All year long, certain magazines thrive on celebrity weight loss stories, of which, everyone knows, there is no shortage. Last week, Kim Kardashian appeared on the cover of Us Weekly in a tiny white bikini; inside, she talked about losing her pregnancy weight. A few weeks back, celebrity power couple Jay-Z and Beyoncé announced they'd be embarking on a vegan diet. Of all the diets Beyoncé has plugged -- perhaps most famously, she credited the master cleanse liquid diet for helping her shed 20 pounds, fast, for her role in Dreamgirls -- veganism is one of the more reasonable. That said, the singer has become so well known for her recreational dieting that last month she inspired one writer to try out "the entire range" of her diets, for 10 days. Said writer lost 10 pounds.
Traditionally, celebrity weight loss stories are called out as destructive and anti-feminist, a source of body image issues among girls and women and of unrealistic expectations about how women should look in general. And yet, there's something refreshing -- and, perhaps, even healthy -- about those celebrities who publicly discuss their ups and downs.
According to market research company the NPD Group, 23 percent of women are on a diet at any given time. Yet dieting remains a private issue for most women, who often hide their efforts from friends and family out of embarrassment or fear of failure or of being perceived as vain. In the new issue of ELLE, Marisa Meltzer writes about how, during a recent weight loss regimen in which she shed 60 pounds, she told only one friend. "Dieting is my biggest secret," she writes. "I wish I could say it's a thrilling one, like dating your college TA, but it's more like waxing my lip -- I don't ever want to talk about it, and I'd rather people thought I never had to worry about it in the first place." Considering a Glamour magazine survey revealed that women recorded an average of 13 negative thoughts about their bodies a day -- nearly one for every waking hour -- not worrying, for most women, seems just as unrealistic as a size 00.
Famous people, on the other hand, almost necessarily play out their weight issues in a very public forum. And while some may applaud celebrities who, like Jennifer Lawrence, eschew diets entirely -- Lawrence recently told Harper's Bazaar UK that "If anybody even tries to whisper the word 'diet,' I'm like, 'You can go f*ck yourself'" -- that come-what-may attitude simply isn't the reality, or the luxury, for many women. And so chronic dieter Beyoncé, who once called herself "a natural fat person, just dying to get out" over a lunch consisting of six tomato slices and four cucumber slices becomes, at least, a more believable role model. Unlike Jennifer Lawrence -- unlike most of America -- she may have to diet every once in a while. And so what if she does?
Though the subtext of nearly all celebrity weight loss tales is that skinny is the ideal, it's comforting to know that famous people are not above the struggle and that, at least in some cases, it can be just as difficult for a rich, famous, and usually very beautiful person to lose weight as it can for anyone else. Though it may be tempting to roll your eyes when Gwyneth Paltrow promotes yet another detox because she's eaten too much bread and cheese, there's something inherently satisfying about the fact that weight is on even her mind -- that even Gwyneth Paltrow is not too "perfect" to care.
Like many women, ELLE's Meltzer wonders if, through dieting, "being admired for our looks is participating in our own oppression, minimizing our brains and power." But it's certainly tough to believe that Us Weekly's cover girl Kardashian is in any way participating in her own oppression. For the rest of us, there's something very powerful about choosing to take control of your body and health. And if the goal is to get society to accept the notion that different women have different bodies -- and that struggling with weight is not something that needs to be hidden from view -- the way to achieve that will almost certainly be through talking about it, and then talking about it some more.