Imagine a new product is about to be launched.
This product has amazing capabilities. It has the power to make you dislike at least one aspect of your lifestyle intensely.
Chances are it could leave you feeling deeply unhappy about your appearance, clothes or body shape.
And using this product might cause you to feel like everyone else is doing life well and you are definitely not.
Would you use this product?
What if I was to tell you that this product, in various formats, shifts over 150,000 units per week. Would that change your mind?
How about the fact you need to pay for it. Yes, you get all the goodness mentioned above in exchange for some of the cash you have worked hard to earn. Would you buy it now?
It will come as a surprise but a good number of us have bought this product at least once in the past two weeks.
Lifestyle magazines are bad for your health
I am talking about lifestyle magazines. You know the kind: fashion, gossip, celebrity and my personal favourite – titles that claim to have your ‘health’ as their focus.
Loaded with ways to get a six-pack or legs like a supermodel they are strong on physical wellbeing but shaky on what ‘get bikini fit in 6 weeks’ does to our mental health.
How we view ourselves – and how we believe others view us – are significant contributors to our mental health.
For good or bad, self-perception plays a role in influencing mental health. Lifestyle magazines provide a way for readers to compare and contrast themselves to celebrities consciously and unconsciously.
The outcome of that comparison is usually unfavourable.
Airbrushed, Photoshopped, nipped, tucked and squeezed
Regularly the images of celebs presented by lifestyle magazines are doctored. This is not limited to physical manipulation of everything from skin tone to waist size.
Even when stars have not been airbrushed and their thighs shrunk via Photoshop, their glamourous lives are in effect airbrushed too.
Few realities of day-to-day living make it on to the glossy pages. Money concerns are never mentioned and neither is the stress of balancing work and home life. Nor the challenge of coping with the rising cost of living despite not having had a pay rise in years.
It is rare to read such articles and simply think ‘that’s nice for him/her’. Instead we are left with feelings of inferiority, low self-esteem and jealousy.
Lifestyle magazines are not real life
It takes a strong person to leaf through pages and confidently assert that this is not real life. For decades women have been subject to page after page of unrealistic expectations.
The picture perfect vision presented is one of looking fabulous, slim, fit and successful. Mother to adorable children but strong and feminine at the same time. An independent women but still smitten with their partner.
Basically a montage of all the best bits from Beyonce’s music videos.
Men now face a similar onslaught.
To be a successful man requires the combination of a ripped body and macho strength but the sensitivity of an adoring husband. The modern man should be a captain of industry but weak at the knees when it comes to his child. Always looking spectacular but 100% committed to his partner.
Assured self-confidence or crippling disappointment?
When our own reality falls short of the airbrushed perfection on the page how are we likely to respond? With assured self-confidence or crippling disappointment?
Consider going through this process as you read a magazine and ask yourself this question: is this good for my mental health?
There is an inherently cruel paradox about how lifestyle magazines present celebrities to readers. Publications place them on a pedestal for us to admire and worship. Then they take delight in seeing them fall and fall hard.
What are we getting from this?
Lifestyle magazines help us to idolise individuals, their success and lifestyles. Then they knock them down and delight in their failure. The sensationalist headlines are familiar:
“Singer bares the bikini flab on holiday”
“Married TV hunk slept with co-star”
“Shocking post-baby pics”
Cigarettes come with a warning about how bad they are for your health. Unhealthy foods come with warnings about their fat and sugar content.
We are clearly getting better at promoting good physical health as not just good to have but vitally important. By contrast mental health still sits somewhere in the background – a nice to have have but not essential.
If as a society we are serious about mental health – and we absolutely should be – then lifestyle magazines should probably come with a warning too.
Life can be challenging at times. And speaking to a loved one or friend sometimes is not enough to help overcome those challenges.
Speaking to a counsellor can help you understand the problems you face and decide how to move forward positively.