Amanda Hinnant, an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, analyzed 148 health articles in nine top-selling women’s magazines from a feminist perspective. The resulting article “The Cancer on Your Coffee Table: A Discourse Analysis of the Health Content in Mass-circulated Women’s Magazines,” is summarized here for those without the necessary journal access. Hinnant found that most coverage hewed to what could be called a post-feminist view and focused on the control the individual has over their own health with less regard for outside factors.
From the journalism.missouri.edu summary:
Most articles framed seeking better health as a way of taking control of your life, yet Hinnant suggested this was an illusion of control. “Mood, stress and energy are frequently substituted as symbols for health. Maintaining good health means constantly patrolling the borders for a bad mood, high stress and low energy,” she wrote. “What materializes is the notion that the pursuit of wellness will result in a life in control, when in fact it is a life that is controlled by the tyranny of constant surveillance.”
There were a few political and socially oriented stories (particularly in Glamour), but Hinnant found weight loss to be the most popular topic. Typically, readers were encouraged to lose weight not for aesthetic reasons, but to improve wellness, improve heart health and prevent cancer.
Sheila Weller, writing for The Huffington Post, has a bone to pick with Caroline Kennedy over a disparaging comment she made about “women’s magazines.”
Weller specifically cites health as being an issue that has gotten cutting-edge coverage in women’s magazines, pointing to Self magazine’s coverage of breast cancer, obesity and “the impact of Bush’s funding cuts to international health clinics that supported abortion.”
In fact, Self has won several Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism over the past several years for its coverage of sperm banks, chiropractic neck adjustment and health care providers declining to provide care because of doctors’ personal beliefs.
Weller also mentions articles in Glamour, including a piece about addiction to Paxil; one that looked at how local, state and federal policies were affecting women’s health care; how the military first accepted Plan B and then withdrew it; and contraceptive equity in insurance coverage.
In the Fall 2007 issue of HealthBeat, Traci Angel wrote about an analysis of how 44 stories were framed in 10 women’s magazines. The researcher, Barbara Barnett of the University of Kansas, found that articles can provide valuable information overlooked by the mainstream press. But, she said, the coverage women receive from them often focus on superficial topics and reinforce women stereotypes as caregivers, she says. As far as health coverage in such magazines, “She concluded that health stories in these publications motivated women to keep well so they could tend to their families.”
What do you think? Are so-called “women’s magazines” a good source of information about health?