By Claire Mysko
In Hollywood, female stars who shed pounds get glamorous photo shoots and breathless “How She Did It!” cover stories. But not all slimmed-down celebrities are falling over themselves to shout their new stats from the rooftops and share their diet and exercise tips with the world. Their reluctance to do so points to the reality that weight loss is not the unequivocal triumph the diet industry would have us believe it is.
Sure, smaller numbers on the scale get validated and celebrated in our thin-obsessed culture. But all the fanfare can be overwhelming. Suddenly, it’s The Weight Loss that takes center stage. The red carpet pictures are everywhere. The new form-fitting outfits become big news. Never mind that the person wearing them has a lot more to offer the world than a thinner body.
Three stars recently opened up about the complexities of losing weight under the spotlight.
As a spokesperson for Weight Watchers, Hudson is being paid to talk a big game about her smaller size. Yet she didn’t seem entirely comfortable in this role judging by her Oprah appearance last week. She (and her WW leader) tried to avoid the question of exactly how many pounds she had lost, but relented* after Oprah rejected the idea that a fixation on pounds might not be healthiest approach, insisting that she claim her number as a “victory.” Because we’re all waging war with our bodies, naturally.
“You have never looked better in your life, I think…Do you feel like this is the best you’ve ever been in your life?” Oprah asked giddily [emphasis mine]. Whoa, see how that happened? The weight loss quickly got conflated with who Hudson is on some existential level? Let’s keep in mind that this is a woman who experienced a family tragedy just two years ago, when her mother, brother and nephew were murdered. She’s also a new mother. To say that she’s faced some life-altering emotional upheaval in recent years would be quite the understatement. But back to The Weight Loss! Hudson sheepishly answered that yes, she believes this is the best she’s ever been, although it’s not easy getting used to the body changes. She admitted that sometimes she doesn’t recognize herself and feels conflicted about the attention she’s getting.
“I’m like, ‘Don’t look at me—listen to me. I want you to hear me sing because that’s all that ever really mattered to me,’” she said.
*My episode cut to the breaking news of Mubarak’s speech at the precise moment that Hudson was about to cave and reveal how much weight she’s lost, so I missed the big moment. Nothing like a history-making revolution to put the diet talk in perspective.
The expectation that any star who loses weight must be just bursting with more confidence than ever before also ignores the fact that said star might have been feeling just fine about herself all along, thank you very much. Raven Symone has been on top of her game since she was a wee little one stealing laughs on The Cosby Show. She went on to star in her own mega-hit show, That’s So Raven!
Symone has built a hugely successful career on her talent, so she’s not thrilled that everyone’s focus has now shifted to her size. The gushing praise of her new look stings like a backhanded compliment. She has never lacked confidence in her appearance. However, it’s clear to her now that others obviously had issues with her weight.
“I thought I looked fabulous before and nobody else did,” she told People magazine. “So, whatever… Actually, now I wear bigger clothes because I don’t like the way people stare at me,” she says. “I liked it before. Now, you’re just looking at me for the wrong reasons. Before, you were actually looking at me for a real reason.”
Model Crystal Renn has a different kind of problem. Her recent weight loss has actually sparked some pretty harsh criticism. Renn made a name for herself as the leading plus-size models in America (she used the term “plus-size” to describe herself in the bio included in her book, Hungry: A Model’s Story of Appetite, Ambition, and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves), but it’s pretty hard to find her curves these days.
She first signed with a modeling agency at the age of sixteen and developed anorexia and exercise bulimia with the words of a modeling scout echoing in her head: You could be a supermodel. But you’ll have to lose a little weight. Her disordered eating went on for years, she writes in Hungry:
“Until one day I realized that if I wanted to live, I could no longer starve. I had to get off the crazy-making treadmill. I had to nourish my body and feed my soul. So I ate and ate. And I returned to my natural size 12—the size of the average American and the size I was when I really made it big.”
Now that she’s considerably slimmer than a size 12, Renn is rejecting categorization altogether. In an interview posted on the Ford Models website, she details her frustration with people’s need to have her conform to the image they want her to be.
“I feel pressure from, more than anyplace…the public, and the media. I think by placing a title on my head, which is “plus size,” and then the picture that these people have created in their mind about what plus size actually is, I basically fail you. I couldn’t possibly live up to that.”
Of course Renn is not likely to admit to feeling any industry pressure in a video produced and distributed by the modeling agency that cuts her checks, but the fact remains that speculating about the motivations for her weight loss won’t get us very far. At the end of the day, Renn is the only one who can shed light on that question. And as she correctly points out, it’s impossible to get the full picture of her physical and emotional health just by sizing her up.
Body changes of any kind can bring up complicated feelings. When what we see in the mirror looks different than it did before (even if those changes move us closer to some “ideal”), accepting a new reflection requires some work–the kind of work that can take a minute. And that just does not compute with the glossy media formula: thinness = instant happiness, no strings attached.
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Claire Mysko is the author of You’re Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self and the co-author of Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby.