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Friday, June 1, 2007

Celebrity thoughts for the day

I was browsing Perez Hilton.com, my number one guilty pleasure, when I came across this photo of Nicole Richie:

I immediately thought back to this now-infamous shot of Nicole in a bikini from months ago, before she entered rehab for an eating disorder:

And this photo of Keira Knightley at the Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest premiere:

I'm sure my buddy John would tease me for being a catty woman about this post, but I can't help but look at these photos and wonder how far Hollyweird will go. Seeing celebrities wasting away is nothing new -- go to your local supermarket and check out the tabloid section. At least one, at any given time, will show celebrities on the cover with headlines screaming, "ANOREXIA!" or "CELEBRITIES STARVING!" or something along those lines. It seems in order to be an actress or celebrity these days, you have to be unnaturally skinny. When the cameras notoriously add weight,, the pressure is upped to be skinnier and skinnier and skinnier.

But what I don't understand is how it got this way. Look at old movie stars: Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Doris Day, Katherine Hepburn, Judy Garland, Grace Kelly... the list goes on and on. These were gorgeous, beautiful, talented women who were still healthy. What is driving actresses today to become so frail? And what affect is it having on the rest of us?

A 1997 Psychology Today Body Image Survey showed that discontent with the way we look is higher than it ever has been before, with 56% of women perceiving themselves negatively, mostly about their weight, and a whopping 89% of women thinking they needed to lose weight, with the most common weight loss goal being around 125 pounds, a common weight for celebrities between 5'7" - 5'10". The study also found about 50% of women in the survey were using cigarettes as a method of weight control, a tactic often used by celebrities. And it is affecting younger and younger women and girls:

Since satisfaction with our appearance is so closely tied to how much we weigh, particularly for women, it's logical to assume that our self-disparagement would gradually increase over a lifetime. But that's not what we found. The youngest women, ages 13 to 19, are both the thinnest and the most satisfied with their appearance, however 54 percent of them are still dissatisfied. The number barely increases to 57 percent among women ages 20 to 29. And it remains at around this level, even though women gained five to ten pounds each succeeding decade.

We can't say for sure how these young women will feel as they get older; a survey, of course, taps different women at each age, not the same women over time. Nevertheless, the magnitude of self-hatred among young women is astonishing. Despite being at a weight that most women envy, they are still plagued by feelings of inadequacy The good news is that even though women gain weight with age, they don't become more dissatisfied as they get older. In fact, there's some evidence that as they age they gain insight and appreciation of their bodies' abilities.

Induction into our culture's weight concerns is happening for women at younger ages. Girls today not only have more weight concerns when they're young, they also lack buffers to protect their psyches. Kids don't know themselves well and have not yet developed many competencies to draw on. It's easier for them to look outside themselves to discover who they are -- and find themselves lacking.

Can we blame Hollyweird for this? Of course we can't -- not completely. But I don't think many could deny that it factors into how we, as women, think we should look.

I think I have a pretty healthy body image. I have good days and bad days like anyone else, but overall, I'm pretty accepting. However, seeing celebrities in magazines does not necessarily help. I'll see pictures of Scarlett Johanssen and wish my lips were fuller, see Jennifer Love Hewitt and wish my waist was smaller. Friends of mine echo similar sentiments. And I can't help but wonder: what makes attractive, healthy women react this way?

Our culture has become satiated with celebrities. Everywhere you turn, you see them. Paris Hilton's jail sentence is a perfect example of that, as headline news for weeks over surely much more important things going on in the world. And when women see these photos of extremely skinny starlets day in and day out, gracing television sets and men's magazine covers, we get the feeling that this is how we're supposed to look. With the number of eating disorders getting higher and higher, with celebrities and us "ordinary" people, I can't help but wonder what it will take for the shift to start moving back towards a healthy medium. If Nicole Richie or Mary Kate Olsen died of anorexia, would it be a wake-up call?

Scary thought.


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