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Its Readers Can Do Without Cover Girls

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What do you get when you put women on the cover of a men’s fitness magazine?

Miffed men.

In letters published in the March issue of Men’s Fitness, some readers applauded the magazine’s December cover, which pictured female models dressed as a firefighter, a boxer and a motorcycle rider.

Others were--how shall we say?--well, let’s let them say it:

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“What the hell are three women doing on the cover of Men’s Fitness?” wrote a Michigan man. ". . . It’s bad enough that we men get on very few covers of national magazines--and now our own betray us.”

And this from a California reader, who threatened to cancel his subscription if the magazine didn’t desist from featuring women: “Must we have political correctness and creeping feminism everywhere?”

The “tough woman” spread wasn’t the first or last female cover for the Weider publication. The December 1995 issue portrayed model / volleyball pro Gabrielle Reece; this month’s issue, which had a special section on sex, showed “Baywatch’s” Donna D’Errico with a male companion.

“We made a very conscious decision to do it that first time,” says Editor in Chief Peter Sikowitz, adding that reader reactions then were also strong and mixed. “You always want to shake things up a bit, give people something unexpected.”

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When GQ did the unexpected and put its first woman--Julia Roberts--on the cover in 1991, there was “a bit of complaining” from readers then and a few times thereafter, Managing Editor Martin Beiser says. “But now people expect it. People even desire it.”

Ditto for Details, which has had women covers two or three times a year since starting in 1990, says Editor in Chief Joe Dolce, adding that readers’ reactions “depend on the woman.”

Still, he can see why some men get upset about their fitness magazines putting women on the cover.

“Those magazines are selling the way to perfect and heighten the prowess of the male body,” he says. “A magazine like Details, which talks about style and popular culture, has a wider swath. We can look at a woman of the moment and it makes more sense.”

Michael LaFavore, executive editor of Men’s Health, says he was surprised at the Men’s Fitness move.

“I assume they’re doing well with it since they’ve done it more than once. But I can’t imagine the day I’ll put a woman on the cover.”

LaFavore notes that there are “precious few” service magazines for men. “This is their territory. It’s not like men’s general interest magazines, where one of men’s specific interests is women. On a magazine like Men’s Fitness or Men’s Health, a woman on the cover sends a confusing message.”

Not necessarily, counters Men’s Fitness’ Sikowitz. “We feel we’re a fitness magazine in a far-reaching sort of way. Part of the reason men work out is to look attractive to women. I don’t think you can take women out of the equation.”

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Besides, putting women on the cover was fun, he adds. “It’s a different spin. Is everyone going to like it? No. No one likes everything you do.”

Barbara Harris, editor of Shape, Weider’s fitness magazine for women, says she doesn’t put the opposite sex on her covers. However, she thinks men’s magazines have more latitude than women’s magazines to do so because men are more “widely accepting of things they don’t expect,” she says.

“I just can’t see [women] buying Shape with a man on the cover.”


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