Breathing in a World Without Oxygen (Magazine)

So, I don’t know if you’ve heard, or even if you care, but a few weeks ago, Oxygen Magazine declared bankruptcy.

For those of you who never bought into the message that Oxygen and its sister magazine Clean Eating was selling, here’s a brief breakdown of what you’d find in the magazine:

  • Updates on the latest research into supplements and fitness protocols with accompanying recommendations for purchasing said supplements or a two week workout plan for trying said fitness protocol
  • Fat burning/muscle building supplement ads
  • Pictures of impossibly thin and muscled women lifting heavy weight
  • “Strong is the new skinny” messages (underlying message: skinny is weak, thin is strong–and here’s the pictures of a woman with a 6-pack to prove it)
  • “Tough love” (ie get off your fat ass and work out or else you’re worthless)
  • Eat more protein (in small 200-300 calorie meals 6 times a day or else your muscles will fall off, and also we’ll tell you to eat healthy fats, but not too many or you’ll get fat too so stick with egg whites and protein powder when you can…)
  • Lifting heavy is better than cardio (but here’s a week’s worth of fat-burning cardio routines so you can keep cutting weight)
  • Success stories and up-and-coming fitness model wannabes for your inspiration
  • Updates (with photos and commentary) on major fitness/figure/physique/bikini competitions
  • Plenty of fitspirational pictures and sayings, perfect for vision boards and self-flagellation

Oxygen was more than a magazine though–it was a way of life. My favorite day of any given month was the day my copy of Oxygen showed up in the mail.

It was the validation for getting in the weight room, for being proud of my strength, for working toward my personal training certification. It was also the validation for my obsessive orthorexia, my fear of getting “fat” and losing strength, my exercise addiction, and my belief that health could be defined by aesthetics.

Oxygen made me yearn to be a part of the community of women who lift hard, lift heavy, and then parade around on stage in glittery bikinis for the approval of a group of judges.

I’m not sad about this sudden (although not unexpected, given the death of Robert Kennedy, head of the magazine’s publishing agency) end to the Oxygen empire. That said, I think that Tosca Reno and Robert Kennedy did do a great job building a community and inspiring women to stop thinking that age, overweight, or inexperience can or should stand in the way of finding fitness. I think they did a fantastic job of mobilizing a strong community of women who care about health and nutrition.

But, at the same time, I saw the damage that the message could do. I lived the damage.   I internalized every admonishment to get off my ass and go work my glutes. I’ve followed the blogs of women whose metabolisms were ruined by excessive dieting, inspired by fitness model dreams. I’ve seen the fitspo boards on Pinterest littered with photos of Tosca and the tough love message. I read posts by friends on Facebook who have been brainwashed to believe that life is little more than keeping track of your macronutrient breakdown and doing fasted cardio.

And for that, I’m not sorry to see Oxygen go. Say what you will about the tragedy of the death of the publishing industry, but maybe, at least in Oxygen’s case it’s a sign that it’s time for a shift. That it’s time for us to stop buying the message–literally and figuratively–that our health is determined by our looks.


The back page of an issue of Oxygen Magazine…Kim Dolan Leto’s abs on the background of my phone for several months as “inspiration.”


If you were a reader of Oxygen Magazine, I’d love to know your thoughts. Were you sold on the Oxygen lifestyle? How do you feel about the magazine closing its doors? 

Stay hungry,


22 thoughts on “Breathing in a World Without Oxygen (Magazine)

  1. I saw some pretty nasty comments on her blog from the staff members of the publishing company in response to her press release. They claimed they weren’t even told by Tosca in person what was happening and lost their jobs. They had many choice words for her and how she handled everything.
    Granted, whenever someone gets laid off in this type of circumstance, it’s probably not too surprising to hear some negative comments. All that aside, I didn’t really make a point to purchase Oxygen magazine but the times I DID read it, I did more so for the exercise ideas than anything else. I did purchase one of Tosca’s Clean Eating books a few years ago and found it somewhat helpful but I wasn’t in the right time of my life to dedicate myself completely to clean eating.

    I think the women’s fitness industry has lost a big advocate in the clean eating “movement” and “fitspirational” lifestyle or whatever we are calling it now…BUT, as you mentioned, there’s FB and Pinterest and Twitter now…the publishing world is dying and the written word is no longer seen as something people want to invest in which is really sad. But, it’s the way the social media world goes round now.

    • It’s definitely bittersweet. I know there were a lot of women who benefitted from the magazine, but I wish those workouts weren’t situated between 1200 calorie protein-only food plans and fat burning supplement ads.

      Although, that said, now we’re just getting the same thing with poorly written “nutrition” recommendations on fitness blogs, surrounded by fat burning supplement banner ads…

  2. I am just devastated by the news. I had no idea. I am more saddened by the loss of a good friend, Oxygen was like your best girlfriend, best cheerleader, and just the best ! The most amazing magazine in fitness I have ever seen, unlike any other. I hope there is a way for them to make a comeback one day !!! I believe in them !

      • Hi Rhonda,

        As I said in my post, I think that Oxygen did a nice job of inspiring people to take control of their health, but I believe that, at it’s core, the message is the wrong one–one that promotes disorder. Any fitness magazine built on the premise of tough love and “fitspiration” will ultimately lead to restriction, obsession, or negative body image.

  3. I disagree with this article. If anyone paid attention to the trend of the oxygen magazine, they would know that the magazine was at its best when Robert Kennedy was alive. It was more versatile. After his passing, there was nothing more than month after month the same thing…”Get flat abs” on almost every cover. I don’t think it’s about not buying into the image. I think the magazine previously sent a good message of being healthy. If one becomes obsessed with working out, maybe that person should seek counseling, or try to figure out why they are obsessed with it. I use to buy the magazine all the time… And then I found myself cringing at every issue, when I looked at the cover. I’m sure many other people did too, consequently leading up to the magazine filing bankruptcy.
    I feel for the magazine, because it was very personal to both Tosca and Robert. I hope and pray that Tosca doesn’t feel as though she let her husband down. I hope she grows from this, and continues on with a message of be strong and healthy.

    • Hey Terin!

      Thanks for your comment. I welcome your disagreement–but just know that this is a personal opinion written on my blog, which is about disordered eating and distorted body image.

      I read Oxygen for about 4 years, and I never saw a difference–same message, same “flat abs” and “fitness model” mindset.

      I don’t wish Tosca any ill. I think she and the Oxygen team were writing about what they knew and the things they thought were right about health, fitness, and nutrition. I just personally believe that the message is one that has the potential to breed disorder.

      I’m planning a post about this, which I’ll be publishing later this week to elaborate.

      Thanks again for writing!

      Stay hungry,


  4. I hate to see the magazine go. I just renewed my supcription to it a couple of months ago. I did not know what happened, just that I was not getting any magazines on my iPad until I read this artical. I loved reading the success stories, recipes and learning new excercises to do. I was no way brain washed from this magazine. I was very inspired that women of different ages can be healthy and be fit. I wish all the staff at Oxygen the best of luck.

  5. Do you know how I could get any previous Oxygen or Clean Eating magazines from previous years? I just discovered both of them shortly before they stopped publication production. I’d love to get a resource to aaaaaannnyyyy more that I can!

  6. There is a lot of truth to what the blogger has mentioned and one of the commenters. Yes, it is very possible to be sucked into thinking that you must count every calorie, watch every fat gram and carry around 2 gallons of water everywhere you go. It’s a subculture and it can get extreme.

    Also, I did notice that after Robbert died, the magazine seemed to spit out the same magazine over and over just w/ a different cover girl. Which made it less exciting for me to read.

    I am an Oxygen fan. I am a former fitness model and competitor. I soak up as much info on fitness as I possible can. That being said, too much of a good thing spells trouble. So everything in moderation.

    I am looking forward to Oxygens return this November. I hope the break they all had breaths some new life (or should I say the old life it once had) back into the magazine we all love so much.

    • Hey Darla–

      Thanks for the response. I actually did a follow up post regarding this whole issue.

      I think it has the potential to go back to being a great industry magazine, but I’m not terribly excited from the perspective of someone who suffered relapse into disorder at the hands of wanting to become a competitor. There’s no judgement against someone who likes that lifestyle or wants to pursue it–I have friends who are competitors, and I say, “More power to them.” But I just hope that the magazine stops marketing itself as a solution to “flat abs” for girls who aren’t in need of a competition/modeling diet/lifestyle. Like you say: too much of a good thing spells trouble,” and I think that the fact that Oxygen offered calorie/fat restricted meal plans and semi-abusive “tough love” was more than enough trouble for one magazine…

  7. I have been an Oxygen reader for many years and find your characterization of the magazine’s content as “semi-abusive” and promoting “disorder” way off the mark. If someone is the type of woman who really wants a “six-pack”, she needs to realize that her body fat has to be below a certain %. And for that to happen, yes, she needs to lose a LOT of fat through a combination of a) exercise and b) diet. The magazine then just explains about the diets/foods and exercises that will help get you there. The problem to me seems to be with the motivation for “flat abs” and what they represent. If we think we can only love ourselves or be deserving of love as human beings by achieving some subjective level of perfection then we are likely to develop some kind of disorder/problem b/c perfection in any domain is unattainable. So the problem is with the person and their sense of self worth and not the magazine. It is important to take responsibility for ourselves and not let magazines or “the media” dictate how we should feel about our anything. Seriously, do we ever see men/media diss men’s magazines for pushing articles and images of male six-packs and buff bodies? No. Because men don’t have the ‘victim’ mentality many women do and do not see themselves only as the sum of their parts. They wear they beer bellies with pride! Let’s take note ladies.

  8. I have been an avid reader and subscriber of Oxygen magazine and was disheartened to learn from an internet article that it was bankrupt. I agree with others that during the period after Robert died, the magazine seemed to had lost its drive and direction. Every month I had looked forward to receiving the latest in training tips and workouts but after his passing, I began to wonder if it was a good idea to have continued my subscription. I even began buying the competitor’s magazine because I was so disappointed in what Oxygen had become. Hopefully the new owners and publishers will bring Oxygen back to its original standard of being the best women’s fitness magazine out there.

  9. Believe it or not, i hadn’t realized until i received oxygen in the mail today that it had been missing for the past couple of months.. i have been reading oxygen magazine for about the last 3 years.. i loved it.. it was positive, welcoming, supportive, and singleminded.. it was a bit idealistic and did not suit all my fitness needs, a few months before bob died oxygen had offered tosca’s “clean Eating ” book free if you could not afford it. so i wrote the company a letter. not only did i get the book free, but i got a personal letter from bob that still means the world to me.. i am well aware that i may never look like erin stern or dana linn baily, but, i am 53 and in the best physical shape of my life.. oxygen magazine inspired me,, teased my senses, allowed me to dream, to try new things, to learn new things and to remind me that anything was possible. i have competed in three figure competitions. small local ones. i place second once and did not place in the other two.. but i was a part of a group of athletes that all had a common goal.. so while i will never look like many of the fitness models.. thats ok.. i am me, and am happy with how i look.. mostly.. lol.. i’m actually 10 lbs heavier than i was last june when i competed and i’m ok with that.. i still work out 4 to 5 days a week, and thank God for my strength and health every day… i still miss much.. regards.. Julianne spriggs sulliven RN MS NP

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s