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The Body in Health, Lifestyle or Sporting Magazines

Aim:
This task invites you to explore the role of one form of media in helping bring a particular body practice and culture into being. It also provides you with an opportunity to reflect critically on a practice you engage in personally, should you so desire.

Task:
Choose a health, lifestyle or sporting magazine and write an analysis of the way the body is presented, interpellated or otherwise “made” in this magazine.

What kind of magazine might you pick?
The magazine you choose might be a specialist one, or a more generalist one. Here are just some examples of body practices that have magazines dedicated to them:

Pilates pregnancy yoga slimming

piercing running cycling dance

nudism health magazines (e.g. Good Health)
alternative therapies bodybuilding
triathlon capoeira snowboarding rowing

Things to think about in choosing a magazine
• Do you want to pick a practice you are part of, or do you want to observe from the outside?
• Do you want to pick a particular body specialisation (e.g. a cycling magazine) or one that represents a broader ethos of the body (e.g. a good health magazine)?
• Do you want to pick something that shows a uniformity of focus or something that is internally diverse and contradictory?
• Do you want to pick something aimed at a professional readership, an elite readership, or a popular readership?

Research and Further Reading
This assignment requires you to do some further reading from outside the Course Reader. You will need to read different kinds of literature:
1. First, obviously, you need to engage closely with your chosen magazine (i.e. primary reading).
2. Applied readings: it is a very good idea to engage with an academic literature on your chosen body practice (e.g. a lit on bodybuilding, yoga, gym culture, boxing….)
3. Theoretical/conceptual reading: choose a theoretical framework that is relevant to the body practice and to the type of argument you wish to make. This may mean that you need to read about “healthism,” or the body in consumer culture, or neo-tribalism, or neo-liberalism. Ask the convenor or your tutor if you need some advice.

Analysis
• This essay is not a close reading of one advertisement or one article from a magazine. It requires you to consider the magazine more broadly than this – either by focusing on the magazine as an assemblage of different parts or by picking out a particular focus (e.g. one or more recurring themes that run through it).
• Your analysis needs to make an argument.
• Focus: Don’t try to say everything you possibly could about your chosen magazine. You need to develop a particular theme, or focus, or question to explore. The introduction of your essay should make it clear what line you are going to pursue. For example, if you were looking at a magazine on gym culture, you might choose to focus on the theme of asceticism, or discipline, or pleasure; if you were looking at a tattooing magazine, you might chose to analyse the ideology of self-determination, or the neo-tribal ethos. If you were looking at a health magazine, you might focus on the contradictions between different articles, which pull the body towards different sets of practices.
• The analysis focuses on representation not on the actual bodily practice. In other words, you are asked to discuss how the body is presented and called up in this magazine, not in the practice – although I do suggest below that you may choose to bring these different aspects of the bodily practice into some dialogue.

What might I discuss?
You need to ensure that your essay has a point of focus and makes a coherent argument. The following questions are intended as thought-starters only. Not all of them will be relevant to your magazine or your interests. Do not construct an essay that attempts to answer these questions like a kind of list. Use the following as prompts for reflection only, and don’t be alarmed if you want to talk about different things as well:

• What types of bodies does this practice assume, idealise or produce?
• What kind of management of everyday life does this practice demand (routines, diets, temporalities, rhythms, sociality, self-image)?
• Does it implicitly understand some bodies as “good” and others as “bad”?
• How does the magazine make you feel? Is it demanding something of you? Or seducing you? Does it make you feel guilty? Puzzled? Excited? Ashamed? Curious? Not-good-enough? At risk? Badgered?
• What relationship between self and body is implied or urged in this magazine? Is it consistent?
• What ideals, values or ideologies is the practice understood to embody or make possible (e.g. freedom, restraint, self-determination, pleasure, self-indulgence)?
• What (if relevant) is the body’s relation to consumer items and practices in this magazine?
• Does this magazine depict bodies as individuals, or as interrelated teams or groups?
• Is the advice about the body, or the way the body is interpellated internally consistent, or does one part of the magazine pull the body in a different direction from others?
• What (if anything) is the role of technology in this body practice? And what is that technology’s implied relation to the body?
• If it’s a practice you engage in personally, you may want to compare or contrast the way the body is interpellated in the magazine and in the practice itself. Does the practice look different in these magazines from how it works and feels in practice?

Hand in
It will help the marker if you also hand in a copy of the magazine in question (perhaps in a plastic sleeve stapled in at the top so it won’t fall out and then attached with a bulldog clip). Please write your name on the magazine (or, if you’d prefer, attach a piece of paper to the cover with your name on it). We will make every effort not to lose the magazine, but it is possible that a magazine might go astray – so please don’t hand in anything that is precious to you.

Assessment Criteria
• Relevant Knowledge: i.e. an understanding of relevant theories of/approaches to the body, as well as knowledge about your particular focus.
• Conceptual skills: i.e. the depth and subtlety of your understanding of cultural and social processes.
• Critical skills: i.e. the ability to subject your chosen topic to some critical analysis rather than accepting it at face value.
• Analytical skills: i.e. your ability to analyse issues and present a coherent argument.
• Research skills: i.e. the effective use of relevant further reading (including reading from outside the Course Reader).
• Writing skills: Essay writing, referencing, bibliographical and presentation skills.

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