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HEALTH | Body Positivity: Commentary on Media’s Warped View of Weight

Pop star Pink on the cover of the November 2012 issue of Shape magazine. (Shape)
Pop star Pink on the cover of the November 2012 issue of Shape magazine. (Shape)

Whenever you’re standing in line at a grocery store, countless headlines about celebrity weight loss, weight gain, or other appearance-related issues would jump out at you from the magazine racks at check-out. Many of us take the overwhelming bombardment of these images for granted, and wouldn’t think twice about the implications for the featured celebrities and how it affects the rest of us as a society.

Take a recent issue of Shape magazine with the article called “Celebrity Before & After Photos: Weight Loss Success: How Jennifer Hudson, Alec Baldwin, Mariah Carey, and more went from flab to fab.” The title is problematic as it suggests that stars were ever ugly or a lesser being when they were at a heavier weight. Some of the other specific examples of this kind of criticism included:

“Raven Symone may not be loving the attention her weight loss success is bringing her but we love the way she looks: healthy and happy.”

And “What prompted [Aretha Franklin] to go from flab to fab? Franklin didn’t cite her mysterious December 2010 health scare; instead, she attributed her success to pictures that made her realize that she was ‘entirely too fat.'” Franklin said that she has been working hard to cut out foods “that will hurt [her] eventually.”

And also “Ricky Gervais lost only about 20 pounds, but it’s impossible not to notice how his body has transformed from flab to fab.”

Statements such as “entirely too fat,” “flab to fab,” or “lost only 20 pounds” are problematic because Shape is claiming that health can only take one form. Losing twenty pounds might not mean much to one person, but it could be a tremendous amount of weight for someone else so why is the magazine suggesting everyone is the same? Discrimination of people with nonconventional body types is further enforced with claims such as “his body transformed from flab to fab”.

How is the media even qualified to diagnose the state of health for these celebrities? Health is personal, and rarely can it be determined by something as subjective as appearance.

Another example of the media’s obsession with weight was the backlash actress Jennifer Lawrence received for not dieting for her role in the movie Hunger Games. Her statement “I’m never going to starve myself for a part, I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner'” received much criticism but Lawerence stood strong in her belief in setting a positive example and remaining loyal to her body.

Stars like Anne Hathaway and Natalie Portman have both lost tremendous amounts of weight for roles in the films Les Misérables and Black Swan, with little to no criticism from the media. However, both these women were already very thin, so losing weight created concern among their cast mates and directors and furthered the stereotype that beautiful people have to be thin.

When will we as a society realize how abusive and detrimental articles like these are? Perhaps celebrities like Jennifer Lawerence will lead the way in encouraging body acceptance and empowerment and we will eventually have a media that supports and accepts everyone, regardless of their appearance.

Read Kendall Anderson’s earlier blog post: HEALTH | Body Positivity: Critique on the Critique of Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches.

The Mills Body Positivity Group meets on Wednesdays at 4:00 p.m. and Thursdays at 12:20 p.m. Check out the Facebook group:

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