How Celebrity Weight Battles Hurt Women

It's almost impossible to turn on the television without being confronted by a celebrity who has chosen to take their weight battles public, as diet plans are always using famous faces to push their products.

Kirstie Alley famously shilled for Jenny Craig. Jenny McCarthy has credited Weight Watchers with helping her lose her baby weight. Marie Osmond has taken time out of her "making creepy dolls for QVC" schedule to push Nutrisystem, and celebrities from Valerie Bertinelli to Oprah Winfrey are currently discussing their weight loss goals on the small screen; all under the guise of "helping other women" who may be struggling with the same weight/body image issues.

But as Jan Hoffman points out in the New York Times, these celebrity weight battles may just be doing more harm than good, as they present the notion that women MUST be thin in order to be considered beautiful. Disparaging comments made by celebrities at their heavier weights often lead viewers to feel bad about their own bodies, as Sarah Morice tells the Times: "I can't believe this is still getting to me. I see what Kirstie Alley says about herself and how easy it is for that to become my script. It's easy to lapse into ‘Oh, my body's ugly,' and ‘What's the use?' She triggers all those messages for me."

Not only do these celebrities contribute to the notion that thin=healthy and successful, fat=disgusting and lazy, but they also present women with ridiculously unrealistic notions of what it means to be healthy and happy. Oprah has always gotten on my nerves for her approach to weight loss: for Oprah, it's always been about the numbers on the scale, instead of the actual health value. She obsesses so much about getting back to a former size or losing x amount of pounds that she loses the point completely: diets do not, and never have, worked. Oprah's insistence on attaching her value as a person to her weight destroys any messages she may want to give about "getting fit" or "getting healthy," as Oprah still doesn't seem to understand that one can be both without being 115 pounds.

Dodai previously expressed her frustrations with Oprah's weight-loss obsession: "Of course, there's another issue here: Fat-shaming. With those two words, "I'm embarrassed," Oprah makes plus-sized people - and yes, that includes me - feel like they should be embarrassed, too. Because Oprah is amazing, and Oprah knows all. So if Oprah weighs 200 lbs. and is embarrassed then you'd better be ashamed of yourself if you're anywhere near or over that weight, right?"

When celebrities engage in this "I'm so hideous, I need to lose weight" behavior, it only reinforces the notion that everyone who may not fit the twisted societal ideal of "health" or "beauty" feel as if they've failed in some way, or that their bodies are "disgusting" as well. It's become so insane that when a celebrity does gain weight, and makes no apologies for it, as Kelly Clarkson has done recently, the media immediately begins to wonder "what's wrong" with the celebrity, and "why she let herself go." God forbid anyone consider that Kelly is comfortable with her body and perhaps the slimmer image she held a few years back was actually the result of being caught in a "thin or nothing" mindset.

Adding to the madness is the fact that we only see these women through distorted lenses, through screens and photographs, and our perception of their bodies is based only on what the media presents to us. We hear their weights, their cup sizes, their waist sizes, etc, and feel as if it's something to strive for, when in reality we have no idea what their bodies really look like. We begin to believe that in order to be beautiful and loved, we need to ave 0% body fat and a "bikini bod." We put all of our trust in women who are clearly uncomfortable with themselves and their body image. We take tips from people who still haven't made peace with their own skin. It's never really about getting healthy or getting fit: it's always about a damn bikini or a smaller pant size or a need to shed a "disgusting" shell in order to fit the socially-acceptable view of "beauty."

We also begin to judge the bodies of others, based only on what we've seen on tv or in the magazines, as Lesley Kinzel of Fatshonista.com points out: "When you have famous people turning their weight tribulations into mass-media extravaganzas, they're contributing to a culture where passing comments on strangers' bodies is considered O.K." I've often seen this happen in the comments: "But isn't being that heavy just unhealthy?" "I'm sorry, but she's obese, and that's a health issue." "I'm sorry, but being lazy and fat isn't glamorous, it's unhealthy." We begin to believe that we have the right to pass judgment on the health, bodies, lifestyles, and motivations of others, simply because we've been so trained to believe that the only healthy body is a body worthy of a magazine cover.

Thanks to the efforts of the Kirstie Alleys and the Oprah Winfreys of the world, overweight women are expected to apologize for their bodies, as Kate Harding points out: "The culture rewards that self-disgust. Once you acknowledge that your body is not O.K., then people love you, because that's what expected of fat people all the time."

We often have battles break out in weight-related threads, namely over the concepts of thin privilege and the judgments passed by those who think that fat=unhealthy. The truth is that we're so screwed up as a society, in terms of how we view weight, that we can not let go of whatever messages have been drilled into us by popular culture. Everyone is busy judging everyone else's weight because so many of us are uncomfortable with our own, and when we see someone who is, we immediately become suspicious or declare that that person is "clearly unhealthy" in their approach to body image or weight. Here is where thin privilege comes into play: fat=always bad, thin=always good. People do not want to factor in genetics, the concept of being heart-healthy at a higher weight, or the notion that not all women are designed to weigh 110 pounds.

Perhaps instead of holding up celebrities for "battling" with their weight, we should begin celebrating celebrities who refuse to apologize for their bodies, and who embrace positive body image. It won't be easy, as most celebrities would rather be rewarded for being thin than celebrated for being comfortable in their own bodies, but one hopes that eventually, famous women will stop tearing themselves down, as all it does is make things that much harder for the rest of us.

Binging On Celebrity Weight Battles [NYTimes]
Kelly Clarkson: Weight Debate [Star]
Earlier: Oprah's "Embarrassed About Her Weight"; I'm Pissed Off