Psychology Today Magazine Loves White People. Especially Young, Beautiful and Thin White Women.
Jeff Guenther, MS, LPC on Jul 18, 2021
Psychology Today is a popular magazine focused on pop psychology. Every other month, they release a print magazine and send out tens of thousands of copies to therapists and counselors across the country who are signed up with their online therapist directory. They also sell the magazine at grocery stores and newsstands. These magazines litter almost every single therapy waiting room. I’m a therapist myself. I run a few counseling centers. They are in my waiting rooms. But I’ll be throwing them in the trash the next time I go to work. And here is why: Psychology Today is shamefully lacking in diversity. Over the years, I’ve talked about this lack of diversity anecdotally with other therapists. There is a general feeling, in the mental health community, that young, white, models were gracing the cover of the magazine at an incredibly high rate. But I wondered how bad it really was. So I took some time to go back through their archives and analyze the diversity featured over a period of twenty-nine years. The results were truly staggering. I created an infographic illustrating the results. You can check out the data at the bottom of this blog. It’s pretty stunning.
Full disclosure: I launched an all inclusive therapist directory that has a mandate to fight racism, homophobia, transphobia and all other forms of discrimination. The online directory is in direct competition with Psychology Today’s directory. I think Psychology Today’s therapist directory has a lot of problems. TherapyDen addresses those problems and is a lot better. But that’s just my opinion. If you’re looking for a therapist, start here. If you are a therapist and you want to join for free during launch, start here.
I will point out real quick that Psychology Today (the directory) is based in the Cayman Islands, which means there is a real good chance they don’t pay their taxes. I wrote a bit about that here. I only mention that because it seems to fit their identity. Which is lacking. The magazine appears to be based in the US, but is closely connected with the directory.
White people everywhere
Psychology Today released their first magazine in 1967. The earliest magazine cover I was able to find in their digital archives was from January of 1992. The cover of that magazine features a thin, pretty, white lady looking in the mirror. The reflection looking back at herself is a fat woman making a sad face. (Not off to a great start are we?)
Since January 1992, Psychology Today has published 178 magazines. The vast majority of issues featured people on the cover. Of the 178 issues, only 16 of them did not have people on the cover. 13 of the 16 were illustrations or graphics. Two of them pictured animals, a goat and a monkey. And one of them featured Marge and Homer Simpson. Of the 162 people featured on covers, 153 of them are white people (!!!). Only 9 of the covers included people of color. Over 94% of people on the covers are white. Does that not seem like a really high rate? Is there no one at Psychology Today suggesting more diversity?
I will say that it does seem like they include people of color inside the magazine at a greater percentage. Which isn’t hard to do when they barely feature them on the cover. So that’s something? I guess?
Only thin people are allowed on the cover for some reason
Every single person (in their digital archive) that has graced the cover of Psychology Today has been thin. Every. Single. Person. Zero bigger bodies or fat people have been featured on covers. Well, I guess there is the one caveat that I mentioned before where a skinny woman is sad about imagining herself as a fat woman. But that does’t really count. I want to see bodies of all shapes and sizes represented as normal (which, btw, they are!). And also men! Where are all my guys at? They are barely there at all. Men have only been featured 6 times by themselves. And all of them, except maybe Sigmund Freud and the Dalai Lama, were fit dudes. So much for breaking the stigma of men being into therapy I guess.
Body positivity is trending more than ever right now. But we in the psychology field have been celebrating health at every size for an incredibly long time. We are basically the originators of accepting your body at every weight and shape. It’s a real shame that the most popular magazine in the mental health field has never featured a fat person looking and feeling good about their body on the cover of their magazine. Psychology Today is, at best out of touch or, at worst, purposefully perpetrating damaging, media-reinforced, stereotypes promoting unrealistic, unrepresentative bodies as the “ideal.” Either way it’s disgusting.
“Beautiful” people only please
As you can imagine, the only people that are on the covers are people that fit the western standard of beauty. Incredibly symmetrical, young, thin, fit, photoshopped women, and a few men, are featured. Of the 178 magazine covers I viewed, only two people did not meet traditional western beauty standards. And those two were Sigmund Freud and the Dalai Lama (sorry guys). And they are both men who are famous figures. So that’s probably why they got a pass.
I get that selling magazines has had something to do with putting pretty people on the cover since the beginning of time. I’m not an idiot. I know how these things work. But I would challenge us all, especially those of us in the mental health field, to do better. Call me crazy, but when publishing a magazine designed to make psychology interesting and approachable for the masses, why not represent the masses?
I think you can feature diverse faces, colors, ages, abilities and bodies still sell magazines. Also, you can show a range of beautiful and interesting looking people on the cover — but maybe just don’t keep going for the generic model look over and over and over. It’s a real missed opportunity not to feature normal people every now and then. Maybe Psychology Today could feature cutting edge psychology professors across the country? I dunno. Just an idea.