Muscle & Fitness Hers

NOTE FROM LD: Tomorrow's column will be the first-ever "Uncle Larry's Mailbag." In it, yours truly will answer the questions that seem to be piling up on that blog thing, as well as anything/everything you send to me today at Larry (at) I'm told that I should stick to magazines and such, but special consideration will be given to personal attacks and things that make me giggle. Go to it, kids.

If I were to write a book, its working title (and central premise) would likely be: "Things I've Accidentally Flushed Down the Toilet." Owing to the location of the throne within my snug NYC bathroom, due south of the medicine cabinet, right next door to the sink; I've accidentally sent many an item plunging to a watery grave in the 2.5 years I've lived here: razor blades, vitamins, a friend's earring, toothpaste and deodorant and shampoo caps. All have met their end, courtesy of my toilet's gaping, insatiable maw.

The September/October issue of Muscle & Fitness Hers almost enjoyed that tragic fate. I was reading it while on the can earlier today--this is my job, you know--and placed it in what I believed to be a impregnable location as I washed my hands. Somehow, in reaching for the hand towel, I elbowed the magazine off its perch. As I saw it fall, time stood still. My face froze in a silent, agonizing "noooooooo!" It teetered on the edge of the inner rim before tumbling, unscathed, onto the floor. I let out a deep sigh of relief and solemnly vowed never again to mix work and potty. I broke that promise 18 minutes later.

Writing this column, then, feels like something of an afterthought. Of course, it doesn't help that Muscle & Fitness Hers gives me so little to work with. In every way, from its hyperactive design and layout to its by-the-numbers gal-mag staples, the title reeks of desperation from each of its well-oiled pores.

I have no idea why the publishers decided to compromise the stalwart Muscle & Fitness brand by slapping it onto a generic women's magazine, but it's a decision that would only have made sense if that magazine stuck closely to its strengths. Muscle & Fitness, no matter what its publishers seem to think nowadays, is not a lifestyle brand. It was, is, and always will be about lifting heavy stuff.

Not surprisingly, the September/October Hers excels only when it focuses its attention on, duh, muscles and fitness. "Training: Notebook" passes along a wealth of helpful tips on everything from the necessity of wearing lifting gloves and belts to push-up technique. "Workbook: Muscle," despite its burial at the end of the magazine (is the mag trying to alienate fans of the core brand?), offers a novel and well-articulated take on so-called isolation exercises.

When Hers downshifts into lifestyle territory, however, shield your eyes and your brain. "Nutrition: notebook" goes where every mag has gone before with its foods-that-help-moods piece (oh, a delicious rhyme!), while "HerLife: motivation" proposes a bunch of flat mental tips for exercising ("get psyched," "rev yourself") before flogging relaxation products (massagers, yes; vibrators, no). "HerStyle" presents tops and shoes and bags without much editorial comment; "HerBeauty" babbles about citrusy scents and hair dyes.

As for the features, "Time Shavers" could well be the most excruciatingly dim story I've read in a magazine this year. It promises to help readers save 992 hours a year, yet the suggestions include "toss your own pie" ("you'll save up to a half-hour waiting for the pizza-delivery guy"--kinky, right?) and "order postage stamps online" (15 minutes a week saved? Are you buying one stamp at a time? And who mails that many letters?).

The profile on TLC's Chilli compromises the mag's fit-first mission with a photo depicting her in the act of frying bacon. As for cover girl Courtney Hansen, whose name, oddly, isn't mentioned on the cover, her totally awesome Farrah Fawcett hair deserves far better than the story that accompanies it. Yes, she hosts a block of auto-themed shows on Spike TV, but that still doesn't excuse the story's lead: "If auto expert and TV host Courtney Hansen were a car, there's no way she'd be something as mundane as a Taurus. No. This rising star of the entertainment world is a high-octane NASCAR speedster all the way." I mean, wow. Is it fair to the rest of us that the person who wrote this paragraph is technically allowed to represent himself as a journalist?

It wasn't until I perused the entire Muscle & Fitness Hers that its "editor's letter" started to make sense. Rather than the traditional seasonal tie-in ("Autumn's chill brings with it shorter days...and longer workouts!") or big-picture statement ("weightlifting in North America finds itself at a crossroads, a STEROIDS crossroads!"), the letter avoids coherent thought entirely, throwing out a bunch of unrelated stats in a variety of fonts and colors ("4: Supermodel and überwaif Kate Moss' dress size pre- and post-rehab," "62: Percentage of women who are over 20 and overweight"). Ladies and gentlemen, that's what the Muscle & Fitness brand has been reduced to. Flush away.

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