Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Jessica Simpson's Reality Show and the Problem When Stars Speak Out About Body Image

According to Us magazine, Jessica Simpson is now pitching a reality television show--tentatively titled "The Price of Beauty"--based on all the heat she has taken for her weight gain.

Her larger size first made headlines in January and the story was just resurrected for the June issue of Vanity Fair, in which oh-so-observant writer Rich Cohen asserted that "her extra pounds had gone back to wherever they came from, existing only in a few dated pictures on the Internet. Jessica was skinny again, in dark pants, velvety coat, and high heels." Ugh.

And therein lies the problem with most celebrity attempts to promote positive body image. Sure, they can talk about self-acceptance and authenticity. But to get a platform, they have to get thin first. They have to prove that they are still attractive (by Hollywood's ridiculous standards) and bankable before they can go out and talk to fans about how important it is to just be healthy and be yourself. It's a pattern we've seen before.

1. Jennifer Love Hewitt was the target of tabloid photographers, who published unflattering photos of her in a bikini. Her public response was to tell the world how outraged she was that girls everywhere were struggling with their body image--and to reassure everyone that she was an itty bitty SIZE 2! A few months later, she appeared on the cover of Us to talk about how she "lost 18 pounds in 10 weeks!"

2. Tyra Banks also found herself the victim of swimsuit snark, so she went on her show to tell those haters to "kiss her fat ass." She just happened to be wearing the same exact swimsuit she was photographed in, simultaneously making the case that her ass was nowhere near fat.

3. Debra Messing was on the January cover of Shape magazine. In the article, she candidly discussed how awful it was to have to deal with the pressure to lose weight right after she gave birth to her son.

"It was written about in the tabloids a lot...On one page it showed all the actresses who got skinny in six weeks or less, and on the other page was me! I was so depressed and frustrated."

Messing tried to shed the pounds quickly, but the stress of working out constantly was too much. So she went with a slow and steady approach and took the weight off over three years. That does sound very reasonable, but lets' not forget the context. The cover line reads: "Debra Messing: How I lost 42 pounds." To the left: "Weight Loss Made Easy!" Above it: "Slim Down Special" Below it: "Get Firm and Sexy in 28 Days."

Stars are often forced to play this weighting game to stay on top of their game. And that makes it very, very difficult to walk the positive body image talk if they want to keep walking the red carpet. Will Jessica Simpson's show break the mold? I'll set my DVR and wait to find out.

via "Body Image and Reality TV" [You'd Be So Pretty If...]


"Jessica Simpson Working on a New Reality Show" [Us]

"The Jessica Simpson Question" [Vanity Fair]

"J. Love Loves Her Size 2 Body. Hear That, Word? She's a Size 2!"

"Jennifer Love Hewitt: Oh, the Hypocrisy"

"Tyra Addresses Unflattering Bathing Suit Photos [YouTube]

"Up Close With Debra Messing" [Shape]


Julie said...

A really thought provoking post - thanks. I think it just goes to show that celebrities and stars are 'real' people too and feel the same pressure that our advertising and media saturated society places on them.

Claire Mysko said...

Hi Julie,
Love your blog!

Yes, stars do feel the same pressure. In fact, I think they feel it MORE intensely because they are constantly being scrutinized and their ability to get work is usually directly tied to their ability to fit a certain size and achieve a certain look.

That's what makes it so tough for them to be effective spokespeople for body acceptance because their profession so rarely rewards that kind of true acceptance.

Their efforts are well-meaning, of course. But they can end up sending a very mixed message.

Rachel said...

I find that when most stars talk about positive body image, it's almost always carries the unspoken caveat "so long as you're thin." No one wants to tell fat girls to love their bodies for fear of being accused of promoting childhood obesity.