Celebrities: Just as screwed up about their bodies as we are.

 Years ago, I had a fairly sizable case of celebrity worship. Glossy tabloid magazines peppered my nightstand like salacious confetti, headlines screaming about alleged infidelity, gay rumors, secret plastic surgeries and marriage woes. I eagerly followed the progress of a certain actress' baby bump, analyzing whether her loose-fitting top was an attempt at food baby camouflage or existed to hide an actual baby. I pondered the possibility that my favorite celebrity chef might be (GASP) a cocaine addict. Was the z-list I'd had a crush on forever REALLY GAY? These things kept me awake at night.

I don't read those magazines anymore. I prefer to get my celebrity gossip the old-fashioned way...through 30-miunute snippets on Entertainment Tonight. The other evening I was lounging on my couch and caught coverage of an interview Jennifer Hudson did with Self Magazine, in which she mentioned that she’s prouder of her weight loss than her Oscar. She also stated, “I didn’t even know I was considered plus-sized until I came to Hollywood.”

Then I opened my Lucky Magazine, and was startled by the following quotes from cover girl Jessica Alba:

"I have a hard time with portion control, so I have 1,200 calorie meals delivered. But I also work out, so basically I'm starving. It sucks. I drink a lot of water. In the gym, I have like five things to distract me: TV, iPod, magazines. Working partners are good, too, so you can chat and not just drown in your own misery."
One of the best way to sell magazines and books is to mention weight loss. In fact, as of this post, five of the top ten New York Times non-fiction hardcover bestsellers address weight loss. And now research suggests that women might be more likely to believe the media over loved ones when assessing their own body image.

Researchers at Arizona State University studied 112 women ages 18-45, and linked 823 people in their families and social networks for follow-up interviews. They measured the degree to which the women felt stigmatized about their weight, and they asked the women “Do you think (so-and-so) thinks you should lose weight?” Members of the social network were asked if they thought the women should lose weight.

According to Psych Central, researchers expected to find ways that friends and family made women feel bad about their weight. Instead, they found friends and family were less likely to say that the woman needed to lose weight than the woman herself predicted. “We found that women generally missed the mark when estimating what their friends and family thought about their weight,” said Daniel J. Hruschka, co-author of the study. “Women were a bit more attuned to the views of close friends and family, but even then, they generally perceived the judgments of others inaccurately.”

But here's what jumped out at me: The women in the study felt stigmatized about their weight despite the fact that people in their lives thought they looked just fine. The researchers speculated that media messages about the body override the messages women get from friends and family.

Since the 1960s, eating disorder incidence rates have doubled (Eating Disorders Coalition, 2006). Interestingly, during the same period of time, mass media has increasingly portrayed progressively thinner representations of the female body. In a renowned study, Garner and colleagues reported that the body measurements and weights of Playboy centerfolds and Miss America Pageant contestants decreased dramatically between 1959 and 1978. More recently, Wiseman and colleagues (1992) observed that this trend continued through 1988. Television has also contributed to this obsession with thinness. A 2000 study found that thinner female characters in television situation comedies received more compliments from men than did heavier characters.

All of these finding tell me that we are increasingly disconnected with what our bodies actually look like. We have no idea of reality when it comes to our own body image. Vanity sizing has basically destroyed any standard of measurement in women's clothing. Actresses are getting thinner and thinner. Our brains become consumed with varieties of compare and contrast, pitting us against celebrities, TV and movie stars in a desperate quest for perfection. "Can I really lose seven pounds in seven days?" "Heidi Klum shaved off her baby weight in four months, so I should be able to do that too." "If Jessica Alba thinks she needs to lose weight, then I must look like a hippopotamus" (that one is from me.)

It's nearly impossible to turn our attention away from messages the media churns out. But it's even more heartbreaking when celebrities confess to being as miserable and skewed about their bodies and diets as we might be. The best we can do is understand that while we might admire acting ability or singing talent, coveting a celebrity's body might mean taking on their distorted body image as well.

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  1. I read that article in Lucky, too and I felt bad for her. I did that for a period of time (1200 calories a day + 2 hr daily workouts) and while I was very thin, I was miserable & obsessed with my weight & size. You couldn't pay me enough money to do it again and even though I'm 2 sizes larger now, I am ten times happier and I feel FREE. :)

  2. Years ago, I developed a very worrysome habit of over-exercising. For the most part I still ate well, but I was running 7-10 miles a day, every single day (pretty sure I wrecked my poor knees in the process too). I have only a few pictures of myself from this time, and I looked ridiculous. No shape, no curves. I think super skinny bodies can be very unattractive (not to mention the fact that most men actually like curves on women), and I loathe the media obsession with thinness. I could go on and on about this, but I will say that your article is one of the reasons I model my own clothing. I want nothing to do with encourage women to think they need to be a size zero in order to look good in clothing. I haven't found another designer anywhere who does this, but I'm proud of the fact that so many people respond so positively to it. I hate it that so many women struggle with body image. I've been there, and it's time consuming, exhausting, and not fulfilling. I don't care about size. I care about health.

  3. GREAT article/post. I agree this is a sickening obsession, and like Emily said - it's HEALTH that matters, not SIZE. I don't kill myself to be thin, and I'm doing JUST fine. :)


  4. i'm with you but what always defies a lot of these studies is the sizing of clothes. A vintage size 18 is a modern 14. For as thin as media would like us to be we seem to be getting roomier in our sizing. I sell a lot of clothes and I can see a difference between clothes from 2000 until 2011. 10 short years and size's have gotten almost to the point of stupid. Right now I can wear a modern size small and seem to be tripping into a XS (So I'm guessing truly small women will have to shop in the girl section soon?). I can't even get my arm into a size small from ten years ago. Pants? I'm zooming to a size 6 and the same, brand and almost style from 2005 kind of tight, from 2000 forget about it. In certain brands I wear a size FOUR. A FOUR???!!! In the eighties I'd be a size 12 maybe in more forgiving brands a 10. And don't think its just chico's i'm talking about here. To date even American Eagle and Abercrombie fit in ways they shouldn't. We sure are a heck of a lot kinder to ourselves now in sizing but evidently..........fatter in the fifties? Doesn't add up.

  5. I think Jessica Alba's quote is refreshingly honest. I can't take it when uber thin celebrities claim that they 'eat what they want' or that 'a little yoga' is how they stay stick thin. I like it the Jessica Alba is honest and doesn't try to pretend its natural.

  6. What I found most interesting about Jessica Alba's comments in the Lucky article is that she gives the most honest description of the diet and excercise regimen of postpartum actresses and celebrities that I think I've ever seen. Most of the time thay chirp, "Nursing!" or, "It just snapped back!"

    At least she is admitting what it takes and that she hates it. What I think is missing is her admission that this isn't healthy and shouldn't be emulated.

  7. Thanks for this thoughtful post. It's so sad that beautiful celebrities even struggle with their body image, but it's also comforting to know us "normal" people aren't alone. It's refreshing to see a fashion blogger address this topic, so thanks!

  8. Just as screwed up? Try MORE screwed up. They're under much more pressure than the average person. My job doesn't depend on my figure!

  9. This is so disheartening but very informative. I have to be careful about what my daughter is watching because alot of the female characters in those Disney shows are underweight. Look at Demi Lovato with her eating disorder and self-mutilation. It's completely out of hand.


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