I’m glad you liked my post so much that you want to read even more about stereotypes and generalizations….or will you come across some more surprising results? Let’s see.

First of all
What was quite interesting was the extent to which we are full of inscribed gender roles and expectations – even when buying a magazine. I had no problem standing in front of all the men magazines, but after 5 minutes combing through Cosmopolitan, Jolie and Voque I started feeling uncomfortable and somehow like the other people were watching me. For the first time, I noticed that there are many lifestyle magazines for women, but nearly none for men. Most of the men magazines are classified in subject areas like sport, music, science or technology. This is also what Heiko Motschenbacher from the Linguistic Department of the Goethe University in Frankfort observed when explaining that traditional men magazines tend to focus on cars, sports and erotica and not primarily on the male self-image. [1] This is the reason why I chose Men’s Health which seemed to be closest to a lifestyle magazine for men.

Überblick Männermagazine
The picture was taken by myself in a magazine store. It shows several men magazines with different topics.

Now have fun with my observations in the following categories:

In Men’s Health there is relatively few advertising and nearly all existing advertisements can be classified in the category “technology and sport”. There are for example advertisements for sport gadgets like classy fitness watches or sport apps with exercises or recipes for more muscles and less fat, all aiming at an improvement in performance and body shape (which basically means getting more muscles). Moreover, there are ads that promote sport contests or supplements.
Cosmopolitan shows definitely more advertisements, but they are similarly limited in subject because they are focusing mostly on fashion and cosmetics. There are advertisements for shampoos, deep conditioners, body lotions, dresses and watches. Moreover, there is an ad for “Almased” [2], a shake to lose weight.

What becomes clear is the different function of the advertisements which in Men’s Health primarily have the function of being functional and improving performance whereas the promoted products in Cosmopolitan primarily have the function of making women look good.

Here I focused on pictures of the own and the other sex and not on pictures of things and products.
In Men’s Health, pictures of men are primarily used to demonstrate power and muscles. In order to do this, there are plenty pictures of men with nude upper body, training themselves or showing exercises, but none of them is portrayed in a pose that could be considered sexually. On the other hand, women are shown almost exclusively when it comes to sex which explains why they are half-naked or fully naked every time they are shown. Moreover, they are portrayed in more or less sexual gestures exposing their body and often directing their look at the (male) reader. Also interesting: When it comes to sexual presentations of women, you never see a man in the picture. I assume that Men’s Health avoids showing naked men in sexual contexts in order to avoid homosexual associations whereas they can show half-naked men doing weight training, because this is clearly connoted heterosexual.
What is interesting in Cosmopolitan is the fact that they also tend to show lightly dressed women. However these presentations seem to be connected to fashion or – like in Men’s Health – to sport. One can say that in both Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan there are presentations of the own sex in a way that attracts the other sex. In other words, women can be attracted by strong and muscular men and men can be attracted by slim and fit women. However, both magazines seem to avoid representations containing clear homosexual allusions.

One point that separates Cosmopolitan from Men’s Health is their portrayal of women and men in sexual contexts. While the former places emphasis on the objectification of women and the absence of men, the latter portrays women and men lying together in bed and in addition shows less of their naked bodies.

Focus in Men’s Health is clearly on physical exercise. They offer several articles on that topic dealing with different exercises for different goals, training schedules and training methods. Sport often has a competitive character and the function of making men harder and perform better. The subject of nutrition and cooking is mostly connected to exercise and functions as an instrument to improve performance and body shape. In addition to that, nutrition is presented as lifestyle which can be seen in an article promoting modern and cool forms of fast-food. When it comes to fashion, Men’s Health focuses on trendy accessoires like watches and exclusive gadgets that make men (look) successful. Furthermore, personal hygiene is portrayed in a specific way that characterizes it as manly and connects it to the idea of “manly” body care. This can be illustrated by the promotion of products that are all on the basis of coal.

Kosmetik_Kohle_Mens Health
Picture taken from Men’s Health, p. 92

Here, Cosmo treads a different path. Personal hygiene is primarily concerned with cosmetics and outside appearance. This explains the several ads for lipstick, face powder and other cosmetics in the magazine. Other important topics are fashion, styling and trends. While these topics are represented by special and exclusive products in Men’s Health, Cosmo seems to prefer quantity and offers innumerable tips and products. The subject of sport is primarily discussed in terms of figure, skinniness and weight loss and also supported by exercises and receipts.

Word choice
Looking at the section titles in both magazines, clear differences between Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan appear.
Consistent with their promotion of “manly cosmetics”, Men’s Health connects personal hygiene to the concept of being wild and animalistic by entitling this section “Style + Grooming” [3] (Grooming is also used in a zoological context and means “Fellpflege”). In an article that informs about testicular cancer, the word “steel balls” [4] is used to refer to testicles. In the field of sport, Men’s Health uses many technical terms referring to body parts and exercises. Talking about sexuality, there are less to none technical terms. Mostly, the used words can be considered colloquial like “Blowjob” [5] and “Doggy-Style” [6]. In general, the word choice does not seem to be aggressive or primitive, but there are some exceptions like “juicy oral sex festival” [7] (saftiges Oralverkehr-Festival) and “banged” [8] (geknallt). Moreover, there are some sexual innuendos. In an article about foods that appear aphrodisiacal, one can see a woman only wearing a bra and a slip. She holds some kind of chocolate cake in front of her mouth, showing puckered lips and looking directly to the reader. In addition, the text below her butt says “Put it in!” [9] (Rein damit!).

Frau nackt 2_Put it in_Mens Health
Picture taken from Men’s Health, p. 26

Starting with the personal hygiene section in Cosmopolitan, a difference appears. Like their section title “beauty & body” [10] assumes, focus is on appearance and on products that make women look pretty. There are similar results in the subject of sport in which terms like weight loss, beach body and tight body are often used. The way in which Cosmo talks about sexuality is quite interesting. They choose a more direct and strong language that includes sentences like “boink him his short term memory away” [11] (ihm das Kurzzeitgedächtnis wegvögeln) and rather unfamiliar terms like “Gagging” [12] and “Queefing” [13]. Such a word choice constitutes a clear contrast to the rather soft and playful pictures with a couple cuddling.

Conclusion: Constructions of male and female identities
I tried not to go too much in detail, because most readers of such magazines won’t do an intensive and concentrated reading either. However, I found more interesting and confusing aspects than expected. Here is what we can conclude of the analysis above.

What both magazines have in common is the fact that they present unadorned stereotypes of both their own and the other sex. Men’s Health is full of muscular and strong men and Cosmopolitan portrays young and slim women on nearly every page. In this way, both magazines portray pictures that could be attractive to the other sex while both seem to avoid homosexual associations. Male identity is connected to muscularity and strength and the male body as well as the products men consume basically have to be functional and efficient. In this way, male identity is primarily concerned with rationality and similar to the findings of Donna Haraway [14], male body is connected to technology which can be illustrated by the term “steel balls” for testicles. Women and female traits are placed outside male identity which is highlighted by an article about yoga – a “typical” female sport. Men’s Health does not promote yoga because it allows men to do something non-typical or just something that is fun for both sexes. Rather it picks yoga and transforms it to a masculine sport by pointing out its functionality. Or in other words, men are allowed to do yoga because it can improve flexibility and coordination and thereby improve performance in masculine sports like weight training. On the other hand, Men’s Health offers advice to be more emotional and emphatic and to always respect the wishes of women. However, these things are not important because men want them or because they constitute a good men from the view of men, but because WOMEN want men to be like this and – put simply – because this is the way to get women in bed.

Cosmopolitan spreads a similar confusing picture of female identities. Promoting self-confidence, independence and satisfaction with the own body on the one hand, it contents dozens of make-up tips and ways to lose weight on the other hand. Thereby Cosmo emphasizes appearance and links it closely to satisfaction and self-confidence. Moreover, the subject of sexuality is presented in an ambiguous way by using direct and self-confident language but at the same time focusing on sexual problems and awkward situations for women. Other ambivalences occur in the presentation of male identities. On the one hand, Cosmo demands “emancipation” [15] of men and wants them to show their feelings and disengage from rigid gender roles, but only 9 pages after that it lets a complete stereotypical man answer questions from female readers. This of course leads to answers which basically argument that all men just like “women, soccer, drinks and women” [16] and that men’s “cock” [17] is responsible for their behavior.

Altogether, Men’s Health as well as Cosmopolitan convey male and female identities that are clearly separated from each other but at the same time full of contradictions in itself.




Info: The whole analysis refers to the German version of the March print issues of both magazines. All used pictures are taken from them.

[1] = Motschenbacher, Heiko (2009): Speaking the Gendered Body: The Performative Construction of Commercial Femininities and Masculinities via Body-Part Vocabulary. In: Language in Society, Vol. 38, No. 1, p. 8

[2] = Cosmopolitan, p. 117

[3] = Men´s Health, p. 8

[4] = ibid, p. 74

[5] = ibid, p. 102

[6] = ibid

[7] = ibid, p. 105

[8] = ibid

[9] = ibid, p. 26

[10] = Cosmopolitan, p. 10

[11] = ibid, p. 130

[12] = ibid

[13] = ibid

[14] = Haraway, Donna (1989): Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science, Routledge: New York and London

[15] = Cosmopolitan, p. 126

[16] = ibid, p. 135

[17] = ibid