I don’t know much about Marie Claire, but it appears to be some sort of magazine/website for people who hate women. At least, that’s the conclusion I drew from reading this story in their UK edition’s Health News section: “Women Think About Food More Than Sex“. In genre terms, this is something of a high concept piece, one of those articles that sums up everything it has to offer within the phrasing of its title alone (a bit like “Snakes on a Plane“).
So what did they find? Firstly, a full 25% of women “admitted” that dieting was more important to them than their intimate relationships. In fact, get this:
…ten per cent would feel guiltier straying from their diet than being unfaithful to their partner.
That’s right. Marital (or relationship) infidelity — the stuff of epic romantic drama at least since the mythology of the ancient Greeks — is actually not that significant after all. What matters more is diet adherence. So, while Hester Prynne appeared somewhat perturbed throughout The Scarlet Letter, at least all she had to deal with was the stigma of her sexual indiscretion. Imagine if the townsfolk found out about that extra chocolate biscuit she used to scoff during coffee breaks…
Here are some more findings:
The most common reason for women in the UK to start a diet is to get the perfect beach body–while one in seven say cruel taunts are the reason they reign [sic] in their eating.
So women become self-conscious about their bodies due to beach paranoia and taunting, eh? Well I guess that has nothing at all to do with articles appearing in magazines. Magazines like Marie Claire, for example…
How about these delightful pieces: “Are Leggings Making You Fat?“; “Could Your Fridge Be Making You Fat?“; “Curvy Models ‘Make Women Fat’“; “Diets That Make You Fat“; “Healthy Foods That Make You Fat“; “Is Your Air Conditioner Making You Fat?“; “Can A Common Virus Really Make You Fat?“; “3 Surprising Things That Make You Fat” (stilettos, your partner’s education, and boredom, apparently); “3 Fats That Make You Skinny” (ooh-er, now I’m confused); “10 Best Celebrity Beach Bodies“; “From Flab To Fab: Your Holiday Survival Guide“; and “Get A Beach Body Fast“.
Uh huh. No grounds for paranoia or for beach-body neurosis there at all.
And as for cruel taunts, how about this memorable Marie Claire column called “Should ‘Fatties’ Get A Room?” Here’s an excerpt:
So anyway yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other…because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room…
I think I understand why “one in seven (UK) women” modify their eating due to “cruel taunts“. They are obviously Marie Claire readers.
Still, while all that looks pretty terrible and offensive, at least Marie Claire quote a nutritionist to advise readers that “Dieting should never become an obsession“. So that’s alright then. Hands washed.
As it happens, “women think about food more than sex” is a well phrased, nicely falsifiable hypothesis. Either it is true or it is not. All that we need is data from a sample of women that is both large and statistically representative of the general population, regarding (a) the extent to which they think about food and (b) the extent to which they think about sex. Then we can do a simple statistical test to compare these two values in order to determine which subject, on average, is thought about the most.
But of course, that’s not what we get here. Instead we have a pretty standard population-based survey study, with minimalist description of methodological details. Marie Claire report the findings as “Health News“, presenting statistical factoids that imply a basis in a comprehensive dataset but avoiding anything as troublesome as even a sample size.
In fact, according to the UK Press Association, the study examined responses from over 1,200 women, which sounds comprehensive enough. However, we are not told what questions were asked or what other findings the researchers discovered. This is because the study is not actually a piece of formal science. Rather, it’s a bog standard market research survey conducted by a private company who have a commercially vested interest in reporting particular results.
The survey is brought to us by Atkins, the people who make a profit every time a woman buys one of their dieting products. They seem to churn out lots of this type of research (see here, here, and here), all of which goes directly to newswires and yields findings that encourage women to turn dieting into an obsession. And that nutritionist that Marie Claire get to warn women not to turn dieting into an obsession? Yeah, well she works for Atkins. In fact, she’s their “Chief Nutritionist“.
We’ve been here before. Pseudoscience in the service of corporate greed is depressing enough on its own. But it is truly amazing how women’s magazines and media outlets become complicit in this baloney. Instead of providing a service that is of actual benefit to women, these magazines end up assisting a corporate marketing strategy designed to maximize profits by generating and exploiting reader confusion.
Hey, for all I know (and I don’t), women might well think more about food than about sex. But let’s just remember this. Women’s magazines think more about their profitable relationships with corporate advertisers than about the edification — or mental health — of their readers.
Yeah! Go women!
Brian Hughes is an academic psychologist and university professor in Galway, Ireland, specialising in stress, health, and the application of psychology to social issues. He writes widely on the psychology of empiricism and of empirically disputable claims, especially as they pertain to science, health, medicine, and politics.