Reading an interesting article, claiming that women and men magazines convey a picture of women as passive object that wants to be „conquered“ and men as dominant and successful “conquerers”, I found myself generally agreeing to this thesis. But I was wondering how these magazines create and communicate such deterministic and separated gender identities. Sparing no efforts, I bought the current issues of Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan [1] to answer these questions: What language and ways of mediation do Men’s Health and Cosmopolitan use to create male and female identities? And what do they look like?


To meet the word limit, I will give you a summary of my results, but if you are interested in this topic, here is a more elaborated and analytical version of this post.

In both magazines, body played a central role but in different ways. Men’s Health discusses male body mainly in terms of functionality which basically means that it needs to be efficient and strong and therefore muscular. A big part of the things surrounding the subject of male body are aimed at this goal. Nutrition and gadgets for sport have the function of improving athletic performance. Suitable for this representation, sport and male body are presented especially in terms of competitiveness.
And what route does Cosmo tackle? Pretty much the same but in a slightly different way. It also puts emphasis on body, but not in terms of functionality but aesthetics. This means that the female body should look slim and attractive which explains the intensive promotion of exercises and methods to lose weight. This focus on aesthetics is also illustrated by many advertisings for cosmetics and other beauty products.

Looking at the subject of sexuality, some interesting results appear. In contrast to Cosmopolitan which tends to use a quite direct word choice including terminology like “Gagging” and “Queefing” [2], Men’s Health acts more reserved. However, Cosmo presents soft and playful pictures of a couple cuddling in bed whereas Men’s Health focuses on half-naked women, the absence of men and sexual innuendos like “Put it in” [3] below the butt of a half-naked woman eating a cookie.

Bild_NeuPictures taken from Men’s Health (left, p. 103) and Cosmopolitan (right, p. 128/129)

At the same time, both magazines avoid homosexual associations and try to separate manhood and womanhood from each other. This can be illustrated by the different handling of personal hygiene which is called “Grooming” [4] (Fellpflege) in Men’s Health and “beauty” [5] in Cosmopolitan.

What to conclude out of this? What male and female identities do both magazines construct? Overall, I can agree to Heiko Motschenbacher, linguistic researcher, concluding that masculinity is primarily defined as heterosexual muscluarity [6] and that the male body literally has the function of being functional whereas the female body basically has the function of (just) being aesthetical. [7]
So both magazines present heterosexual stereotypes and thereby try to create male and female identities that are clearly separated from each other by assigning them a subject-object-relationship. However, these separated identities are in itself full of (often unnoticed) contradictions.




[1] = The analysis refers to the German version of the March print issues of both magazines and all used pictures are taken from them.

[2] = Cosmopolitan, p. 130

[3] = Men´s Health, p. 26

[4] = ibid, p. 8

[5] = Cosmopolitan, p. 11

[6] = 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. 16

[7] = ibid, p. 18