Magazine Review: Women’s Health South Africa, June 2012


It’s no secret I love/love-to-hate magazines. I like to say magazines are “like the internet, but on paper!” so when our internet connection was limited last month, I treated myself to more magazines than I normally would. I brought a stack over from the US and read every. single. page. And then I bought my first South African mag: the ZA edition of the June issue of Women’s Health.

I really thought it would be exactly the same as the US mag but with different ads, but there’s actually a good bit of editorial variation:

  • One article, on reflective clothing for outside runs when it is dark out, is recycled from the January US WH (which I just happened to bring over with me in the aforementioned stack), because it is winter here now! There are slight variations, like all references to US-based statistics are deleted, and the highlighted products are all different because the original ones are presumably not available here.
  • Some articles seem to have just been translated into British English, but others are so different they must have originated from the South African (or possibly UK) writing staff.
  • There’s a whole feature on “skin-brightening” serums and creams that I’m guessing is not in the US version.
  • And there are strikingly more images of women of color [you guys know I love a good magazine tally, so here are the stats: Womens Health ZA June 2012 has 48 images of women of color, and 114 images of white women. Womens Health US January 2012 has 14 images of women of color, and 191 images of white women.]

And I learned A LOT of new South African/British English vocabulary and cultural references:

  • “Gym” is a verb here, e.g. “I found myself playing with my son, lifting him up and down… I realized I could gym and play with my son at the same time!”
  • Estrogen is spelled oestrogen.
  • DVRs are called PVRs (presumably that stands for “personal video recorder”?)
  • “Starkers” is a euphemism for naked.
  • The energy in food is measured in kilojoules, not calories. 1 kilojoule = .23 k-calories, so if I wanted to count calories (which lord knows I DO NOT) I’d have to do even more mental math. Buh.
  • “A Hollywood” means getting all your pubes waxed off
  • There’s an article written by a South African man called “What Men Notice When You’re Naked” that discusses the men “praising the tokoloshe” when they get you in their bedroom, which after my minimal research makes no sense to me, and also mentions picturing Angie Mothsekga during sex to prevent premature ejaculation, which indicates to me that South African men are a) unusually politically aware such that they can pull the name of their Minister of Basic Education b) spoiled by incredibly beautiful women if this is what they think counts as ugly.
  • There are multiple references to “GHD”, which I was able to discern from various context clues is a type of flat iron.  It’s interesting to me there is a flat iron brand so dominant here it’s achieved Xerox status. (Even though I think it would be understood, I don’t think Women’s Health would say “burning your earlobe with your CHI.”)  Possibly the result of less-diligent trademark protection over here.  /legaldork
  • “Jocks” = men’s underwear. I guess we sometimes call them “jockeys” back in the states, but I feel like I haven’t heard that since 1992.
  • There’s something in there about having a tumor (excuse me, a tumour) “the size of a spanspek.” I erroneously assumed that was something small. It’s a cantaloupe! Proof that context clues will not always lead you on the correct path. Also, researching this led me to this assertion that calling spanspek cantaloupe is an insult to spanspek, which makes me REALLY EXCITED TO TRY IT!

Our health insurance plan allegedly lets me get a crazy cheap subscription to Women’s Health ZA, so this may be the first in a series! Or by time I get my first issue I might be speaking this wacky new dialect and find nothing notable. We’ll see.


  1. I should probably just leave a blanket comment on your blog saying, “Yes! It’s like that here too!” (I’m talking about starkers, GHDs and oestrogen, not spanspek and tokoloshe, obvs.) But I can’t help it – in the same way you’re fascinated by the differences to the US, I’m equally fascinated by just how many things are similar to the UK. I suppose it’s obvious when you think about it, but I’ve always assumed South Africa would far more foreign than, say, California. And probably it would if I was actually there, but I’m genuinely surprised by how many things sound like they’re the same.

    • One of the things that is most striking to me about British/ZA English is the use of abbreviations. I never would have thought that Americans would be the ones to say things the long way, but here it seems any commonly-used work that can have a syllable chopped off DOES.

      [Although sometimes it is just a different approach to abbreviation, like saying "air con" where we say "AC." ]

  2. P.S. My British/American translation skills are pretty good, so if you ever can’t figure something out, feel free to ask.

  3. I feel the same thing as Kirsty, but with Australia. We also have the GHD and jocks and oestrogen. Jocks ‘n’ socks is, like, something you say when you’re packing for a holiday. “Suit, shoes, bathroom case, jocks n socks.”

  4. For a really fun adventure, you should try buying the Daily Sun newspaper. It’s the working class tabloid paper and it is hilarious. I think today’s headline is DEFORMED BABY MYSTERY! The classifieds advertising various traditional healers are particularly fascinating/hilarious/horrifying.

  5. The real question is: Is your bed up high enough to be safe from tokoloshes?

  6. Ihad quit a luagh reading many of your comments as I am from South Africa.lol and as for the tokoloshe that’s just an old myth believe of the Africans being Xhosa ect

  7. Oh and we hardly read the daily sun as its a load of crap and gossip and pretty revolting

  8. Its considered the local tabloid and read usually by the narrow/uneducated lot

  9. Pingback: Magazine Review: Cosmopolitan South Africa August 2012 | HitchDied

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