Why the response to a controversial Women’s Health article has me feeling optimistic


As longtime readers of this blog might already know, I’m definitely a “glass half full” kind of person.  I can throw down criticism like any feminist-minded lady but I also believe strongly that an important part of working to change society is being able to recognize progress when it happens. If you spend all your time pointing out everything that’s wrong without ever taking a few minutes to look at what’s right, it’s easy to become jaded and cynical and to fall into the trap of believing that nothing ever changes and so why even bother trying.

Something came across my radar yesterday that exemplifies what I’m talking about.   If you spent any time yesterday in the various women’s fitness circles of the internet, you probably heard about a pretty controversial article posted on the Women’s Health website.  I found out about it from Reddit’s /r/xxfitness group, where a Redditor posted a link to an article entitled “Q&A: Are There Any Exercise Machines I Should Absolutely Avoid?” I assumed it would be about the Smith machine or something, but no, WH had consulted a fitness expert who said women should not do wide-grip lat pulldowns or flat bench presses.

From the article (archived in Google Cache, because the internet never forgets!):

Doing the exercise with a wide grip widens your back (no surprise there, right?). “It tends to exaggerate the muscles just above your bra strap—an area many women are trying to minimize,” says Perkins. “It builds the muscle outward. So the fat we already have there is pushed outward.”

So you’ve finally worked up the nerve to hit the bench—a notoriously dude-dominated part of the gym. Good for you! Just don’t follow their lead when it comes to the exercise you do. “The flat bench press builds the chest in a wide, forward direction,” says Perkins. The effect: Any little bit of armpit fat you have gets pushed out.

Truth be told, I didn’t find the article itself all that surprising.  Articles like this are why I’m not all that interested in mainstream women’s fitness media anymore.  I am trying to become as strong and fit as I can, and my pursuit of that goal has no room for worries about bulging bra-strap fat and whatever it is that we ladies are supposed to obsess about these days.  (Insert “ain’t nobody got time for that” gif here.)

What I did find surprising, however, was how commenters went off on Women’s Health when the editorial staff posted it on Facebook.  I mean, they eviscerated it.  They were not having any of it.  It was a glorious sight to behold.

Unfortunately, the glorious sight was a transitory one, as Women’s Health deleted the Facebook post a short while later, as well as the actual article itself.  (Which is why the link I posted is from Google Cache and not the magazine’s website – big thanks to the Redditor for digging that up.)  If you want to get an idea of what happened in the FB comments, you can check out the /r/xxfitness thread, the Fit and Feminist Facebook page or the comments on the cached article itself.

Obviously it’s not great Women’s Health is still posting things like this, especially as it appears as though they are on board the “LIFT ALL THE THINGS” train too – as evidenced by this article (written by Jen Sinkler!) and also this one (which quotes Rachel Cosgrove) – and thus should really know better.  There’s really no excuse for a magazine that gives a platform to fitness professionals and lift-big proponents like Jen and Rachel Cosgrove to also engage in hand-wringing over armpit fat and wide back muscles.
But instead of feeling annoyed by the whole thing, I felt buoyed by what had happened.  The magazine’s editorial staff thought their readers would be super interested in the article, but the readers responded with a tsunami of HELL TO THE NO that was so massive the magazine actually pulled the content from their site.

I will be surprised if they ever run an article like that on their site again and run the risk of incurring the fury of their readers.  To me, that’s huge. That’s progress.  It’s a sign that attitudes regarding women and fitness have changed dramatically in the past few years, and now it’s time for the mainstream women’s fitness media to start catching up to the rest of us.

30 responses to “Why the response to a controversial Women’s Health article has me feeling optimistic

  1. When I found out that this article had not only been pelted with negative comments, but also PULLED COMPLETELY, I was so happy! I agree with you on this – the awesomeness of the response to this article overshadows the lameness that it was posted in the first place. Woo hoo!

  2. No wonder I couldn’t find the article you posted on Facebook. The comments on the cached article are gold. What, they never imagined some* women have fitness goals different from the stereotypical ‘get skinny’ ones?

    *probably a lot more than they think. we’re definitely not all the way there yet but it sounds like things are more right with the world than popular media portrays

  3. I wrote a post on it as well! It was surprisingly great to see so many men and women call out WH for just garbage! If I know one thing it’s not to piss off women who lift (including those who do wide grip lat pull down and flat bench!) ;o)

  4. I know I wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and curse my armpit fat. Me and my damn armpits!

  5. I hadn’t gotten the chance to read it but had heard about the article yesterday.. Thank God for Google Cache! I have to go and check out the comments — I’m actually surprised that they got such a backlash for it, but you’re right, that is proof of progress right there! And for it to be so much that they removed the article completely — that’s huge.

  6. Also, my friend texted me a picture the other day of her “armpit fat” and said she wanted it to go away. If I could have reached through the phone and slapped her I would have… Umm.. that’s your skin, sweetie, and that’s where it creases because your arm is -gasp!- attached to your torso!

  7. but I am still hurting from you guys putting down/mocking women with thigh gaps last week. I am (getting) fit, feminist and (almost) 50 and was so excited to find your page, but so disappointed you put me down for something I was born with and can’t help

    • Hi Jenny-Anne, I’m really sorry to hear this. My intention by posting that video was not to mock women with thigh gaps but rather because I thought it was a funny poke at the whole cultural hysteria that has been developing around them. But I can also see how it would be hurtful, and I apologize for that. It was really not my intention at all.

    • I wish I could take credit for finding the cache but someone on Reddit did. It’s a good reminder that once on the internet, always on the internet!

  8. I can’t believe I wasted money on the Women’s Health magazine, I am not buying it ever again.

    • I used to really like the magazine, and I appreciate that they’ve had women like Jen Sinkler write for them, but this was really just disappointing. We already have Self and Shape – we don’t need anymore magazines like this.

  9. Totally agree with you–there is so much dumb-stuff written and posted about fitness today, you have to be happy when someone learns a lesson and perhaps will make changes because of it. I don’t know, when I started lifting heavy, I loved the new look of wider shoulders and the curve of my arms–never really noticed extra fat pushed up–such a weird thing for anyone to even notice and bring up and get women worried about?! Thanks for your post!

    • I’m with you! I really enjoy the way those parts of my body look when I’m lifting a lot. The concerns about armpit fat or extra fat on the chest…they never once crossed my mind until I read that article.

      Now I’m curious as to how many women who do worry about these things had worried about them before reading or hearing someone mention them.

    • You’re in luck! Close-grip pulldowns are still trainer-approved for that slim, tiny, perfectly feminine physique that all women everywhere want all the time.

  10. Ahh glorious response to the demands of their customers. Keep pumping out good information. Keep demanding and end to the bad. Progress 😀

  11. Pingback: Delayed, Drugged-Out, Outrage | Athena-Rx·

  12. I love all the talk about growing muscle and pushing fat “outwards”. WTF? So scientific. It’s awesome to see more women not being afraid to build muscle, and see past the solely appearance-related goals of losing armpit fat and getting stronger.

  13. Cue me at my next powerlifting competition: “Sorry, I can’t do one-third of the required events, it might make me BULKY”. Maybe Women’s Health should write to the IPF and get the women’s events changed?

  14. I don’t do much weight lifting, but it sounds like they would be horrified by the ribcage expansion and muscular shoulders that have resulted from the swimming I do. Little do they know that when I race triathlons, I am a little jealous of the women who are more muscular than I am.

  15. Reblogged this on Survival of the Fittest and commented:
    I was planning on writing a very similar post to this one… but now I don’t have to! Fit and Feminist got to it first, and wrote it much more eloquently than I would have! As a side note, I love her blog and totally recommend following her.

  16. Oh, those horrible flat benches that have been pushing out my armpit fat [checks curiously for armpit fat; did not know armpit fat was a thing] and holding up my boobs for decades!!!! It’s a conspiracy by the pushup bra people I tell you! They want us to depend on them! (Throws self to floor, rolls about crying BWAAHAAHA)

    I met a fitness class instructor in the locker room at my new gym who introduced herself and starting talking Bodypump blah blah and sustained effort workout blah blah and gives you long lean muscles not bulky ones.

    “Oh, dear, well, I’m a bulk freak,” I said, and threw her a crab shot.

    HONESTLY, these people.

  17. Not that I would mind building muscle and “bulking” ( I love seeing muscle definition and even gains in my legs especially,) but the effect I got and I’m sure most women get from these exercises is exactly the opposite. Any “armpit fat” went away, my upper back and lats looked awesome and accentuated my waist, and no cares were given to getting “bigger inner thighs.” Newsflash Women’s Health- lower body lifting gets rid of cellulite and fat in the legs, and makes for attractive muscles.

    “Bulk” be damned.
    Sexist standards be damned too.

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