t expose myself to as many airbrushed images of unrealistic ‘desirable’ bodies.

I feel good, my clothes fit, I am well. What else matters?

At my size, it is fairly low-stakes to be alright with my size. I don’t suffer the judgement, ridicule and even outright rudeness that bigger women have to deal with. The looks, the sniggers, the assumptions that they are lazy, stupid or both. I don’t profess to know what it is like to be what there doesn’t seem to even be a polite, neutral word for. Plus sized? Overweight? Big? Obese? Fat? None of them have the same ring to them as slim, skinny, athletic, leggy.

I have watched so many of my loved ones tie their self worth to a number on the scales, one that is the sum of so many variables but must always be lower than the previous measurement.

And the strange thing about that number on the scales is that even though nobody else knows what it is, even though it is thought to be rude to ask someone what they weigh, it still has so much power. A secret shame that really means very little. A figure that, like age, is just a number, and one that you very rarely have to own up to.

But we have all been told forever that we are supposed to look a certain way and that if we don’t fit that mould we are failures who possess all kinds of personality defects.

If you are otherwise able-bodied and you can do all the things that a person needs to do, if you can tie your own shoes and fit through doorways and get in and out of cars and walk up a flight of stairs, then you are probably fine. If you eat fairly well most of the time and spend a reasonable amount of time on your feet, then you are probably fine. Most of us don’t exercise as much as we should, but if you are going to have a go at increasing your exercise, don’t do it to be thinner. Being thinner is fairly low on the list of benefits associated with exercising.

I didn’t read all about what happened to the girl who didn’t weigh herself for a year, but I am pretty sure she didn’t die, she didn’t become morbidly obese, and she didn’t ‘let herself go’. What she probably did was eat a piece of cheesecake without worrying about what the scales would tell her the next day. She probably exercised for the health benefits and bought clothes that fit her now, not that she would fit into when she lost weight.

Even as a fairly slim person, I was for years a slave to the scales. I thought that the number meant something profound, that it could tell me how good or bad I was. But it is just a number.

Instead of patting people on the back for losing kilograms, we should congratulate them for making healthy lifestyle changes. For taking up a physical activity, for eating more natural foods, for spending more time outside or even dedicating themselves to going to bed earlier. These are the things that will make you healthier. These are the things that will improve your mood.

Weight is just a way to judge yourself. Seriously, not a single other person cares whether you are heavier or lighter than you were yesterday or last week, and they won’t even know because you won’t tell them and they won’t ask. You are not obliged to be thin. Throw away your scales. Don’t worry about the number. Go by how you feel and what you are doing, or if you are really concerned talk to your doctor about it. Losing weight is not the most worthwhile thing you can do, and gaining it is not the worst thing.

The Gender Price Gap

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http://genderpricegap.tumblr.com/

Look at that link. It will open in a new window for you. It won’t take long, and the rest of this post won’t make any sense if you don’t look at that link first.

Did you look? Are you furious? You should be!

Have you ever gone shopping found yourself accidentally looking at a shirt in the section of the store that was not intended for your gender and thought ‘Oh dear, I shouldn’t be looking at this, it is not for me’?

Have you ever picked up a toiletry product for a family member not of your gender and felt self-conscious at the checkout because someone might see it and think that you had stupidly got yourself the wrong one?

Have you ever gone shopping for children’s clothing and had an uncomfortable moment where you were not quite sure which section was appropriate for you child’s gender, knowing you could not possibly bring home a girl t-shirt for your son?

I have done all of these things. What I remember most is that feeling in my gut that someone would see me and judge me for not knowing the difference between men and women.

One time I even paid extra for black ink pens because I wanted pink and purple ones. I am not very proud of that…

It took a conscious effort to realise that you can actually buy an item of clothing from the Men’s section for yourself when you are a woman. That there are some perfectly good deodorants out there with a neutral or minimal scent that say ‘For Men’ but are cheaper than the pink and flowery ones marketed at women.

Next time you are in the supermarket, have a look at the names given to deodorant for men, versus the equivalent item for women. I did this recently, and it is absurd. There is an actual variety of deodorant marketed at women called ‘Sexy’. *shudder* These gendered labels give a very disturbing insight into how commercialism views the roles of men and women.

But to bare-facedly charge women more for an item because it is marketed at women or girls? That is reprehensible. When women go to buy toiletries or clothing or toys, does it even cross your mind to check the price of the equivalent item for men? Of course not.

Now that I know this happens, I am going to make sure that anything I buy that has been pinkified is the same price as the equivalent ‘For Men’ product. And it if is not – I will buy the cheaper one.

I don’t need my deodorant to smell like flowers, I need it to stop me from smelling like sweat and not leave residue on my clothes. And razors, not that I use them, do the same thing whether they are pink or blue. My hair is shorter than my partner’s, so why should a haircut be cheaper for him than for me?

More, more and more evidence of how we are shoved back in our gender boxes every day and women are penalised for being women.

We are taught that there are things for boys and different things for girls and we must never cross that gender line or we will be laughed at, teased, considered stupid, whatever.

But it is all lies. Gender doesn’t matter. ‘Beauty’ doesn’t matter. Just be people, preferably kind people, and we will all be much better off.

 

The Barefoot Cook’s International Women’s Day Address

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international womens day

Good evening, my fellow humans. My name is Jodie and I am a radical feminist.

Radical feminists believe that we live in a patriarchal society that divides the entire human race into two groups and then makes one of those groups dominant over the other. It divides us not for any logical reason, but with the prime objective of treating us differently.

The practical application of radical feminism is to challenge anything that puts women in a subservient role and reinforces our position of weakness. Anything that makes us less valuable, less powerful, less human.

The purpose of feminism, as a whole, is to promote women to the rank of fully human. It should follow then that anyone who does not identify as a feminist, does not believe that women are fully human. And that anyone who does agree that women are fully human is thereby a feminist.

People shun the word feminist for many reasons. They think that feminism is no longer necessary. They claim to be opposed to labels. They say that the word feminism is loaded with ‘negative connotations’.

These are often the same people who label me a man-hater, a sexist, a ‘male genocide advocate’, and who then call me a liar when I tell them I am none of those things. If feminism has negative connotations, it is because those who are against it, those who quite enjoy the current social acceptability treating women as less than human, are working very hard to discredit it.

There are many women out there who cannot stand up for themselves because the threat to their own or their children’s lives is very real. Because they have been trained for their whole lives to believe that they are of little value and that men are in charge, there are consequences if you disagree, and that is just how the world works.

If you are woman who is in a safe place, who can stand up for yourself and for those around you, I implore you to make that stand. Whenever you see women being disrespected, belittled, devalued or sexualised, in person or in the media, say something.

If you are a man who believes that women are fully human, speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Call out the attitudes that allow for the objectification and dehumanisation of women.

Teach your children that women are people. Teach them about consent. Teach boys and girls that they always have the right to say ‘no’. That nobody is allowed to touch them without their permission, and that they never have to allow anyone to touch them if they don’t want to. Not even grandma. Teach them to speak up if they feel uncomfortable, and always believe them if they tell you someone has done something inappropriate to them.

Open up the lines of conversation. Warn boys about the dangers of online porn. Pull them up if you hear them calling a girl a ‘slut’ or using the word ‘girl’ in a derogatory manner. Make sure they understand that women are people, not decoration or devices for their sexual gratification.

Challenge the gender binary. Without this rigid division of the human race, sexism and gender inequality would dissolve. Look at all the ways that gender is reinforced. Notice sexualisation in the media.

Examine your choices. Do you really wear high heels because you like them? Wear make-up because you want to? If nobody else would ever see them, would you still wax your legs? Do you tone down your clothing selections so as not to attract unwanted attention? Do you decide not to buy something because it ‘makes you look fat’? Do you buy skin products in the hope that they will prevent you from ‘looking old’? Often we have to adhere to societal expectations to stay out of trouble. I am not saying turn up to work in a tracksuit instead of a skirt and heels. Just understand why you wear that skirt and heels.

Women are not decoration. Your level of attractiveness to others has no bearing on your worth as a person. The colour of your skin, eyes, hair, the number of your clothing size, your height, your freckles, your wrinkles, your scars, none of these make you any more or less deserving of happiness. Or love. Or respect.

Always believe those who claim to be victims of abuse. The number of false accusations is miniscule compared to the number of victims who are disbelieved or who never speak up at all. Chances are, if somebody tells you they have been assaulted or abused, they have. And the price of not believing them is far greater than the slight chance that what they are saying is untrue.

Do not accuse women of ‘playing victim’, or having a ‘victim mentality’. If women are victims, it is because somebody has harmed us. Changing our attitude will not magically erase that. A woman cannot choose not to be a victim any more than she can un-rape herself. Women do not choose to be victims – do not take the blame away from the perpetrators.

Understand that violence is a gendered issue. Nine out of ten physically violent crimes are committed by men. This has been backed up over and over by official crime statistics. In terms of domestic violence, men are also grossly overrepresented as perpetrators. Don’t feel the need to weigh in with ‘but some women are violent too!’. We all know that. But one in ten does not make women ‘just as bad’. It makes violence a gendered issue.

We can make a better world for everybody. Don’t give up. Be proud of your feminist attitudes and defend your right to safety and respect. Challenge traditional gender expectations and ridiculous ‘beauty standards’ created for the purposes of control and corporate gain. Examine the unfairness that has been background noise for years.

We hold up half the sky. It is time for women to raise our hands, raise our voices and take what we should never have been denied in the first place – our autonomy.

gandhi

 

 

On Choice, and Why Body Hair is a Feminist Issue

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You know that thing where a topic keeps popping up so I write a blog post about it? It is happening right now.

Be thankful I am not doing a rehash of all the things wrong with Fifty Shades of Grey. Nope, I am not touching that one with a barge pole.

Instead I am going to launch into an attempt to organise my thoughts on choice, beauty standards and armpit hair.

This is a little bit more political than a lot of the stuff I post on here, but as I gain confidence I am becoming more comfortable with sharing these ideas with my audience, rather than hiding them in my secret feminist blog.

As women, we are constantly told that the things that happen to us are a result of our choices. That we choose to date or marry abusive men. That we choose to be single mothers. That we choose to work in lower-paid jobs. That we choose to drink too much or eat too much or act in ways that make us targets for violence. This way we are left in no doubt that whatever happens to us, whatever predicament we find ourselves in, we have only ourselves to blame. The flip side of this, that nobody talks about, is that those who harm and oppress us are absolved of all responsibility.

We are told that women choose to be prostituted, that women choose to act in porn. That to take away these choices would be taking away women’s choices, and that would be bad.

The lie that we are told every day is that women choose to be oppressed, and that men are doing us a favour by oppressing us.

We are told that women don’t want the hard/dangerous/high-powered jobs because we would rather stay at home and have an easy life while our husbands earn the money. That we want to be treated as sex objects. That we want to be abused and humiliated. That when we leave abusive partners we have chosen to break up our family, deprive our children of a father and be poor and stressed with limited opportunity to improve our lot. I hear it all the time. Women don’t want to work, they want to stay at home and be treated like princesses. Women like rough sex, but they are ashamed to admit it. Women think ‘nice guys’ are boring, so they always go for the ‘bad boys’. Women have it so easy. Women are their own worst enemies.

We are told that we only dress up to compete with other women. That we can choose whether or not to wear make-up, whether or not to wear high-heels, whether or not to remove our body hair.

And sure, you can choose not to do the things that society tells us we MUST do. But what happens if you don’t?

Body hair on women is one of my pet topics. To me it is a core feminist issue. I cannot count how many times I have been told that it is a ‘first-world problem’, or that women can ‘do whatever they want’ and most just ‘choose’ to remove their body hair for no practical reason.

And then when i argue the point I get told that it is insignificant, unimportant, that being allowed an opinion on what I do to my own body has nothing to do with feminism, that I should shut up and be glad I don’t live in Afghanistan.

I have got into countless discussions on the topic and been told countless times that body hair on women is unacceptable. The words most commonly used to describe underarm or pubic hair on women are: gross, nasty, disgusting, unhygienic, dirty. Who is going to volunteer to be considered all of those things, when simply picking up a razor can prevent it?

Admit it, just reading this you are wondering why I am writing about such an icky and insignificant topic. You’re thinking ‘ew, I just had lunch, I don’t want to hear about your armpit hair’.

Ask yourself, would you grow your armpit hair? Would it be okay if your wife or girlfriend did? Why? Why not? Because it is gross or dirty? Is it really? Why?

Yes, we have a choice. But choosing to go against the majority is difficult. And it shouldn’t be.

When I chose to stop removing my armpit hair I did it for a number of reasons. I get bad razor rash, which leaves me with nasty red spots and sometimes big lumps, especially in summer. I wanted to see if not shaving would prevent this. It did. I also realised that I had been shaving the hair off since before I even started growing it. That I had never had more than a couple of millimetres growth. I had no idea what it would even look like if I let it grow.

But mainly, I wanted to see if I could. If I could really choose.

And do you know what? This tiny choice was incredibly difficult. I had to deal with worrying about what everyone thought. Would they think I was disgusting? While most people won’t come out and say it, if you ask them they will tell you that they find it a bit yuck. You certainly don’t have to travel far on the internet to find out that whether it is on Madonna or Sofia Loren or the woman next to you at the train station, 99% of people think armpit hair on women simply should not exist.

I have not personally encountered a single woman who would even entertain the idea of not removing her underarm hair. And when challenged, the women I have talked to about it all tell me that they choose to do it.

It took me months and lots of self doubt to finally be comfortable with my decision. My partner pulled faces and told me it was ‘manly’, but he has learned to live with it. Wearing singlets, raising my arms in public and letting the rest of the yoga class see it took some real guts on my part. This tiny decision, this thing I do for me and me only that anyone can do at any time? It was a real eye-opener. A real consciousness-shifter. A pivotal event in learning how to really make my own choices for myself.

Having our appearance micromanaged by society blocks us from dealing with the ‘bigger’ issues. The lipstick/body hair/skirt arguments are all manufactured by the patriarchy. None of those things should matter. But ‘choosing’ to shave your legs and ‘choosing’ to be a stay at home mother are two sides of the same coin, and go hand-in-hand with ‘choosing’ to be a prostitute. We are told we have a choice, but those choices are laden with threat and consequences. To you or me, feeling like you have to wear make-up  to fit in at work is a lesser hardship than feeling like you have to let men pay to rape you so you can pay your rent, so you just do it. But a win is a win. Oppression is oppression, and the ‘little’ oppressions are supposed to keep us obedient and teach us how to submit to the ‘bigger’ oppressions. You have to teach a horse to eat from your hand before your can teach it to carry a saddle and rider. And you have to teach women to ‘choose’ to shave their armpits before you can teach them to ‘choose’ to be owned, abused, humiliated and discarded.

By making that one tiny choice, I learned how to make an actual choice about what I do with my own body, regardless of the collective attitude and outside influences. Maybe next I will get a short haircut on my head or go out without a bra or shop for clothing somewhere other than the women’s section of a store.  You have to learn how to choose what you do with your own body, before you can choose to demand to be treated like a fully-fledged human being.

 

Hiding in Plain Sight

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Sometimes I go looking for trouble, sometimes it finds me.

The other day I was sitting in the waiting room at the hospital waiting for my pacemaker review. I glanced at the stack of magazines on the table next to me, pushed aside the ‘Women’s Weekly’ and ‘That’s Life’, and picked up a glossy beast innocuously titled ‘Women’s Health’.

I started to flick through. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I really thought there might be something in it actually beneficial to women. Clearly my years of avoiding commercial media have made me soft. What I saw was a manual for making yourself sexually attractive to men.

The quick-fix diets, the fashion and make-up tutorials, and most disturbingly, the ‘what men really think’ article that could be summed up as ‘men want women to pander to their every requirement, and be decorative and sexy but also faithful and not slutty, while men do whatever the hell they want’. I pulled a face and put the magazine back on the stack at this point.

Seriously, this magazine doesn’t even try. It is just another waste of paper telling women how to fit into the tiny box of ‘acceptable’ that has been created to control how we look and how we live.

So of course, I went looking for trouble. I visited the websites of both Australian Women’s Health and Australian Men’s Health to see what kind of message these publications are peddling.

Women’s Health in a nutshell – how to get your chocolate fix without getting fat. How to drop a dress size – fast! How to zap belly fat or get great legs. The Fitness section had subheadings for Running and Yoga – activities that are not likely to cause increase in muscle mass and therefore affect your apparent femininity.

Men’s Health had different subheadings in the Fitness section – Muscle Building and Cardio. Because apparently muscles are only for men. Weight loss short-cuts also feature, and under the heading Sex and Women is a section on how to ‘improve your game’, also known as ‘getting women to have sex with you’.

Where Women’s Health has recipes and nutrition information, Men’s Health has supplements and cooking tips. Apparently women know how to cook, but men don’t.

One of the first articles I saw on the Men’s Health page was about ‘ticking off your bedroom bucket list’. This is an article about getting your partner to indulge your sexual fantasies. And it begins with the author doing ‘what any man would do’ – plying his partner with alcohol to make her more receptive to his suggestions. According to Men’s Health, manipulation and coercion are an important part of the male sex life. Good to know.

Presumably that is why Women’s Health is dedicated to making women decorative and sexy and fuckable and educating them on how to do what a man wants in bed.

The covers and images of both these magazines are so bland and generic as to almost be sterile, yet the air of casual harmlessness hides a disturbing theme. They tell men that they must be buff and tanned and healthy in order to get all the women. They tell women that they must be slim and tanned and healthy and wear just the right amount of make-up in order to be seen as acceptable.

These magazines are the media equivalent of that moron internet troll who tells everyone that fat people are gross because they are unhealthy. They are the published version of the constant reinforcement of the gender binary. Their titles suggest that they care about the wellbeing of people, but their content perpetuates the sterotypes that harm every person who does not look like the airbrushed models in the photographs.

Why can’t there be a magazine simply called ‘Health’, which is gender neutral and doesn’t set out to divide the population? Eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising and managing your mental health are issues relevant to all people.

On the topic of mental health, I did a search for ‘depression’ on the page of both magazines. Nothing showed up in the links for either on the main pages, so I had to do some digging. It seems that mental health is not sexy or cool enough to feature in these publications, despite it being a huge health issue for men and women.

I think what bothered me the most about the content of these magazines, is that they seem to represent the attitudes of society in general. Rags like Cosmopolitan and Cleo make a point of being racy and over-the-top, but these Health magazines present as wholesome advice for everyday living, rather than the manuals for slotting seamlessly into the patriarchal abyss that they actually are.