Sabriel let us know about a story at Gawker about the repeated use of nearly identical covers for Men’s Health. For instance, here are the “Six-Pack Abs!” covers from December 2006, April 2007, March 2006, and April 2008 (it was used a couple of other times, too):

They used the “Lose Your Gut!” template repeatedly, including in May 2009, October 2008, and March 2005, among others:

The editor responded by saying that the reused covers are only on the newsstand editions; subscribers get different versions, though even then, there’s quite a bit of repeating.

But regardless, I’m not interested in the fact that a magazine was recycling covers per se. I was struck by two things. First, the repeated covers make clear how much men’s midsections have become objects of scrutiny, the area to work on and obsess about, and by which your physique is judged. From Gawker:

Since 2007, Men’s Health has led with “Flat-Belly Foods,” “Get Back Into Shape,” and “Lose Your Gut” at least twice a year, and a “Six-Pack Abs” at least once a year since 2005.

Second, the degree to which cover lines can be reused, and content is interchangeable, underscores the degree to which these types of magazines — whether aimed at men or women — are selling us the same story, month after month. That story is: you aren’t good enough, your body isn’t good enough, but we have the secret to fixing it (lose weight, gain muscle), getting great sex (or, in the case of women, pleasing your guy), and improving your life in other ways (men = make more money, women = deal with a difficult coworker). The magazines are selling you slightly modified versions of that story because that story is what advertisers want you to get.

This might be a particularly literal repackaging of that theme, but other fashion/health/exercise/gossip magazines are doing the same thing in a somewhat more subtle form.