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FAST, PAINLESS AND POUND-SHEDDING: A FRAMING ANALYSIS OF DIET AND
FITNESS COVERAGE IN TEEN AND WOMEN'S MAGAZINES AND A LOOK AT
SURROUNDING ADVERTISEMENTS FROM 2005
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS IN MASS COMMUNICATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
To all the people who have supported me throughout this journey: my fiance, Derrick Harmon,
father, Frank Layne Wood, mother, Joy Wood, sister, Emily Wood, and to my faculty advisor
Dr. Kim Walsh-Childers
I thank Dr. Kim Walsh-Childers for her guidance throughout this process. Her astute
editing skills and knowledge of the subject were invaluable. I would also like to acknowledge
Dr. Debbie Treise and Dr. Johanna Cleary. All three professors aided my efforts to crafting this
thesis and were excellent mentors throughout my master's program. I also thank my father,
Frank Layne Wood, for all the wisdom, encouragement and writing lessons he has given me
throughout the years, and I thank my mother, Joy, and sister, Emily. Their support meant a great
deal. Lastly, I thank my fiance, Derrick Harmon, who made me laugh when things got stressful.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A CK N O W LED G M EN T S ........................................................ ....................................... 4
L IST O F T A B L E S ...................................................................................................... . 7
ABSTRAC T ..........................................................................................
1 INTRODUCTION ............... ................. ........... .............................. 10
2 L ITE R A TU R E R E V IE W ........................................................................ ... ...................... 14
R review of Literature ................. ...................... ...... .. ........................ .. ............... 14
Body Image: Teen and W omen Readers................................ ................................. 14
Content and Its A dvertising.......................................................................... 21
A advertising Effects on Readers ......................................................... .............. 22
R ev iew of T h eory .......................................................... ................. 2 3
Framing Theory ..................................... ................................ ........... 23
Social-C om prison Theory ...................................................... ............. ............... 25
Literature Review in Sum and Research Questions .................................... ............... 26
3 M E T H O D S ............................................................................... 2 8
W hy M magazines and How They W ere Selected ........................................ .....................28
H ow the A articles W ere C chosen ..................................................................... ................... 30
How the Articles W ere Coded and Interpreted ...................................... ........ ............... 31
4 R E SU L T S ...........................................................................................3 3
Findings for Editorial Content ............... .................... .................................. ... ............... 33
How Did Women's Magazines Frame Information Related to Diet and Exercise,
through Both Content and Graphics, during 2005? ............................................. 35
T h e fast-an d-easy ch eer......................................... .............................................3 5
The quest for beauty ....................................................... ................. 37
T he doctor's visit......................................................................................... .. .... 38
The sinister or scary fram e ..................................................................... 39
W om en's graphics in review ................. ........................ ................... 40
How Did Female-Oriented Teen Magazines Frame Such Content? ............................40
T he quest for beauty fram e............................................................ .....................4 1
The celebrity star-pow er fram e ............................................. ....................... 42
The great you frame: Confidence and body image ...............................................43
E atin g -disord er fram e .................................................................... ....................4 4
G graphics for teen m magazines ......................................................... .................. .... 45
What Types of Advertisements Were Placed Adjacent to Such Content in Both the
Teen and W om en's M magazines? ............................................................................ 45
F findings for A dvertisem ents.......................................................................... ...................47
5 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION .............................................................................53
Framing Differences in Teen and Women's Magazines ................................ ...............53
What the Diet and Fitness Frames Tells us About Eating Disorders ...................................54
Implications from the Research Questions.................. ................. .......................... ......... 57
RQ1: The Framing of Diet and Fitness in Women's Magazines .............. .....................57
RQ2: The Framing of Diet and Fitness in Teen Magazines............................ ........58
RQ3: Advertisements Adjacent to Diet and Fitness Articles............... .............. ....59
The Big Picture: W omen's M magazines ......... .................................... ........................ 60
The B ig Picture: Teen M agazines................................................. .............................. 60
T h eo ry ......... ...................... ................. .................................... 6 1
F ram ing T theory ......... ......... ................................................. 6 1
Social C om prison T theory ......... ................. ...................................... ........................62
Conclusion .......... ...... ........... ....... ............................ 62
Additional Research and Suggestions for Magazine Editors ...........................................63
APPENDIX: COPY OF CODE SHEET AND DIRECTIONS USED FOR STUDY .................66
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S .......................... ................. ............................................................69
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H .............................................................................. .....................74
LIST OF TABLES
4-1 List of articles and advertisements found in diet and fitness editorial content for teen
m a g a z in e s .......................................................................... .. 5 1
4-2 List of articles and advertisements found in diet and fitness editorial content for
women's magazines .................... ....................................51
4-3 List of top four editorial frames, photographs and advertisement products in diet and
fitness coverage for teen and women's magazines ......................................................51
4-4 List of characteristics found in diet and fitness coverage for women's magazines..........52
4-5 List of characteristics found in diet and fitness coverage in teen magazines ..................52
5-1 List of top frames for diet and fitness editorial coverage in teen magazines...................65
5-2 List of top frames for diet and fitness editorial coverage in women's magazines.............65
5-3 List of top advertisement frames for teen magazines. ................ ........... ............... 65
5-4 List of top frames advertisement frames for women's magazines ................................65
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Mass Communication
FAST, PAINLESS AND POUND-SHEDDING: A FRAMING ANALYSIS OF DIET AND
FITNESS COVERAGE IN TEEN AND WOMEN'S MAGAZINES AND A LOOK AT
SURROUNDING ADVERTISEMENTS FROM 2005
Chair: Kim Walsh-Childers
Major Department: Mass Communication
It is an alluring promise: "Never overeat again: Tame hunger in 10 days and still feel
satisfied," or, for another variant, try "Cosmo's fast, painless, pound-shedding plan." These days,
it is hard not to notice all the diet and fitness titles that scroll across magazine covers and fill the
content inside. But what exactly are they telling readers? This study analyzes the diet and fitness
text and graphics found in ten magazine titles, five women's magazines and five teen magazines,
and the surrounding advertisement during 2005. It uses framing theory-which dictates how a
reader may perceive information through the textual wording, phrasing and examples-and
social comparison theory-which in this case is how one compares themselves to media images.
This study revealed some differences and some similarities in the major frames and topics
in the two genres (women's and teen magazines) for diet and fitness coverage. The women's
magazines focused on primarily fast-and-easy techniques, beauty, long-term health and sinister
scare tactics. The teen magazines, on the other hand, centered more on beauty, celebrities,
confidence and body image, and eating disorders. Therefore, the teen magazines dealt with outer
appearances (fame, beauty) and inner struggles (confidence, eating disorders), whereas the
women's versions contained more of a focus on motivation (speed/ease, scare tactics) and long-
term health benefits.
Staying fit and healthy for beauty's sake was the only constant theme between the two
genres. Beauty and pretty, thin models were the only significant common factor in all editorial
frames, advertisements and article photos for both teen and women's magazines. For the
women's magazines, the beauty frame was found about equally in advertisements and editorial
content. For teen magazines, editorial content had a higher percentage of units with a beauty tone
than did ads, but beauty was a top frame for both.
It is an alluring promise: "Never overeat again: Tame hunger in 10 days and still feel
satisfied," or, for another variant, try "Cosmo's fast, painless, pound-shedding plan" (Micco,
2003, p. 148; & McMorris, 2001, p. 137). These days, it is hard not to notice all the diet and
fitness titles that scroll across magazine covers and fill the content inside. And why not? Forty-
seven percent of all Americans, after all, turn to magazines as their top source for dietary
supplement and nutrition information, according to a survey conducted in 2000 (Kava, 2002).
Even more, magazine health coverage may be on the rise, and teen magazines are following that
trend (Bonner, & McKay, 2000). In April 2005, for instance, CosmoGirl! added a monthly five-
page health section to its magazine, an increase from its one to two pages previously devoted to
the topic (60 sec, 2005). "We decided there is an obesity epidemic, and there are a lot of teens
with eating disorders like anorexia," CosmoGirl! Editor-in-Chief Susan Schultz said on the
decision to create a health section. "It's really scary" (60 sec, 2005). But given that rigid diet and
fitness regimes often are paired with a hefty dollar amount of food advertising in many
magazines, is the actual coverage also "scary?"
Only a narrow subset of magazine studies on diet and fitness are specifically about
editorial content. This content analysis and framing study, however, attempted to examine three
aspects of diet and fitness coverage in women's and teen magazines. It sought to answer the
following research questions: (1) How did women's magazines frame information related to diet
and exercise, through both content and graphics, during 2005? (2) How did female-oriented teen
magazines frame such content? (3) What types of advertisements were placed adjacent to such
content in both the teen and women's magazines?
Although much research has been done on the possible connection between magazine
exposure and body image, fewer studies center on diet and fitness editorial coverage, especially
studies that compare magazines aimed at younger females and their counterparts targeting adult
women. The majority of research on this topic focuses on graphics or advertisements. However,
to get a complete picture of the message being sent to the reader, one needs to look at what the
story is saying contextually as well as the pictorial message. By looking at all three aspects-
editorial content, graphics and advertisements-this study offers scholars, media professionals
and readers a better understanding of the entire message. Given that the editorial content, graphic
elements and nearby ads may send conflicting messages, examining only one element may give
an inaccurate view of the overall message being sent.
The answers to this study's research questions are important for three reasons. The first is
the extent of women's and teen's concerns about and disorders related to food, nutrition and
exercise. On any given day, 56% of American women are dieting, and 75% of them consider
themselves too fat (Wilson & Blackhurst, 1999). As for teens, 80% of girls go on a diet at least
once before the age of 18 (Wilson & Blackhurst, 1999).
Eating disorder statistics are just as staggering, if not even more so. About eight million
women and teens are affected with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa
and compulsive overeating (Wilson & Blackhurst, 1999). Psychology Today reported that such
disorders afflict up to 40% of college students at some point during their college years, and 13%
of high school girls purge (Marano, December 10, 2004). But teens and young adults aren't
alone. A recent study shows an increase-from 5 to 10%-in women older than 40 receiving
treatment for anorexia (Adult Anorexia, June 2005). In fact, weight gain ranked second only to
memory loss as the most feared consequence of aging in a 1995 study of adult women (Wilson &
Blackhurst, 1999). Regardless of age, however, the effects of these eating disorders can be
lasting. Adolescents with bulimia nervosa have a 20-fold increased risk of continuing symptoms
throughout adulthood, and only 30 to 40% of anorexics ever fully recover (Kotler et al., 2001;
Hesse-Bilber et al., 2006). According to The Eating Disorders Coalition, anorexia has the highest
mortality rate-approximately 20%-of any mental illness (Hesse-Bilber et al., 2006). While
such numbers for bulimia are more difficult to obtain because many of its suffers go undetected,
its effects are also potentially deadly, including kidney failure and congestive heart failure
(Hesse-Bilber et al, 2006).
A second reason for this study's importance is that frequent dieting, in the vast majority of
cases, actually leads to increased weight in the long run. U.S. News and World Report reported
on a 2006 study of 149 obese women. Women who had "dieted before age 14 were twice as
likely to have dieted 20 times or more and had the highest BMIs" (Spake, January 16, 2006).
Only 79% of the study's participants were able to maintain significant weight loss from a diet
over a long period of time, and many actually gained weight from such "yo-yo" dieting (Spake,
January 16, 2006).
The third reason for the importance of this study is that dieting is the single most important
predictor of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia (Boschi et al., 2003). Boschi et al.
(2003) states that "dieting, a behavioral phenomenon which is becoming more and more
common among adolescents as a result of their persistent endeavors to modify their physical
appearance, is certainly involved in the pathogenesis of eating disorders" (p. 285). Likewise,
Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention, Inc., found that dieting, along with body
dissatisfaction and the drive for thinness, are the primary precursors to anorexia and bulimia
development (Wilson & Blackhurst, 1999).
This study strives to identify similarities and differences in mass-marketed, high-
circulation teen and women's magazines in regard to diet and fitness editorial content and
advertising. In order to do this, the study uses framing theory. According to the theory, how
dieting and fitness stories are written-their use of catchphrases, metaphors, exemplars, etc.-
help to clarify how readers may perceive the information (Zoch, 2001; Hertog and McLeod,
2001). For instance, if an article constantly refers to simplicity and quickness, the reader may
infer that exercise done in the prescribed way is easy to do or that significant weight loss will
follow quickly if the reader uses the techniques the magazine describes. These frames, then, help
us predict what kinds of ideas readers of both teen and women's magazines are gaining related to
dieting and fitness.
Chapter 2 describes a review of previous literature on body image, the media's role in body
image disturbance and advertising influences. It also includes a discussion of framing and social
comparison theories. Chapter 3 describes the methods to be used in the study, including selection
of editorial content and advertising to be analyzed and data analysis procedures. Chapter 4
describes the frames found in both genres and discuses the types of advertisements placed next to
such articles. Lastly, Chapter 5 discusses the implications of the findings, the study's limitations
and potential ideas for additional research.
Chapter 2 provides a review of previous research linking exposure to body-focused media
content, particularly that of magazines, with girls' and women's development of poor body
image; unhealthy attitudes toward diet, nutrition and general eating habits; and disordered eating
patterns, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia and overeating. In addition, the chapter describes
the theoretical underpinnings of the study, including social comparison theory, which links
magazine consumption-specifically its use of ultra-thin models-with disordered eating and
unhealthy food- and nutrition-related attitudes. The chapter also discusses framing theory, which
focuses on how editorial content is written and presented, and how this can influence readers'
understanding of fitness and dieting.
Review of Literature
Body Image: Teen and Women Readers
Media and advertising effects on body image have been widely studied, with researchers
examining everything from the frequency of magazines' use of thin, airbrushed models to the
repetitive focus on certain health topics and frames. This is especially true for magazines and diet
content. Ronald Bishop (2001) writes
Articles about diets and dieting appear in nearly every issue of most women's magazines.
Those who buy women's magazines often read more than one article per issue about the
latest diet regimens. Medical professionals and communication scholars argue that this
focus by media companies on the benefits of dieting has caused an increase in the number
of people who suffer from eating disorders. (p. 221)
An historic example of this-described in a study by Harrison and Cantor (1997) -
occurred from 1950 to 1984, when advertisements significantly increased their usage of thin
models in popular magazines. During the same time, body measurements and weights of Playboy
centerfolds and Miss America contestants also began to shrink. Popular women's magazines
followed suit, increasing their dieting coverage from a yearly average of 17.1 articles in the
1960s to 29.6 articles in the 1970s. The normal weight of U.S. women younger than 30,
however, rose by five to six pounds (Harrison & Cantor, 1997). By 1979 to 1988, 69% of
Playboy centerfolds and 60% of pageant contestants weighed at least 15% below their expected,
healthy body weight (Harrison & Cantor, 1997). The authors writes
This is noteworthy because being at least 15% below one's expected body weight is
considered symptomatic of anorexia nervosa (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). At
the same time, the number of dieting and exercise articles in popular women's magazines
increased year by year during the period of study, whereas the normal weight range of
American women and the reported prevalence of eating disorders in the United States both
continued to rise. (p. 42)
Andersen and DiDomenico (1990) also found evidence for the link between dieting
content and eating disorders in their study, which compared 10 male and 10 female magazines.
The authors found that the female magazines contained 10.5 times more weight-loss articles and
ads than the men's magazines. This figure, they noted, mirrored the ratio of female to male cases
of eating disorders (Andersen & DiDomenico, 1990). In other words, women were also about 10
times more likely to have an eating disorder. The authors state that such a difference could
suggest anything from the magazines' mere reflection of society to the perpetuation or even
creation of an overvaluation of extreme thinness. Either way, the magazines "impose gender-
related norms which then lead to sex-related differences in the frequencies of critical behaviors,"
including eating disorders (Andersen and DiDomenico, 1990, p. 286). It is worth a note,
however, that the magazines examined for this study were published in the 1980s before the
Men's Health phenomenon really came about, in which photographs of excessively muscular
males with no body fat caused similar body perceptions issues with its readers who strove to look
more like the depicted male ideal.
Wilson and Blackhurst (1999) found a similar relationship among dieting, eating disorders
and magazines consumption. They state that dieters are about eight times more likely than non-
dieters to develop bulimia nervosa. This is most likely to occur among women following strict,
more extreme diets, which fuel a cycle of bingeing and dieting. Body-image frustration often
results from dieting, and magazine food advertisers, knowing that 56% of women are dieting,
play on such feelings. Examples the authors use are magazine food advertisements that
encourage "all-or-none" thinking by showing high-calorie and high-fat foods as forbidden. The
ads portray their low- or no-fat options as the exceptions to a world of bland-tasting diet foods
and as the solution to all the reader's weight problems. Two Kraft advertisements in Woman's
Day, for instance, stated that "finally women could 'have pizza whenever' they wanted" by using
Kraft's fat-free cheese or eat sandwiches "that actually have 'rich taste'" by using a fat-free
mayonnaise (Wilson & Blackhurst, 1999, p. 117). Such ads, the authors suggest, "endorse the
widespread fear and loathing of fat," "reinforce the 'all-or-none' thinking" and give the mistaken
belief that a sought-after body can be achieved with the right products (Wilson & Blackhurst,
1999, p. 117). Wilson and Blackhurst (1999) conclude, "food advertisements not only promote
the thin ideal, but also explicitly endorse high-risk eating behaviors as a way of attaining the
ideal" (p. 117).
Because of such research linking the use of thin models, dieting content and increased
eating disorders, some teen magazines recently have opted to provide "no-diet zones," where
entire magazines, such as YM, are devoid of any dieting content (Fine, 2002). Seventeen
magazine follows a related policy. "We'll still have workout, nutrition, but we're approaching it
as not just helping [a reader] to act, but to understand why. And that's going to help change her
habits," CosmoGril! editor Schultz said of the publication's sister magazine (60 sec, 2005).
Still, Bishop (2001) points out that 70% of adolescent girls are dieting, and 75% say they
feel fat. Even if teen magazines do not advocate dieting, he argues, they may help create the
desire to match an impossible-to-mimic ideal woman.
Thomsen, Weber and Brown (2002) found just this in their study of female teen readership
of beauty and fashion magazines. At the time of the study, 6.5 million adolescents read the three
most popular teen magazines, Seventeen, Teen and YM. The scholars argue that the messages in
these magazines, which target the 12-14 age range, are often used in the "identity development
and gender socialization process" (Thomsen, Weber & Brown, 2002, p. 348). An underlying
message the magazines get across: Happiness and success can be attained only with the right
physical appearance, "ultra-thinness being the preferred state of health and beauty" (Thomsen,
Weber & Brown, 2002, p. 348). Wilson and Blackhurst (1999) describe it as "an environment in
which women equate thinness with success, happiness, worthiness and control" (p. 114). The
result of portraying an unattainable look can be readers' acceptance of unrealistic standards of
beauty or even the development of unsafe, quick dieting methods, such as the excessive use of
diet pills. However, Thomsen, Weber and Brown (2002) did find that the effects of magazine
content were mediated by the reader's previous state of mind. In other words, readers with high
levels of weight anxiety before reading the magazines were more likely to engage in high-risk
eating behaviors than readers who were less preoccupied with their weight.
With a focus on ideal thin images, health information is often replaced by beauty content
in much of the diet and fitness coverage. This phenomenon does not occur only in teen
magazines. One scholar concluded that "women are urged to take control of their bodies not for
political or health reasons but to make them aesthetically pleasing" (Douglas, 1994, p. 266).
Other scholars agree. Thomsen (2002), for instance, found in his study that there was not a direct
link between magazine reading and body-shape distress. Instead, the strongest predictor of size
concern came from society's (and indirectly the medium's) portrayal of men's expectations for
female thinness (Thomsen, 2002). Tuchman (1978) phrases it as magazine content that sells
"successful and therefore pleasurable femininity" (p. 163). Magazines define women by the men
in their lives, and these men, as depicted in the magazines, expect an ideal shape (Tuchman,
1978; & Bishop, 2001).
Weight, in fact, is a key factor in perceived "positive appearance," according to one study
(Hesse-Biber et al., 2006). Hesse-Biber et al. (2006) write: "A woman's sense of self-esteem is
dependent upon her perceived attractiveness to the opposite sex, and body weight plays an
increasing importance in whether she is considered physically attractive" (p. 6). Likewise,
Andersen and DiDomenico (1990) found that females placed a greater emphasis on weight when
rating female attractiveness than did males rating female attractiveness.
Some scholars (Thomsen, 2002) mention the frame of hope in fitness articles as a possible
contributing factor in body perception. The premise is that through following the magazine's
diet, fitness and beauty advice, one could gain hope of attaining the sought-after look. Thomsen
(2002) hypothesizes in his literature review:
Women's magazines are designed to contribute to consumption-based culture by
encouraging readers to fantasize about the creation of an ideal or perfect self. By
presenting readers with beautiful, inspiring role models to envy and emulate, the
magazines may instill a sense of hope that personal ideals and goals can and will be
attained by following the prescribed course of action. (p. 988)
This model places a direct, positive link between hope and magazine reading frequency
and an indirect link between magazine reading frequency and body image concerns (Thomsen,
2002). However, when Thomsen set out to prove that such hypothesized "hope" existed in the
articles, he found that it did not "mediate relationships between reading, expected future weight
gain or loss" or "body shape and size concerns" (p. 995). He did speculate, though, that this
could be different when dealing with younger readers. He concludes
Age and .. development levels may have had an impact on the results of this study,
particularly in assessing the role of hope ... For younger subjects, particularly those who
are in early adolescence, self-concept is far less stable, and perhaps more likely to be
influenced by exposure. As a result, both self-evaluative and self-improvement
comparisons may have a greater impact, either negatively or positively, on one's level of
hope. (p. 1010)
However, he added, this speculation needs further study because his participants were not
This idea is also shown through a focus-group study of Latina and Anglo women about
ideal shapes portrayed in magazines and television programs (Goodman, 2002). Goodman
(2002) found that even though women doubted the realism of such ideal looks and even
criticized the strict methods they presumed models used to attain such shapes, they still sought to
emulate the ideal. Goodman (2002) states
They [the participants] were aware of and desired the economic and social rewards that
thinness produces. Further, they were aware of others' acceptance of the ideal and
understood that others often judge them by the ideal. Even when these women were critical
of the ideal, they felt pressure to strive for thinness, given the social and economic
consequences. (p. 722)
These ultra-thin, ideal women depicted in magazines often are framed as being "model
citizens" as well as being ideally thin (Pagliassotti, 2003; Hesse-Biber et al., 2006). Pagliassotti
(2003) and Hesse-Biber et al. (2006) state that successful dieters are seen as following practices
similar to those expected of exemplary citizens, such as possessing the Protestant work ethic,
striving for self-improvement, being health-focused and displaying self-control.
Following this idea, a non- or unsuccessful dieter denotes laziness, lack of control, self-
indulgence and moral failure. Hesse-Biber et al. write
It is the women's "Horatio Alger" story [that] if you work hard, you will be rewarded;
[it's] as if thinness is achievable to all women who strive for it ... Food choice and bodily
outcome become a statement of self and one's self-worth more so for women. (p. 10)
But this ideal appearance is often unattainable. Wilson and Blackhurst (1999) point out
that this is exactly what makes ultra-thinness an effective marketing tool. They state
Encouraging women to measure themselves against this standard allows advertisers to
exploit not only women's inevitable dissatisfaction with their own bodies but also their
resulting feelings of failure and inadequacy Food advertisements signal to women that
the failure is more than a lapse in willpower; it is a sign of weak character, even moral
inadequacy. (p. 113)
Another point of interest is the importance of the media's role in nutrition-related
knowledge and behavior. Signorielli and Staples (1997) found in a study of elementary school-
aged children that "there was a strong positive relationship between television viewing and
unhealthy perceptions of nutrition" (p. 289). The more TV a child watched-when other
variables were accounted for-the more likely he or she was to (1) select unhealthy foods when
allowed to choose foods he or she would rather eat, and (2) believe that the unhealthy foods were
actually healthier than the more nutritious options.
Another study by Harrison and Cantor (1997) found that, overall, magazines were even
better predictors than television when looking at eating-disorder and dieting behaviors among
college-aged males and females. For females, magazine readership was a significant predictor of
drive for thinness-more so than television (Harrison & Cantor, 1997, p. 61). Likewise for
males, magazine readership was a stronger predictor than TV in male endorsement of thinness
for themselves. The study did not find, however, an overall positive relationship between
readership and male expectations of female thinness, but this changed when magazine effects
were analyzed by genre (Harrison & Cantor, 1997). Male entertainment magazines, such as
Playboy and Penthouse, were most likely to cause such expectations.
These two studies-the Harrison and Cantor study and the Signorielli and Staples study-
deal with different age groups and different health factors. However, one key component binds
them together. They both reveal the impact of the media, magazines in particular, on health
attitudes and behaviors.
Two other studies by Wilson and Blackhurst (1999) and Hesse-Biber et al. (2006) state that
mass media messages, magazines included, may be one of the strongest transmitters of the
excessively thin ideal. Wilson and Blackhurst (1999) suggest that such influences "normalize
body dissatisfaction and weight preoccupation, glorify thinness, perpetuate unrealistic and
unattainable standards of beauty, and encourage a rigid diet mentality" (p. 116). Hesse-Biber et
al. agree, but these scholars place more of the blame on capitalist industries that fund such mass
media portrayals-advertisers included.
Content and Its Advertising
Another dilemma arises when advertising is thrown into the body-image mix. Some
scholars (Douglas, 1994; Bishop, 2001; Kilbourne, 1999) argue that articles urge women to diet,
but food advertisements and recipes in the magazines pull the reader toward consumption of their
often rich and unhealthy products. "Thus, women are caught in a classic Marxist double bind: for
every dollar spent on the treatment of obesity, food manufacturers spend $100 to convince them
to buy their products" (Douglas, 1994, p. 35). The result: "companies fatten us up and the $30
billion a year diet industry tries to slim us down" (Bishop, 2001, p. 221). In short, women strive
for an unattainable image portrayed in magazines, and therefore, are more likely too seek out diet
products and articles (Kilbourne, 1999). However, the food marketers who advertise in women's
magazines tempt readers with fatty and/or sugar-laden products. In sum, Kilbourne states, "the
junk food industry and the diet industry depend on each other" (p. 122).
Food and beverage advertising recently has surpassed the once dominant automotive
industry as "the single largest category for publishers," ("Food & Beverage," 2005). An article in
MediaWeek reported that "through August , ad pages in the (food) category were up a
healthy 12% over last year, the best showing besides Financial/Insurance/Real Estate among the
major print categories, per Publishers Information Bureau" ("Food & Beverage," 2005, p. 6).
The major ad-page contributors included Philip Morris' Altria (the parent company of Kraft and
Nabisco), PepsiCo and Unilever (which make Lipton Tea and Slim-Fast). Unilever, in fact,
increased its print coverage by 75% between 2003 and 2005 ("Food & Beverage," 2005). Irene
Grieco, the company's print media manager, cited increased sales from the advertisements as the
main reason. ("Food & Beverage," 2005)
So which magazines are receiving the increased ad revenue from food and beverage
industries? Of the $2.16 billion food and beverage ad sales for 2004, the highest magazine
category was women's service magazines, which took in about $522 million of such sales
("Food & Beverages," 2005). Better Homes and Garden, People, Good Housekeeping and
Women's Day were listed as the top four food-and-beverage ad carriers in 2004, with Ladies
Home Journal and Family Circle jumping to fifth and sixth in 2005. In fact, of the top-ten list in
2005, seven were women's magazines-O, the Oprah Magazine, came in at 10th ("Food &
Advertising Effects on Readers
But what impact does such advertising really have on readers? The advertising-effects
argument centers on a passive audience theory, and Bishop (2001) states that many women know
they are being manipulated by food advertising. Still, two advertising-effects studies done by
research companies Millward Brown and Nielsen Corp. found that "dollar-for-dollar, magazines
are a better buy for increasing consumer awareness" compared to TV (Morris, 1999). The
Millward Brown study found that 19% of magazine readers surveyed were aware of an ad
campaign; 16% were aware of the campaign when only viewed on TV (Morris, 1999). The
percentage jumps to 65, however, when the individual had seen both TV and magazine ads. The
argument is furthered by a case study of magazine ads for a mustard product. Morris (1999)
writes on the Millward Brown study
In the case of Nabisco's Grey Poupon mustard, the company spent more than $3 million in
magazine advertising during the 16-week period. Ads ran in eight issues of four measured
magazines. Brand penetration increased 22% in those households exposed to the ads.
It is worth a note, though, that some criticized the findings of the Millward Brown
research, stating that the brand-penetration numbers were too high and that the data may have
been misinterpreted (Morris, 1999).
Review of Theory
The main theory used in this study is framing. For the purpose of this study, framing is
defined as "a number of thematically related attributes related to a topic or news event that
affects the pictures in our heads relating to that topic or event" (Zoch, 2001, p. 196). It goes
beyond what to think about-as explained by the agenda-setting theory-and focuses on how
one thinks about an issue or event (Zoch, 2001). Hertog and McLeod (2001) take the definition a
step further, claiming that frames are "organizing principles .. that work symbolically to
meaningfully structure the social world" (p. 140). Therefore, for example, the public's interest in
back-and-forth elections may be a result of "horse-race" frames used by the media (Hertog &
McLeod, 2001). On the other hand, the authors also suggest that it could be the reverse. Frames
may reflect social realities already in place (Hertog & McLeod, 2001).
From another angle, Dahinden (2005) defines frames as general patterns of interpretation
that usually consist of four parts: problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation and
treatment recommendation (p. 2). Frames, according to Dahinden, "structure information" in
order to "reduce complexity" (Dahinden, 2005, p. 2).
One example of framing is an analysis by Zoch (2001), who examined media framing of
the Susan Smith case. The case-which dealt with a woman who was being tried for murdering
her two children-erupted with a media-circus atmosphere and the media soon started covering
itself. The author looked at five recurring devices in the media to determine any frames:
metaphors, visual images, catchphrases, depictions and exemplars (Zoch, 2001, p. 199). From
these, she found a frame of "media are part of the story," which had six additional sub-themes
that supported the frame. By looking at these devices, therefore, Zoch was able to figure out how
people were informed about the Susan Smith case, which in this case, was that the media were
also a part of the story.
The framing method is the most appropriate for this study because of its focus on enabling
the researcher to decipher how these magazines portrayed diet and fitness and how readers of
this information, in turn, may think or act. This is shown through a media framing analysis of
breast cancer and implants (Andsager & Powers, 2001). The authors contend "it is important to
understand the ways in which journalistic framing of issues occurs, because framing influences
public understanding and, consequently, policy formation" (Andsager & Powers, 2001, p. 164).
The authors cite an increase in breast cancer public awareness fueled by the media's attention
(and its urgent-toned frame) in the 1990s. The attention nudged Congress into enacting a bill that
allocated Medicare coverage for biannual mammograms to women older than 65 (Andsager &
Powers, 2001). Although an attached four-state statute giving free screening to poor women in
the bill was eventually revoked, the media coverage, the ensuing grassroots campaign and
President Bill Clinton's directives prompted the National Institute of Cancer to reallocate funds
to breast cancer research, which increased by more than 34%. The Food and Drug
Administration also banned silicon implants until their effects could be verified. The authors
Certain pieces of information are selected and put together within the genre constraints of a
news story. These choices, based on news values and journalists' interpretations of social
responsibility, have consequences. Readers form impressions of the news stories' central
theme-issue and attitudes toward the policy actors. For the most part, the media are the
public's only contact with technical fields Thus, the media create boundaries within
which debate can take place. (p. 166)
By applying similar framing techniques found in these examples, this study is intended to
determine how diet and fitness are framed in women's and teen magazines. The implications of
such findings, as shown by Andsager and Powers, are important because they could have an
impact on readers' perceptions and actions. If dieting articles are framed a certain way, they may
alter one's views on dieting and body image.
Social Comparison Theory
Another theory worth note is that of social comparison. Festinger (1954) first defined the
theory in three parts: 1. Individuals seek to improve themselves and to evaluate their abilities and
opinions, 2. Individuals compare themselves to others, and 3. Individuals prefer to compare
themselves to people with whom they are similar. Throughout the years, the theory has been
revised. Individuals, in accordance with the modified theory, could compare themselves to those
to whom they were dissimilar, and social comparison could occur in areas such as physical
appearance and eating habits (Martin & Kennedy, 1993; Wheeler & Miyake, 1992).
Comparison of physical appearances with those dissimilar to oneself are usually upward,
meaning the individual doing the comparing often feels inferior (Wheeler & Miyake, 1992). This
is commonly the case when individuals engage in social comparison with ideal images found in
magazines ("Body image evaluation," 2004). Females who consider celebrities-often portrayed
in magazines-as an important comparison group, for instance, were more likely to feel that their
bodies were not adequate and to participate in pathological weight control practices to change
this ("Body image evaluation, 2004). Likewise, Thomsen, Weber and Brown (2002) concluded
that adolescents use beauty and fashion magazines for "the purposes of self-evaluation and self-
improvement" (14). The authors state
[Teen readers] make comparisons between themselves and the models in magazine photos;
they come to accept these beauty ideals as realistically attainable goals. The more they
desire to attain these goals, and, in turn, the more they read beauty and fashion magazines,
the more they may be willing, or feel pressured, to try shortcuts or potentially harmful
measures to attain them. (Thomsen, Weber & Brown, 2002, p. 15)
Literature Review in Sum and Research Questions
Four major themes on diet and fitness content and advertising dominate throughout the
literature. First, the media, magazines in particular, are influential in both how we perceive
ourselves and how we understand healthy eating habits. Secondly, health information has been
displaced by beauty content in diet and fitness coverage. This is seen through the use of thin,
airbrushed models, content that suggests that readers can hope to attain such an ideal body and
the portrayed desire to be aesthetically pleasing for men. This plays into the third theme. As
women strive to look more beautiful through rigorous diet and fitness regimes, they are
constantly tempted by advertisements for fatty and sugar-laden foods. Much of the research
suggests that women who diet often gain weight in the long run. This causes frustration, which
may cause poor body perception or even disordered eating. Lastly, food advertisements fill
women's magazines, with women's service magazines receiving the lion's share of ad revenue
from the food industry.
One thing lacking in the research, however, is a comparison of the editorial aspects of teen
and women's diet and fitness coverage. This study was designed to fill in the gap by answering
the following research questions: 1. How did women's magazines frame information related to
diet and exercise, through both content and graphics, during 2005? 2. How did female-oriented
teen magazines frame such content? 3. What types of advertisements were placed adjacent to
such content in both the teen and women's magazines?
By looking at these questions in this way, the study will be able to analyze teen and
women's magazines separately and provide comparison data. Doing so will determine if similar
frames are being used for the different age groups. This information could pinpoint more
precisely what's being said-not just shown pictorially-and to which group. Also, with the
addition of the advertisement research question, the study seeks both to confirm previous
research that suggests the placement of fatty/sugary food advertisements next to dieting content
and to show any differences in teen and women's magazines advertisements.
Chapter 3 describes the method used for the study and outlines how the study was
conducted. The method for this study was a qualitative framing analysis of articles focusing on
fitness, nutrition and diet in national women's and teen magazines. The content of adjacent
advertisements-ads that appeared immediately before, after or in the middle of the stories-also
were analyzed. In both the articles and ads, this study looked at how the content was framed,
noting the catch phrases, keywords, exemplars, source listings, metaphors, images and photos.
This method follows the example of past framing studies, including the Zoch (2001) and the
Hertog and McLeod (2001) studies.
Why Magazines and How They Were Selected
This study focuses on women's and teen magazines because they are at the forefront of the
body image debate and are most likely to report frequently on dieting, nutrition and/or fitness
compared to other media. A comparison of the two genres also revealed some differences
between women's and teen magazines, which offer further, less-explored insight into how
women's and teen magazines frame such topics. A comparison between women's magazines and
teen magazines was thought important because it could reveal a pattern of frames that starts with
teen magazines (and their readers) and gradually progresses to women's magazines (and their
readers). If similar frames are found in both, it stands to reason that this frame would greatly
affect how one perceives health and fitness coverage, since it has been told to the reader since
adolescence. This study differed from other magazine body image studies by looking
extensively at the editorial content and not only the graphics or advertisements. Looking at what
the content of a story is saying in addition to what it is saying pictorially gives researchers and
media professionals a better understanding of the entire message that is being sent the readers.
Five magazine titles from each genre were chosen based on high national circulation rates.
Preference was given to magazines that had a teen/woman counterpart magazine (for instance,
Cosmopolitan and CosmoGirl!). However, many such counterparts differed in subject matter and
could not be used for the study. For instance, Teen People fell into the category of a general teen
magazine (with subjects ranging from fashion to health). People magazine, on the other hand,
dealt almost exclusively with celebrity gossip and was a more niche magazine. A similar
occurrence happened with Vogue, a niche fashion magazine, and Teen Vogue, a more general
teen magazine. Taking circulation figures and top-ranked positions from within the teen genre
into consideration, the teen titles studied are: Elle Girl, Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Teen People and
CosmoGirl! The women's titles are: Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Self, Glamour and Allure. Each
magazine was selected for its high national circulation as recorded by the Audit Bureau of
Circulation in 2005. Each selected magazine was on the top-100 list for all magazines in the
United States during 2005, except for Elle Girl, which lagged slightly behind but still maintained
a leading rank in the teen magazine genre in 2005.
Circulations for the teen magazines were: Elle Girl (about 1.2 million), Seventeen
(2,034,462), Teen Vogue (1,410,609), Teen People (1,525,409) and CosmoGirl! (1,383,468).
Note: In 2006, Elle Girl and Teen People folded their print editions and published
exclusively online. During 2005 and through the beginning of 2006, they were both still among
the top-selling teen magazines in print.
For the women's magazines: Cosmopolitan (2,969,952), Redbook (2,412,882), Self
(1,410,476), Glamour (2,371,986) and Allure (1,060,099).
A complete year (2005) of each title was examined. The year 2005 was determined as an
appropriate year for study because of a number of important dietary and fitness studies published
in 2004 and early 2005. Studies done during this time frame provide the 2005 issues (1)
information that would be timely and (2) enough time to make up for any production lag time
(most magazines finish issues months before publication). Also, most of these studies are not
done yearly, and the statistics they report were the most recent available at the time of this study.
The first study, which is conducted every five years, was released by the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on January 12, 2005
(Dietary Guidelines, 2005). It reported on dietary guidelines that would "promote health and
reduce the risk of major chronic diseases." The recommendations focused on long-term health,
which is a topic one would expect to find in the magazine articles. Second, a series of studies
reported on by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health gave
the statistics for 2004. The statistics focused on the obesity rate of adults and adolescents
(NHANES, 2004; Prevalence, 2004). Similarly, the Data Resource Center for Child &
Adolescent Health published a study titled "Overweight and Physical Activity Among Children:
A Portrait of States and the Nation, 2005," which reported on the low level of physical activity
and increase in numbers of overweight children. Such studies would seem especially topical for
diet and fitness coverage. The implications of all these studies, however, give further insight to
the environment in which the articles were written. The studies point to an increase in obesity
and a decrease in physical activity, and how magazines frame their stories could have
contradicted or coincided with the national trends.
How the Articles Were Chosen
All magazine issues from the selected titles for 2005 were examined by perusing the table
of contents and by flipping through cover-to-cover. All editorial items-feature articles, briefs,
letters and Q&As-that focused on diet, nutrition, fitness and exercise were selected. Likewise,
the adjacent ads-all-sized advertisements that appeared on the page before, after or in the
middle of diet and fitness stories-also were included in the study sample. For this study, it did
most ads were one or more pages. Although it could be argued that smaller ads have less impact
on readers than one- or two-page ads, separating the ads would not have made much of a
How the Articles Were Coded and Interpreted
In order to determine the frames, a coding sheet was constructed to allow listings of the
aspects mentioned before: keywords, phrases, sources, length, prominence, etc. (Appendix A).
Each article was first read in its entirety to determine the main topic, secondary topics and any
encompassing themes. The story was then read a second time line-by-line in order to determine
sentencing, wording, phrasing and sourcing. Through a third scan of the story, the coder recorded
the story's length, location within the magazine and visual images onto the code sheet. After
completion, the code sheets were read and analyzed to determine repeated arguments, themes
Frames were not predetermined. Instead, they were found as the content was read. This
was to ensure that all possible frames were found and to eliminate unintentional research bias by
selecting only a limited range of frames. Colored pens were used to mark each frame and its
corresponding themes on the article. For instance, words and phrases such as "fast," "in only 10
minutes" or "quick steps for the busy, career-driven mom" denoted a quick, in-no-time frame.
This frame was underlined in blue. Another frame, "sinister or scary," was highlighted using a
pink pen. At the end of coding all articles, the researcher was able to go through all the
photocopied articles and see how often each color was used. The most used colors also reflected
the most used frames. The number of articles in which each frame appeared, the number of times
in each article they were referenced and a frame's location in each article (was it used at the
beginning, middle, end?) all were recorded. In order to prevent items from being highlighted in
one color that later proved to reflect two separate frames, the researcher did not highlight
immediately upon first reading the articles. Instead, the researcher first used pencil-written notes
and then went back and highlighted. Advertisements were coded in a similar way. Each article's
code sheet included questions related to the surrounding ads: the length, the product sold, a
description of the photographs and a framing analysis of the textual content.
Chapter 4 outlines the results of the study. It reveals the statistics for diet and fitness
content and graphics in teen and women's magazines, the frames of this content and the products
advertised adjacent to the content.
Findings for Editorial Content
One hundred seventy-nine articles were identified and coded across the 10 magazines. One
hundred twenty-three articles were found in the five women's magazines: Cosmopolitan (n=9),
Redbook (n=21), Self(n=42), Glamour (n=23) and Allure (n=28). The other 56 articles were
found in the teen magazines: Elle Girl (n=7), Teen Vogue (n=7), Seventeen (n=13), Cosmo Girl!
(n=24) and Teen People (n=5). The lengths of the articles varied. The average women's
magazine article had a slightly higher page count than its teen counterpart. The average diet and
fitness article contained 2.25 pages of content for women's magazines and 1.85 pages for teen
magazines. (Tables 4-1 and 4-2).
Most diet and fitness articles for both genres (n=53) were found in a health and nutrition
section. This was true for about 23% (n=28) of all the coded women's articles and about 45%
(n=25) of the teen articles. A difference in the two genres emerged in the second most-used
section. Compared to about 12% (n=14) of the women's magazine articles found in food or
eating right sections, about 20% (n=l )of the teen magazine articles appeared in a peer or real-
life department. Both women's and teen magazines shared fitness and body sections as the third
most used. In women's and teen magazines about 11% (women's, n=13; teen, n=6) of its diet
and fitness articles appeared in such sections. Living sections made up the fourth most common
section where 6.5% (n=8) of fitness and diet articles were found in women's magazines. For teen
magazines, beauty sections came in fourth with 3.3% (n=4) of the articles. (Tables 4-4 and 4-5).
More women's fitness and nutrition content (n=41 or 33%) headlined on its magazine's
front cover than on the teen covers (n=12 or 21%). Nine of the women's cover stories-about
7%-were the dominant headline. This was determined by typeface size. However, four of the
teen articles-also about 7%-were the dominant headlines on the cover as well.
The two magazine genres differed little in the type of authors used. Most articles were
written by staff writers or freelance journalists (women's n=54; teen n=34) followed by ordinary-
person accounts (women's n=4; teen n=8). These first-person stories are by non-famous people
who most commonly share how they shed a considerable amount of weight or about their
struggle with eating. The third most common author type differed: experts advice such as
registered dietitians or fitness professionals (n=2 or 2%) for women's magazines, and first-
person celebrity stories (n=2 or 3.6%) for teen content. (Tables 4-4 and 4-5).
The top five sources used in women's magazines tended to be professionals. Dietitians
were referenced in about 32% (n=39) of the articles, doctors in 28% (n=34), fitness experts in
25% (n=31), academic journals or research studies in 18% (n=22) and product and business
owners in 13% (n=16). Teen magazines, on the other hand, were most likely to source peers and
non-famous ordinary people. Peers were attributed in 41% (n=23) of the diet and fitness articles.
This was followed by dietitians in 39% (n=22) of the articles, celebrities in 18% (n=10), product
and business owners in 13% (n=7), and beauty experts in 3.5 % (n=2). (Tables 4-4 and 4-5).
The photographs accompanying each article also differed slightly from women's to teen
magazines. Most photographs in women's magazines consisted of pretty, thin fashion models
(n=25), healthy food (n=24)-which for the purpose of this study encompassed foods found on
the food pyramid: vegetables, fruits, grains, lean meats, etc.-thin women eating food (n=8), and
products and accessories, such as shoes, watches and brand-name fitness equipment (n=8). Sexy
body parts, such as a close-up on a woman's buttocks, also ranked as some of the most prevalent
photographs with n=7. (Table 4-3).
Teen magazines focused more on food. Junk and fast food, such as ice cream, hamburgers
and French fries, were the most prevalent type of graphic (n=16). This was followed by
celebrities (n=12) and pretty, skinny teen models (n=12), healthy food (n=9) and everyday,
normal-looking peers (n=8). (Table 4-3).
RQ 1: How Did Women's Magazines Frame Information Related to Diet and Exercise,
through Both Content and Graphics, during 2005?
The women's magazines included of 123 articles from Redbook (n=21), Cosmopolitan
(n=9), Self(n=42), Glamour (n=23) and Allure (n=28). The average Redbook diet and fitness
article was 2.19 pages, the average Self article was 3.33 pages, the average Cosmo article was
1.17 pages and the average Allure and Glamour article was about 2.28 pages. The main topics
centered on (1) how-to information (n=37), which consisted of step-by-step exercise routines and
diet plans, (2) beauty-centered stories (n=21) that promoted exercise and diet as a means to
achieve a specific look, and (3) health news (n=20) that reported on recent studies, polls and
relatively current events. The rest of the main topics were less frequent, including managing
temptation (n=8), long-term health (n=6) and combating stress (n=4). (Table 4-4).
Through an analysis of headlines, subheads, written content and graphics, four media
frames can be attached to women's magazine diet and fitness articles. They are (1) the fast-and-
easy cheer, (2) the quest for beauty, (3) the doctor's visit, and (4) the sinister or scary frame.
The fast-and-easy cheer
One of the most prevalent selling points in women's diet and fitness headlines was
expediency and ease. References to "easy," "fast" and related words and phrases like "quick,"
"in no time," etc. were found in 23% of headlines (n=28), 10% of subheads (n=12) and in 77%
of the text, pull quotes and other such written content (n=95). Promises of easy-to-do workouts
and diets made up 44 percent of all content, while fast- or instant-results stories accounted for a
third of all content.
The fast-and-easy cheer frame has a rah-rah tone. It encourages readers that they can
achieve a desired body with little effort or loss of tasty foods as long as the prescribed exercise
routine or diet regimen is applied. The fast-and-easy terminology is mixed with cheerleader-like
optimism. This is seen with statements like "you'll see results before Memorial Day," "couldn't
be easier" and "losing weight is child's play" (Yeager, March 2005, p. 30; Buchan December
2005, p. 226). The usual 20-minute workout section in Redbook was even "slashed ... in half" to
"10 minutes to a better body." It states, "This quickie workout tones all of your trouble spots
with just 3 easy moves" (Yeager, October 2005, p. 32). Some examples provide even more you-
can-do-it spunk, such as an Allure article that states, "this is the year you'll get healthy," and a
Glamour article promising, you too can "lose up six pounds a month" (Levine, January 2005, p.
42; Lyons, May 2005, p. 105).
Other instant-results framed stories include one from Glamour about a recent study done
on diet injections that are supposed to reduce one's desire to overeat. It reads, "A drug in
development shows promise for weight loss they ate 25 to 35 percent less per meal and lost
an average of five pounds" (Health: Body News, December 2005, p. 130).
It is worth a note that most of the fast-and-easy framed stories came in the form of how-to
articles, which provide step-by-step exercising methods or eating schedules. About a third of all
the women's diet and fitness articles contained a main or secondary topic with how-to
The quest for beauty
Fitness and diet articles often referenced losing weight, staying fit and eating right as a
means to achieve beauty or to enhance how one looks. Primping and beauty terminology was
often used throughout such stories. One Allure article included weight loss in its "Insider Guide
Total Makeover," which advocated readers to loss weight for a more beautiful body by
"Thinking Thin" (Devash, February 1, 2005, 95). In describing one woman's quest for thinness,
it states, "Since beginning the makeover a month ago, Lichota rewards herself with a manicure
or massage instead of candy."
The beauty frame appeared 37 times, in fact, in all content areas. Beauty was also the
leading frame for headlines (n=23) and the top frame for subheads (n=12). Further, it was the
main topic in 13% (n=16) of all stories.
A Cosmo piece, for instance, discussed the importance of eating habits in relation to one's
breast size. It reads: "Breasts are made up of mostly fat, and any excess pounds practically go
straight to your chests. Unfortunately, when you lose weight, boob flab is among the first to be
shed ... repeatedly gaining and losing pounds forces the delicate skin on your set to expand and
contract over and over again. The result: harmless (but unwanted) red or white streaks on your
girls" (Nemec, June 2005, p. 254). Another Cosmo article claims "If you do 10 to 15 reps of each
exercise three times a week for just two weeks and follow our detox diet .. the temperature
won't be the only thing getting H-O-T-T-E-R" (Buchan, July 2005, p. 43). Again, the focus is on
appearance rather than "the temperature is rising so you need more water."
Likewise, Self has a fitness department called "20 minutes to a better body" and had
published a stories that remarked, "the best look-great-fast trick" or the way to "look instantly
thinner" (Yeager, December 2005, p. 26; Schipani, May 2005, p. 38). Cosmo titled one of its
articles "Look Hot in Shorts." It gave three steps of content and demonstration photos outlining
how to "transform your thighs" for summer attire (Buchan, June 2005, p. 254). A Glamour
article was titled, "The great glamour body plan. (exercises for weight loss)" (Lyons, May 2005,
p. 105). No matter whether it is to maintain youthful skin or to get a slimmer body, the emphasis
and wording of these articles exhorts readers to exercise for looks and not for health.
The doctor's visit
In contrast to the beauty frame is the use of diet and fitness articles to promote healthy
living. This appears somewhat less frequently. Long-term health benefits and consequences are
apparent in 21 articles. It is seldom used, however, as a main topic. One exception was an article
titled "10 (fun!) ways to reduce your blood pressure" in the December 2005 edition of Self. The
article lists diet and exercise choices that promote a heart-healthy lifestyle. The long-term health
subject is more commonly added into a story, however, as a secondary topic. For instance, "You
are what you drink" is a June 2005 Redbook article about rampant sugar in non-alcoholic,
everyday drinks. Although it is first about calories, it also discusses Type 2 diabetes and its
ensuing heart and kidney damage.
The doctor's visit frame resulting from the long-term health subject has a medical
informational tone. It uses popular jargon and definitions to inform and is similar to how a doctor
speaks to a patient. For example, one article touted, "antioxidant-rich foods, which are believed
to protect against some cancers and other diseases," and one article suggested "aerobic exercise
of medium intensity three or five days" to lessen the symptoms of depression (Health: Food
News, June 1, 2005, p. 126; Fitness News, June 1, 2005, p. 138).
Even the food for boobs story in Cosmo-mentioned as an example in the beauty frame
section-offers health information in its last paragraph. It reads: "Studies suggest that
overweight women increase their odds of developing breast cancer fivefold. The reason: Fat cells
produce estrogen-a known breast-cancer trigger. The more fat cells you have, the greater the
amount of estrogen circulating in your bloodstream" (Nemec, June 2005, p. 254).
Glamour described a diet plan "that can help in making smarter choices to lower risk of
heart disease by nearly eighty percent" (Laliberte, February 2005, p. 200).
The sinister or scary frame
The last major frame found in women's magazines for diet and fitness coverage is the
sinister or scary frame. This frame implies that danger or evil awaits anyone who is overweight
or who does not follow a prescribed fitness/dietary regimen. Words and phrases included "risk,"
"scary," "drowning" and "devilish" (Birnbaum, June 2005, p. 122). The sinister or scary frame
was found in 13% of the stories (n=16). Eight of those articles focused on satanic words, six on
danger or beware terminology and two on fear.
One example of the satanic-themed word usage is "The Top Diet Sins ... and How to Fix
Them" in Redbook (Kuzemchak, February 2005, p. 56). The article details five common food
blunders and how one can take steps to avoid them. In this article, eating too much chocolate
equated to committing a mortal, immoral wrongdoing, while following its diet method was
associated with salvation. This Redbook article about "top diet sins," also includes health topics
(although in the last two paragraphs) about multiple health-enhancing nutrients and benefits like
fiber and antioxidants. These topics, however, did not have the same medical-informational tone
found in the doctor-visit frame. Instead, they were paired with danger and evil words like
"blunder" and "sin" (Kuzemchak, February 2005, p. 56).
One article in Allure, outlined a recent study about how married women were more jealous
of other women with a certain female body type with "a small waist-to-hip ratio and a high
ratio of shoulders to hips" (Health: Mood news, December 1, 2005, p. 133). Words were used
included "threatened," "potential rivals" and "intimidating." A Glamour article is titled "The diet
that can save your life," which suggests that your life may be in danger and needs saving
(Laliberte, February 2005, p. 200).
Women's graphics in review
Content photos from the five women's magazines tended to be of pretty, thin models (n=44
or 36%), healthy food (n=25 or 21%) and everyday women (n=22 or 18%). Everyday women
were non-famous, ordinary people with less-than-perfect bodies. Such photos accompanied
stories such as "The top diet sins," which included a photo of a middle-aged woman relaxing on
a couch watching TV and eating a healthy mini-meal (Kuzemchak, February 2005, p. 56). Thin
models, however, were used more often in fitness articles, such as the how-to shape-up stories.
Depictions of healthy food items, coded as a food that would appear on the food pyramid such as
fruits, vegetables, lean meat, outnumbered fast food and junk food (n=6) by six stories or about
In sum: Women's magazines focused on four frames: the fast-and-easy cheer, the quest for
beauty, the doctor's visit and the sinister or scary frame. The content's graphics, on the other
hand, showed thin models, healthy food and everyday women. (Table 4-3).
RQ 2: How Did Female-Oriented Teen Magazines Frame Such Content?
Teen magazines had 56 fitness and diet articles from Cosmo Girl! (n=24), Seventeen
(n=13), Elle Girl (n=7), Teen Vogue (n=7) and Teen People (n=5). The average article length for
all five magazines was 1.85 pages. The main topics centered on how-to information (n=18 or
32%), food recipes (n=7 or 13%) and beauty (n=6 or 11%). Three other main topics followed
closely, including celebrity diets (n=5), sports (n=5) and weight loss (n=5). Ordinary people
were the most often quoted (n=23 or 41%), followed by dietitians and nutritionists (n=22 or
39%) and celebrities (n=10 or 18%). (Table 4-5).
Through an analysis of headlines, subheads, written content and graphics, four media
frames were found in teen diet and fitness articles. They are: 1. The quest for beauty, 2. Celebrity
star-power, 3. The great you and 4. Eating-disorder frame (overeating and under-eating).
The quest for beauty frame
Just as in women's magazines, a dominant theme in teen diet and fitness articles is health
for beauty's sake. The focus on looks was found in 48% (n=27) of all coded teen articles with
beauty being the main topic 11% (n=6) of the time. The headlines also used look-better wording
the most (n=8 or 14%). An Elle Girl example comes from an article about a weight-loss boarding
school. One of the students stated: "'I've been called ugly for so long that I believe it. There's
this one girl who has dropped a lot of weight, and I think she is so pretty, but she doesn't think
so. There's no such thing as a pretty fat girl'" (Brashich, March 2005, p. 106). Although there are
some body image implications in the quote, the focus is on students losing weight to achieve
Many articles perpetuate this lofty goal. Exercise workout plans stress "toning" and
"slimming down." One Seventeen article headline promised to help readers "get leaner with
cardio" with its "waist-trimming workout" (get leaner, August 2005, p. 42). The cover headline
for this article touted that users will "Get a tiny waist." Another Cosmo Girl! workout plan
explains that its routine is perfect for "pre-swimsuit activity" (Goldstein, May 2005, p. 100). And
while a Teen People article was prefaced with "Of course, it's what's inside that counts," it was
directly followed by "But if you ever feel that what size jeans you wear or how big your boobs
are is a huge deal, you're not alone" (How Do You Feel About Your Body? August 1, 2005, p.
The beauty frame doesn't relate only to body size, however. Another Elle Girl article listed
hair growth as a reason why one should stock up on his or her nutrients, and Teen Vogue
recommended going organic (with food) to prevent breakouts.
The celebrity star-power frame
The celebrity star-power frame used phrases and words that referenced fame and the
famous and equated it to weight loss, fitness or dieting. One article references music star Fergie
from the band Black Eyed Peas by stating "Ab fabulous! Want a stomach like Fergie's?" (Cosmo
Girl, February 2005, p. 74). The article then gives ten moves it says will make the reader look
like a rock star.
Celebrity first-person accounts made up 4% (n=2) of all coverage, and celebrity references
were found in another 38% (n=21) of the stories. These young, famous stars were even found in
21% (n=12) of all photos. Many of these star-studded photos had little to do with the actual
content of the story. For instance, two Teen Vogue articles about reading nutrition labels and
staying away from fad diets showed five candid shots each of celebrities shoveling down fast
food. The headlines read: "Not all celebs are afraid of food" and "These celebs can't resist a trip
through the drive-through" (Value Mean, April 2005, p. 179; Salad Daze, May 2005, p. 151).
The celebrities in the photos also tend to be the extremely thin kind such as Mischa Barton,
Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton. A Cosmo Girl! article, in the same issue, shows a series of stars
and supermodels stuffing their faces with food. The headline reads, "Cram session: in
Hollywood these days, it's less Atkins, more napkins!" (Cosmo Girl, February 2005, p. 183).
One caption for a photo of Kelly Osbourne consuming a bag of potato chips reads, "Osbournes
sure have trouble keeping their mouths shut!" and another caption for a photo of supermodel
Gisele sloppily eating a large roast beef sandwich reads, "Even supermodels like it supersized!"
(Cosmo Girl, February 2005, p. 183). Another Cosmo Girl! article reads, "So what if you'll never
be a movie star? You can still eat like one with these healthy recipes!" (Celebrity bites, June/July
2005, p. 82).
Elle Girl also features a list of food requests for rock band Fall Out Boy's bus tour. Items
include Doritos chips, Mountain Dew soda, Wonder Bread and Gushers fruit snacks. The subtitle
reads: "After this, you'll never understand how Fall Out Boy keep their girlish figures" (Fall Out
Food, November 2005, p. 107).
The great you frame: Confidence and body image
The great-you frame focuses on inner beauty and accepting oneself. It has a comforting
tone, letting the reader know she is not alone and that she too can gain confidence. A Cosmo
Girl! article, titled "Hey, Beautiful! That's YOU we're talking to," stated that "And we know
you like hearing it, because who doesn't? The problem is, we've all become obsessed with
looking good ... all of your CG! sisters are marching alongside ... You feel confident, you feel
strong" (Hey, Beautiful! April 2005, p. 105).
Confidence and body image references were found most often in the written content (n=21
or 38%) and were often part of a personal account of being overweight. The subjects dealt with
feeling poorly about oneself, gaining confidence or learning how to accept and love one's inner
self. Seventeen, for instance, published a first-person story of a girl who lost 116 pounds.
Throughout the article, the girl recounted being teased and how she felt like she "was too fat to
ever make friends" (real life, April 2005, p. 123). At the end of the article, she stated:
"Maintaining my weight is still a struggle-after school I'm tired and don't want to exercise. But
then I remember that being healthy-and feeling happy about who I am-makes it all worth it"
(Real Life, April 2005, p. 124).
Another article in Teen Vogue gave celebrity Kelly Osbourne's first-person perspective on
being "fat" in Hollywood. She stated: "I was definitely different. And in Hollywood-much like
in the average American high school-being different is not a good thing," and "when you feel
ugly and everyone's telling you that you are ugly, well, you tend to believe it" (L.A. Story,
June/July 2005, p. 141). At the end, she responds to such teasing with the inner strength and
confidence she's earned. She stated, "But I've learned to get on with my life" (L.A. Story,
June/July 2005, p. 142).
A Cosmo Girl! back-to-school workout plan focused on exercise for the sake of being cool,
calm and feeling confident for the new school year. It stated that exercise "makes you feel good
by increasing your energy level, reducing tension, and even making you happier in general ...
improve your mood" (Cosmo Girl, September 2005, p. 112).
Teen People also contained the confidence frame. One article quoted a reader as saying,
"My friends are tiny compared to me, and listening to them complain about having to lose
weight makes me feel even fatter" (Insecurity, October 1, 2005, p. 64). Another article described
the struggles of a high-school student who weighed 280 pounds. It stated, "I was extremely self-
conscious. I wouldn't talk in class because my classmates could be mean. One time these guys
compared me to an elephant and started chanting, 'Obese! Obese!' That killed me" (Herr, Roan,
April 2005, p. 61). After losing 105 pounds, she exclaims, "I have so much more confidence
Closely linked to the body-image topic, eating disorders-used in this case to mean
extreme, uncontrollable overeating and severe under-eating like starving oneself or purging-
was referenced 15 times or in about 27% of the stories. This topic was often accompanied with a
struggle tone. All five magazines use words like "binge" and "disorder" frequently. One article
found in Elle Girl, for example, quoted a girl who attended a boarding school for obese teens.
She stated: "'I would tell myself, I don't have a problem I'm not one of those girls you see on
TV who has an eating disorder. Maybe I like food, that's all.' But Jessica says that at AOS (the
school), she's realized that liking food too much can be an eating disorder" (Brashich, March
2005, p. 104).
An article in Teen Vogue looked at obese teens who attended weight-loss camps. Many of
their sources confessed to trying everything beforehand to lose weight, including "just not eating
at all." A CosmoGirl! article about getting fit said, "More people these days are suffering from
eating disorders and obesity than ever before. It's time we put a stop to this epidemic!" (Hey,
Beautiful, April 2005, p. 105).
Graphics for teen magazines
Photos from the five magazines tended to be of junk or fast food (n=16 or 29%), pretty,
thin models (n=12 or 21%) and celebrities (n=12 or 21%). Often the junk food was shown
alongside a calorie-counting story and was described as food to avoid. Healthy food was 18%
less likely than junk food to be shown in such stories (n=9).
In sum: Teen magazines focused on four frames: beauty, celebrities, body image and
eating disorders. The graphics, on the other hand, displayed fattening foods, thin models and
RQ3: What Types of Advertisements Were Placed Adjacent to Such Content in Both the
Teen and Women's Magazines?
Three hundred seventy-one advertisements appeared directly before, after or in the middle
of the fitness and diet coverage for all 10 magazines. Two hundred ninety-five ads were found in
the five women's magazines: Cosmopolitan (n=16), Redbook (n=106), Self(n=90), Glamour
(n=37) and Allure (n=46). The other 76 advertisements were found in the teen magazines: Elle
Girl (n=5), Teen Vogue (n=5), Seventeen (n=18), Cosmo Girl! (n=39) and Teen People (n=9).
The majority of ads for all magazines in both genres were one-page long 59% (n=45) of the
teen ads and 77% (n=227) of the women's ads were on a single page. The average women's
magazine ad had a slightly higher ad page count than its teen counterparts with more two-page
and foldout advertisements (n=24) of women's magazine ads with more than one page compared
to n=4 for teen magazines). In teen magazines, 13% (n=10) of advertisements were half a page
or less, while in women's magazine ads 15% (n=44) were half a page or less.
A fairly even mixture of placements-before and after diet and fitness coverage-was
found in both teen and women's magazines. About 34% (n=26) of the teen advertisements were
placed before the content and 25% (n=19) were placed after it. Only about 11% (n=8) of the ads
were placed in the middle, but this simply could be because much of the diet and fitness
coverage in teen magazines consisted of either a single page or a two-page spread (two
consecutive pages facing each other). Again, the average length of diet and fitness coverage in
teen magazines was 1.85 pages. Women's magazines also had a fairly even mixture: before
(n=84), middle (n= 12) and after (n=84). The rest of the ads were between two fitness stories.
Teen and women's advertisements differed slightly in the products they sold. Women's
magazines contained far more food and drink ads (52% or n=152) than teen magazines (5.3% or
n=4). The top five products sold next to diet and fitness coverage in teen magazines were (1)
beauty products (26% or n=20), (2) Fashion, such as clothes and shoes (16% or n=12), (3)
entertainment, such as television shows, movies CDs and DVDs (11% or n=8), (4) electronics
and technology (6.6% or n=5) and (5) pads and tampons (5.3% or n=4) and drinks two milk
ads, a soda ad and a sugary fruit juice ad (5.3% or n=4). The top five products for women's
magazines were (1) food advertised as low-fat, healthy, light or organic (26% or n=76), (2) food
not advertised as healthy (19% or n=56), (3) beauty products (14% or n=40), (4) medicine (6.8%
or n=20) and (5) drinks advertised as healthy (6.8% or n=20).
Photos also differed somewhat between the two genres. Both teen and women's magazine
ads tended to feature people, but central photographs of the products were found more
prominently in women's magazines. The top advertisement photographs used in teen magazines
were of (1) celebrities (24% or n=18), (2) pretty, skinny fashion models (14% or n=l 1), (3)
romantic embraces or implications between a girl and guy (9.2% or n=7), (4) skinny cartoon
people (7.9% or n=6) and (5) everyday-looking peers (5.2% or n=4). The top five photo types for
women's magazines were (1) food (46% or n=136), (2) fashion models (27% or n=80), and
parenting or children (5.4% or n=16). Sexy men, normal-looking women and cleaning supplies
were also frequently found (each n=12).
Findings for Advertisements
The top ad frames for teen magazines were (1) the sexy temptress, (2) being beautiful, (3)
the fun life, and (4) romance.
The most common frame in teen advertisements was that of the sexy temptress. Such ads
were found next to 13% (n=10) of all diet and fitness coverage in teen magazines. They usually
included sexy wording, suggestive body poses and close-ups of fit body parts. One example in
CosmoGirl! pictured pop star Jessica Simpson with a large lollipop. The ad was for her line of
beauty products. Its heading read, "Be luscious all over!" and later "Get head-to-toe yummy ...
in tantalizing fragrances irresistibly kissable all over" (CosmoGirl, Oct. 2005, p. 61). Another
Seventeen ad, for Skechers Footwear, featured two photos of pop princess Christina Aguilera.
One photo was of her as a scantly-clad cop dangling hand cuffs, and the other was of Aguilera
bent over a car, presumably getting arrested by her alter ego, with her rear end jutting out
(Seventeen, July 2005, p. 87). The non-celebrity variety of sexy temptress was also found. An ad
in Teen Vogue for perfume displayed a smoky-eyed fashion model giving a come-hither look.
The words read, "the luscious new feeling in fragrance pleasures exotic" (Teen Vogue,
October 2005, p. 51). Another ad from Teen Vogue, selling jeans, featured two young models
with their rear ends facing the camera. One girl has her hand deep inside her jean pocket. The
text reads, "Juicy girls shine on" (Teen Vogue, June/July 2005, p. 74). Lastly, a Teen People ad
selling shoes focuses on a pair of long, female legs dangling from a man's lap. His hand is placed
high on her thigh. The brand name is the only text that appears, "red hot" (Teen People, October
2005, p. 33).
The second most common frame in teen advertisements was beauty. This was found in
12% (n=9) of the ads. The beauty frame consisted of wording and phrases that exuded the "you
too can be beautiful" tone-as long as you use the product, of course. These ads were often
paired with beautiful, Cover Girl-type models. Examples included beauty products like facial
cleansers, makeup and fashion. One St. Ives facial cleanser ad in Teen People shows a close-up
of a beautiful face. It reads, "You scrub. You exfoliate. You fight blemishes. You glow" (Teen
People, June/July 2005, p. 37). The words "you glow" are accented with a different color font.
A fun frame tied as the second most frequent frame, and was also in 12% (n=9) of the
stories. Content and photos portrayed a full life and adventure. One Sea Breeze facial cleanser ad
stated, "Keep it clearer hours longer. For days that never stop" (Cosmo Girl, May 2005, p. 53).
Another, found in Teen Vogue, was for sunless tanner. Two girls in party dresses are laughing
and taking photos of each other. The text reads, "celebrate" (Teen Vogue, June/July 2005, p. 41).
The fourth frame from the teen ads was romance, which consisted of a boy and girl
model-always thin, fit and attractive-usually touching (an embrace, cuddling, holding hands)
or exchanging a suggestive glance. Although these models also sometimes portrayed with a
somewhat sexy look, they usually were more wholesome and dealt more with love and
relationships. The ads using the sexy temptress frame mainly pictured only girl models.
The romance frame was found in 11% (n=8) of the ads next to diet and fitness coverage.
One example, found in multiple magazines, is for Sea Breeze facial cleanser. The photo shows a
teen girl and boy in close proximity on a sailboat. One presumes they are looking out toward the
ocean, and both have large smiles (Cosmo Girl, May 2005, p. 53). Another ad, again for
Skechers Footwear, is of American Idol pop star Carrie Underwood. She is surrounded by
handsome, male shoe salesmen all offering her pairs of shoes. She gives a shocked, blushed
expression with her hand just inches from her mouth (Seventeen, Oct. 2005, p. 83). Lastly, a
Snapple ad states prominently, "It's spring ... and luv is in the air!" Two Snapple juice bottles
are placed next to each other with a heart in the background. The content touts, "everyone wants
a lotta luv!" (Elle Girl, March 2005, p. 165).
The top ad frames for women's magazines were (1) taste, (2) feeling good/having a good
life, (3) beauty and (4) sex and/or romance.
Taste was the most frequent frame it was found in 33% (n=96) of women's ads. This
frame featured words like "scrumptious," "delicious" and "flavorful," and focused on how the
product, usually a reduced-fat or healthier food, tasted. One ad for Tostitos in Redbook showed a
female hand scooping salsa into a chip. The ad stated, "All the taste with 0 grams of trans fat.
Your family won't know the difference, but you will ... still taste great" (Redbook, February
2005, p. 166). Likewise, an Extra gum ad touts that its product is "mouthwateringly cool ...
flavor and beyond," and a Nicorette ad promises that it is "the best tasting nicotine gum"
(Redbook, November 2005, p. 181; Glamour, November 2005, p. 96).
The good-life frame was found in 28% (n=84) of the ads one page before, after and in the
middle of diet and fitness coverage. Such ads portrayed a carefree, happy lifestyle. Terms such as
"smile," "fun" and "adventure" were often used. One example comes from a series of Ritz
cracker ads featured throughout the year in Redbook. One shows three regular Ritz crackers with
Kraft cheese spray spelling the word "fun" (Redbook, November 2005, p. 183). The text reads,
"create smiles ... let your imagination run wild." Another ad shows Ritz sticks dipped in a salsa-
like sauce with text reading, "the world of dipping is now a happier place," and another Ritz ad
reads "real food. real fun" (Redbook, June 2005, p. 201; Redbook, February 2005, p. 97). A
Kashi cereal ad in Se/f also has a adventurous, happy tone. Its text reads, "feel good again. It's
one big, crunchy, honey-toasted, wonderful cycle. See how far it takes you" (Self, April 2005, p.
115). The ad also reads, "I can make this fun" and uses words like "passion."
The beauty frame is similar to the beauty frame found in teen magazine ads. This frame
was found in 30% (n=88) of the coded ads. It focuses on getting approval for your outer looks,
such as in a perfume ad with the word "reaction" printed across a beautiful fashion model's
chest. The smaller text reads, "get reaction" (Cosmo, May 2005, p.121). Another ad, for Reebok
shoes, shows a beautiful, thin woman stretching before a run. The text reads, "I am running for
my skinny jeans" (Self, April 2005, p. 127). Beauty products especially convey this frame. One
Jane cosmetics ad, which pictures a beautiful fashion model, reads, "Not a plain jane."
A fourth frame is that of sex/romance. These ads usually focus on a male and female in
provocative, suggestive poses and use terms such as "provocative" and "alluring." Such frames
were found in 20% (n=60) of women's ads. For example, a Yasmin birth control ad shows a
beautiful woman on top of a man in bed (Self, August 2005, p. 68-69). And a perfume ad shows
actress Catherine Zeta-Jones in a sexy black dress. The text reads, "men will melt" (Glamour,
October 2005, p. 131).
Table 4-1. List of articles and advertisements found in diet and fitness editorial content for teen
Magazine title Number of articles Number of advertisements
CosmoGirl! 24 39
Elle Girl 07 05
Seventeen 13 18
Teen People 05 09
Teen Vogue 07 05
Total 56 76
Table 4-2. List of articles and advertisements found in diet and fitness editorial content for
Magazine title Number of articles
Number of advertisements
Table 4-3. List of top four editorial frames, photographs and advertisement products in diet and
fitness coverage for teen and women's magazines
Magazine Editorial frames Editorial photographs Advertisement products
Teen A quest for beauty Junk/fast food Beauty products
Celebrity star-power Pretty/thin fashion models Fashion: clothes, shoes, accessories
Great you: celebrities Entertainment: Music, movies, TV
image Female hygiene products
Women's Fast-and-easy cheer Pretty/thin fashion models Food advertised as healthy
A quest for beauty Healthy food Food NOT advertised as healthy
Doctor's visit, long- Everyday looking women Beauty products
term health Medicine
Sinister/scary Drinks advertised as health
Table 4-4. List of characteristics found in diet and fitness coverage for women's magazines.
percentage of articles
Health and Nutrition,
Food or eating-right,
Fitness and body, 11
Sources, percentage of
articles where sources are
Fitness experts, 25
Academic journals or
research studies, 18
Product or business owners,
Authors of story,
number of articles
Staff or freelance
number of articles
Health news, 20
Long-term health, 6
Combating stress, 4
Table 4-5. List of characteristics found in diet and fitness coverage in teen magazines.
Sources, percentage of Main topics,
Magazine section, rces, erce e o Authors of story, Mperentage o
percentage of articles articles where sources are number of articles p
Health and nutrition, Peers and non-famous Staff or freelance How-to information,
45 ordinary people, 41 journalists, 34 32
Peer or real life, 20 Dietitians, 39 Ordinary person Food recipes, 13
Fitness and body, 11 Celebrities, 18 Celebrity (first- Beauty, 11
Beauty, 3.3 Product and business owners, Celebrity diets, n=5
Other, Beauty experts, 3.5 Sports, n=5
No department, Weight loss, n=5
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
Framing Differences in Teen and Women's Magazines
Chapter 5 discusses the implications of the findings, points out some weaknesses of the
study and suggests future research on magazine diet and fitness coverage.
This study revealed some differences and some similarities in the major frames and topics
in the two genres for diet and fitness coverage. The differences: The women's magazines
focused on primarily fast-and-easy techniques, beauty, long-term health and sinister scare tactics.
The teen magazines, on the other hand, centered more on beauty, celebrities, confidence and
body image, and eating disorders. Therefore, the teen magazines dealt with outer appearances
(fame, beauty) and inner struggles (confidence, eating disorders), whereas the women's versions
contained more of a focus on motivation (speed/ease, scare tactics) and long-term health
benefits. (Tables 5-1 and 5-2).
The sources used are also an interesting point of difference. Women's magazines quoted
more professional sources, with the top one being dietitians and nutritionists (32% or n=39).
Teen magazines, on the other hand, used more ordinary people or peers (41% or n=23). Photo
types also varied. Women's magazines had a higher percentage of healthy food (20% or n=25)
than teen magazines, which tended to carry more junk or fast food photos (29% or n=16).
However, there are also some similarities between the two genres. All of the frames, for
instance, are self-centered. They serve the interest of the reader and do not call for the reader to
help others or society. For instance, the celebrity frame evokes this by showing readers how to be
more like the stars, and the doctor's visit frame informs the reader of how to better her health for
a long, fulfilling life. Few stories were found discussing the obesity epidemic or societal factors,
and only two stories mentioned helping other members of one's family. This contradicts with
what the government research was saying about the trends of dieting and fitness in the United
States. These studies pointed to an epidemic and showed a massive, societal increase in obese
children, teens and adults and a decrease in physical activity (Dietary Guidelines, 2005;
NHANES, 2004; Prevalence, 2004). Such studies, it would seem, would spur stories on national
trends and the implications for long-term health in the country not self-centered stories framed
around beauty, celebrities and ease.
Staying fit and healthy for beauty's sake, in fact, is the only constant theme between the
two genres. Beauty and pretty, thin models were the only significant common factor in all
editorial frames, advertisements and article photos for both teen and women's magazines.
(Tables 5-4 and 5-5). For the women's magazines, the beauty frame was found about equally in
advertisements and editorial content. For teen magazines, editorial content had a higher
percentage of units with a beauty tone than did ads, but beauty was a top frame for both.
However, it is worth a note, that staying fit for beauty is not necessarily bad, since the reader is
motivated, despite reasoning, to stay fit. Undoubtedly, staying fit to look good has the same
health benefits as staying fit for health reasons.
One exception to the all-beauty dominance could be the inner-struggle theme in the teen
magazines, which could be seen as a long-term effort to improve one's health. This would make
it more like the women's magazine doctor's visit frame. However, the women's magazines
focused on physical health benefits of diet and exercise (reduced risk of diabetes and heart
disease, for instance). Body image and eating disorders deal more with mental health and how
one feels about oneself.
What the Diet and Fitness Frames Tells us About Eating Disorders
Eight million women and teens are affected with eating disorders, such as anorexia
nervosa, bulimia nervosa and compulsive overeating (Wilson & Blackhurst, 1999). Pairing this
with the fact that dieting is the single most important predictor of such eating disorders, one
would expect that editors and journalists working on magazine dieting and fitness content would
be extra cautious not to promote or even insinuate routines or fad diets that could lead to body
frustrations (Boschi et al., 2003). However, the framing data proves that this is not the case. First
off, diet and fitness coverage in women's magazines was framed as fast and easy. This tells the
reader that an ideal body is obtainable in a short period of time with little effort. Such promises
have little merit, and many of the dieting and fitness regimes in the women's magazines required
strict rules that are hard to maintain. This is not easy. Moreover, safe, permanent weight loss
often spans over a long period of time. Contradictory to what the magazines are saying, it is not a
fast process. Overall, the fast-and-easy frame found in the text falls short of its promises and
this-according to the literature review-could cause the reader body frustration. Although
weight frustration doesn't necessarily equate to an eating disorder, the fast-and-easy frame does
create a diet yo-yo effect described in the literature review. Readers strictly follow the proscribed
diet, but the restrictions are too hard to follow for a long period of time, so they give up. Clearly,
the editorial content is hardly concerned with disordered eating in women.
Secondly, to make sure that the reader does not blame the diet and fitness routines-and
the magazine itself-the sinister or scary frame is in place. The reader is basically made to feel
guilty for her failure to achieve the ideal body. In essence, this frame creates the feeling of being
a bad person for abandoning the proscribed diet and fitness plan-even though realistically this
plan is much too strict. Like the fast-and-easy frame, the sinister or scary frame could lead to
body frustration and even anger with oneself. Again, the escalating statistics on eating disorders
seem not to be a concern when writing diet and fitness coverage in women's magazines.
Another point of note is the number of articles actually addressing adult women eating
disorders. Although teen magazines tackled the issue quite frequently, eating disorder stories
only appeared about twice in the women's magazines. This is despite a study in 2005 that
showed an increase in adult treatment for anorexia in women older than 40 and a study that
ranked weight gain as a major fear in adult women as they grow older (Adult Anorexia, June
2005; Wilson & Blackhurst, 1999). It concludes, then, that if women's magazines are not willing
to cover eating disorders at the broader level (stories about adult eating disorders), it is hard to
fathom that they'd improve how they frame the text at a more detailed or micro level.
Teen magazines tended to be slightly more socially conscious when it came to eating
disorder coverage. Numerous diet and fitness articles brought the issue to the forefront and no
advertisements were placed around such stories. Also, as discussed in the literature review, none
of the magazines had any actual dieting content. Instead, they opted for nutrition and fitness. The
goal of eliminating dieting coverage in these magazines, as discussed previously, was due to
research that linked thin models, dieting content and increased eating disorders. However, the
magazines only cut dieting content without looking at the broader picture. This study found that
thin models still made up a considerable portion of the graphics, and nutrition and fitness articles
still insinuated the ideal image with a focus on beauty.
The beauty frame veers from being socially conscious of girls and eating disorders, since it
creates a fixation with appearance and not health. It tells the reader that she should look a certain
way by proscribing to a particular fitness workout for the sake of being beautiful. The beauty
frame encompassed every aspect of the nutrition and fitness coverage-in the text, in the
graphics and in the advertisements-making it an almost obsessive message. With about 75% of
adolescent girls saying they feel fat, the magazines do little to curb the infiltration of the ideal
image in the diet and fitness coverage (Bishop, 2001). The magazines may not be saying to lose
weight with dieting, but they are implying it with thin models, a focus on beauty and a disregard
of long-term health.
Implications from the Research Questions
RQ1: The Framing of Diet and Fitness in Women's Magazines
The high frequency of diet and fitness coverage in women's magazines is evident with the
amount of articles (n=123). Of those articles, the most common frames were the fast-and-easy
cheer, the quest for beauty, the doctor visit and the sinister or scary frame. Three aspects can be
concluded from the results. First, as discussed in relation to eating disorders, diet and fitness
coverage in women's magazines is telling the readers that a thin, ideal body is obtainable through
fast-and-easy means. However, if the reader finds the process hard or slow-which will almost
always be the case because the articles promote strict, hard-to-maintain methods-the reader
must be lazy. This feeling of guilt stems from the sinister or scary frame, which implies negative
stereotypes and evil to being unfit. Therefore, as found in previous literature, the reader is caught
in a bind where, on the one hand, she is receiving cheerleader-like motivation to lose weight but,
on the other hand, she is scolded and made to feel immoral for failing to maintain the strict
Secondly, another frame tells the readers that the ultimate goal is beauty. The text implies
that the ideal body should be sought after to essentially look like the models, and once achieved,
the reader will no longer be immoral (as being told through the sinister or scary frame). Good is
then equated with beauty.
Third, the doctor's visit frame is a redeeming aspect of diet and fitness coverage in
women's magazines. The frame has a tone that is purely informative, describing jargon and
listing medical rationale as a reason to follow a proscribed diet or fitness method. It is similar to
how a doctor would speak to his or her patient. However, beauty and the fast-and-easy cheer
frames were more frequent than this long-term health focus. Although valuable information is
getting to the reader in an informative tone, this information could be offset by the influx of the
ideal-body message. If one's main concern is with how one looks, health would only be a
secondary concern-if a priority at all.
So what does all this mean? The literature review found the proliferation of the ideal,
impossible-to-mimic body in graphics, advertisements and in the general content of stories. This
study narrows the focus to diet and fitness text-where the ideal, impossible-to-mimic body was
also found. The text alluded to such an image through its most common frames: beauty, fast-and-
easy and sinister or scary. This is possibly one reason why dieting content-according to the
literature review-causes eating disorders. The ideal image is ingrained into the reader from
every aspect of the magazine, even the actual framing of the diet and fitness text. Paired with the
fact that the text provides false information (in regard to being fast and easy) and hard-to-
maintain routines, it is easy to see that body frustration and possibly eating disorders would
RQ2: The Framing of Diet and Fitness in Teen Magazines.
The results of the diet and fitness coverage in teen magazines also have an element of the ideal,
impossible-to-mimic body. Similar results to the women's magazine were found with a beauty
frame. Again, the ultimate goal is appearance and not health. In fact, teen magazines had far
fewer long-term health references, which may expand the power of the beauty rationale.
This focus on superficial looks can be broadened to the next most common frame: celebrity star-
power. A great deal of focus was put on success through fame-achievable only by a certain
look. From a marketing standpoint, celebrities probably sell more magazines. The focus here,
however, is not on placing Jessica Simpson on the front cover, but on referencing fame and the
famous and equating them to weight loss, fitness or dieting. Articles stating "Want a stomach
like Fergie's (rock singer)?" are following the exact pattern found in the women's magazines:
promising results that are probably unrealistic. These two frames could lead to body frustrations
just like the women's magazines. Although teen magazines put up a better appearance of being
more socially conscious in regard to body image (more stories addressing eating disorders, less
ads around nutrition and fitness content, no dieting content, etc.), they still have to fix the way
they frame the articles. If not, the teen magazines will continue to portray the ideal image and
risk the possibility of readers becoming frustrated with their bodies and developing eating
On a side note, the-great-you frame focusing on confidence and body image is a redeeming
quality in the teen magazines, but like the doctor's visit frame in women's magazines, it may be
overshadowed by the larger, overall ideal-body message.
RQ3: Advertisements Adjacent to Diet and Fitness Articles
The advertising aspect was placed in the study to see if there was a conflicting message being
sent between fitness, diet text and the adjacent ads. For both teen and women's magazines, the
ideal image was reiterated. Beauty and being sexy for men (often through thinness) were framed
in both magazine genres.
For women's magazines, food was a major theme. The top ad frame was taste and the top
product being sold was food and drinks (52% of all women's ads coded). The implications-
when paired with the text that insinuates the reader should have an ideal body-is that the
readers will be tempted and persuaded by the food advertisements. This could cause overeating,
which furthers body frustration. The following two sections provide further implications of the
advertisements and how they relate to the text. However, some of these food advertisements
were for healthy food options, low-calorie orange juice, power bars and whole-grain cereals. It is
just as likely that food advertisements of this sort could actually lead to a healthier lifestyle
through the promotion of healthier foods.
The Big Picture: Women's Magazines
By looking at all three components-editorial content, advertisements, graphics-three
things can be concluded about women's magazine coverage of dieting and fitness. First, the ideal
is beauty and excessive thinness. Stereotypical thin models were the most frequent graphic in the
articles, and a beauty frame was found in both the editorial content and the content of the
advertisements. Second, the look seen in the photos is perceived to be obtainable through fast-
and-easy means (editorial content) and healthy food products (graphics and advertisements).
Third, having an undesirable weight or look leads to bad things (the editorial content's
sinister/scary frame). Therefore, what this study concludes about women's coverage of diet and
fitness coverage is consistent with what the literature review showed. The magazines portray an
unrealistic image that is supposedly fast-and-easy to obtain, but then magazine advertisers tempt
readers with fatty foods (the magazines' second most advertised product). The reader is exposed
to an ideal image, promised that such a body can be attained and subjected to an influx of food
The Big Picture: Teen Magazines
The overall focus of diet and fitness coverage in teen magazines does not seem to be too
far from its adult counterpart. The overall message is of making oneself look better through
superficial means. The top two products sold through the ads are beauty products and fashion,
while beauty and celebrities frames are also frequent in the editorial content. (However, one
might argue, that these are the things teens are interested in and not things that are pushed on
teens through magazines). As for the main graphics, they include pretty, excessively thin models
and celebrities. What does all this say? Looking like the models or celebrities is an obvious goal
for the reader. This creates the impossible-to-mimic ideal image discussed in the literature
However, unlike women's magazines, food advertisements play almost no role. A few
sugary drink ads and a couple of gum ads were about all of the food products that were found
next to diet and fitness coverage. One interesting aspect, though, was the amount of food
pictured in the editorial graphics. The number one graphic in teen diet and fitness coverage was
junk and fast food. This was an especially intriguing point in editorial photos showing celebrities
and fashion models-who had the ideal image-stuffing their mouths with fatty foods. This
creates the same lose-weight-to-look-good but eat-fatty-foods dilemma found in women's
The main theory used in this study was framing, which is defined as "a number of thematically
related attributes related to a topic or news event that affects the pictures in our heads relating to
that topic or event" (Zoch, 2001, p. 196). In other words, how we perceive an issue or event is
shaped by the wording, phrasing, metaphors, exemplars, etc. that the readers are exposed to
through the context.
Although people learn about diet and fitness from a broad array of sources, magazines are
the top source for dietary supplement and nutrition information (Kava et. al, 2002). So in the
case of this study, how we picture diet and fitness in our heads is greatly shaped by how the
content is written in the women's and teen magazines. Therefore, teen and women's magazine
readers perceive diet and fitness to be (1) all about beauty and obtaining the ideal image, (2)
critical of people who do not match the ideal look, and (3) somewhat concerned with long-term
health or inner strength/confidence.
Since this follows much of the previous research recorded in the literature review (which
were done through other methodologies and used other theories), it is safe to say that this study
upholds framing theory.
Social comparison theory was used for the graphical components of the study. This theory
dictates that individuals compare themselves to the images they see (either as similar or
dissimilar to themselves) in the media. Usually with magazine images-which often consist of
thin, ideal model bodies-this means an upward comparison of physical appearances leaving the
individual doing the comparing feeling inferior. For instance, in this study, teen magazines
frequently used photographs of beautiful, thin celebrities. Because teens often use fashion
magazines for "the purposes of self-evaluation and self-improvement," photographs of
celebrities act as an important comparison group (Thomsen, Weber & Brown, 2002, p.15). This
could lead the individual to feel that their bodies are not adequate because they do not match the
bodies of the celebrities. Ultimately, upward social comparison could lead to body dissatisfaction
and even pathological weight control practices.
Overall, women's and teen magazines promote an upward comparison, frequently using
photographs of thin models and celebrities. When pairing these aspects of the social comparison
theory to the framing theory results (text promoting an ideal body), the result is scary. The text
paints a picture of a need for beauty, while the photographs let readers compare themselves to
the ideal. Certainly magazines cannot be concerned about their readers developing eating
Overall, the frames were different: teen magazines offered more inner and outer struggles
and women's magazines revealed more of the go-and-do-it focus. The advertisements revealed a
message of self indulgence and looks-sexuality, fun, romance and beauty in teen ads, and taste,
feeling good, sex and beauty in women's ads. The overall message for the two genres, however,
was very much the same: You can obtain this ideal image, but you should indulge in food, too.
This could lead to body frustrations and does little to remedy the problem of eating disorders.
Lastly, very few of the stories, graphics and advertisements addressed the obesity epidemic or
lack of physical activity.
Additional Research and Suggestions for Magazine Editors
One problem with the study's methodology was using women's magazines that were not
more alike. Cosmopolitan, for instance, seemed to target a younger, college-aged market than
Redbook, and Self had a more fitness feel to it than the fashion-centered Glamour. This caused
some disparity in the frames. Some titles contained more of one frame, while others had more of
another. A better procedure-for women's magazines-would have been not just to look at
circulation but also the target age of the audience. It would be more interesting, perhaps, to look
at magazines with readers about the age of a teenage-girl's mother.
This topic would also be a great starting point for a meta-analysis project, where data from
several previous studies would be compiled to reach new conclusions. The information on
editorial content, advertisements and graphics used in magazines is so expansive that it is
difficult to research it all. However, by taking bits and parts of previous research, one may be
able to get the complete picture of diet and fitness coverage in magazines that this study
attempted to find. It may also be beneficial to look at men's magazines and see how they frame
diet and fitness.
Recommendations for magazine editors include: 1. Educate magazine reporters on the
framing theory and on the diet and fitness frames found in this study, 2. Educate the writers
about the impacts of dieting content and eating disorders, 3. Reduce the number of photographs
of excessively thin models in the editorial content sections, and 4. Generate new topics and
angles for covering diet and fitness that focus less on empty promises and more on practical
Table 5-1. List of top frames for diet and fitness editorial coverage in teen magazines.
Frequency a similar frame
Frequency of articles frame was
Frame o was found in women's
found () magazines (%)
The quest for beauty 48 30
Celebrity star power 38 22
The great you 38 05
Eating disorders 27 02
Table 5-2. List of top frames for diet and fitness editorial coverage in women's magazines.
Frequency a similar frame
Frequency of articles frame was un a simil f
Styles was found in teen
found( o) _magazines (%)
Fast-and-easy cheer 77 11
Quest for beauty 30 48
Doctor's Visit 17 20
Sinister/Scary 13 16
Table 5-3. List of top advertisement frames for teen magazines.
Frequency a similar frame
Frequency of ads frame was found Frequency a similar frame
Dominate ad frame N% was found in teen editorial
(0) content (%)
Sexy temptress 13 0
Beauty 12 48
Fun 12 3.8
Romance 11 14
Table 5-4. List of top frames advertisement frames for women's magazines.
Frequency a similar frame
Frequency of ads frame was found Frequency a similar frame
Ad frame (N) was found in editorial
women's content (%)
Taste 33 0.8
Beauty 30 30
Feeling good/good life 28 6.5
Sex/romance 20 3.3
COPY OF CODE SHEET AND DIRECTIONS USED FOR STUDY
ITEM ID #
1. Magazine name:
2. Date /
3. Page numbers)
4. Section (if applicable)
5. Mentioned on the cover?
5a. Is it the largest headline on the cover?
6. Approximate length of article (in inches)
7. Story type (circle one)
Letter from reader
8. Types of graphics (circle all that apply and give brief description)
10. Sub-head (if any)
11. Lead (main points)
12. Main topic
13. Secondary topic
15. Products advertised next to article
16. Describe graphics of ad
17. Describe message of the ad's text
18. Framing analysis coding on photocopied article
Coding guidelines. The following is a list of guidelines used when coding each magazine
article. The idea was to make sure all articles were coded using the same rules.
Identifier: Magazine ID number number to represent one magazine number to represent
article in magazine. Example: 1-01-01
1. Magazine name: Elle Girl, Teen People, CosmoGirl!, Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Redbook,
Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Allure, Self
2. Date of publication
3. Page numberss: pages where article is found
4. Section (if applicable): department name
5. Mentioned on the cover: Is the article listed on the cover
a. Is it the largest headline on the cover: Is it noticeably the dominate headline with
the largest text/font.
6. Approximate length of article (in pages): Count the pages of the article including pages
with graphics. For pages with a portion of ads and a portion of text, estimate the portion
of text (one-third, one-half).
7. Story type: circle the type of story. Feature articles are non-department stories that are
one page or longer. Briefs are less than one page and are often in a magazine department.
8. Graphics: circle all that apply and briefly describe.
9. Headline: Write the main headline
10. Subhead: Write any sub-headline if applicable
11. Lead: write the main points of the first few graphs (or the opening of the story).
12. Main topic: This is the primary focus of the article. Whichever topic has the most
paragraphs devoted to it, is probably the main topic.
13. Secondary topics: List any other topics that the article covers, but that aren't the main
14. Sources: list any people that are quoted or paraphrased in the story. List the person with
his or her title only once (even if they are used throughout the story).
15. Products advertised next to articles: list the products in the advertisements one page
before, one page after and all the ads in between an article.
16. Ad graphics: list each graphic found in an ad and briefly describe.
17. Ad text: describe briefly what the ad is saying. List any frames.
18. Framing analysis coding on photocopied article: Read the article in its entirety and then
go back and reread the article. During this second reading, code for the frame. The
framing techniques should include the following:
a. Mark words and phrases that are repeated or that have common themes. "Costs,"
"increased taxes" and feasiblyy unsound" could be seen as words with a common
theme. Make sure to cover all text, including the headline, subhead and any
b. How are the sources used? Are they presented in a credible manner? Do some
sources that present one side of the argument tend to be seen as deviant (or
outside the norm)? Are any sources left out?
c. What is the overall tone of the story? Does it report on a grand mission or does it
focus more on the financial issues? Visual images, metaphors and symbols all
may contribute to this.
d. Are there any significant points left out? Are any downplayed?
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Sarah Wood graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science in journalism at the
University of Florida in May 2005. She graduated with a Master of Arts in Mass
Communications also at UF and in December 2006. Her work in journalism comprises of several
internships including ones with Time Inc., The Gainesville Sun, Ocala Star-Banner, The Daily
Commercial and INsite magazine. She has also held leadership roles-president and vice
president-with the university chapter of Society of Professional Journalists. She hopes to use
these experiences to become a news reporter.