Mens Health magazine has transformed many men and its own fortunes by featuring extreme muscle makeovers. But does changing shape fast have a dark side?
In 2004, Mens Health journalist Dan Rookwood walked into his editors office in a funk. The topless beefcakes who appeared on their covers were unrealistic, he had decided. No one actually looked like that not least the staff of what was then the UKs third-biggest-selling mens magazine. His editor smiled. He felt a feature coming on.
Just over a year later, a smirking Rookwood appeared on the March 2006 cover of Mens Health. His biceps were huge, his six-pack extraordinarily well defined. From fat to flat! read the cover line, alongside a picture of a mournful-looking Rookwood, pre-transformation, his belly soft and rounded. It became the biggest-selling Mens Health issue of all time.
The transformation genre of mens magazine cover stories was born. Since then, they have become the bread and butter (or steamed spinach and chicken breast) of these publications. Pick up a copy of Mens Health every six months or so and you will see a topless staffer grinning for the camera, next to the words Get shredded in six weeks! or From scrawny to brawny!
In difficult times for print publishing, Mens Health and its competitors hit upon a monetisable formula. Across the country, podgy dads and harried office workers dreamed of having the perfect physique. Makeover transformations promised the body they longed for typically within eight to 12 weeks.