The celebrity fitness myth

NATALIE REILLY
Last updated 09:28 18/08/2014
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Instagram/Reuters

'BOUNCING BACK': Mums Britney Spears and Megan Fox have both seen career comebacks this month, but the focus has been on the 'whipping into shape' of their bodies.

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On Friday Britney Spears made her buzzed-about 'comeback' in Las Vegas. The show, entitled 'Piece of Me', is strangely apt considering it wasn't her voice but rather her abdominal muscles which garnered the most publicity in the lead-up to the performance.

Two days prior, the trainer of Megan Fox told outlets how he whipped the actress 'into shape' for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Because if it's one thing the already svelte mother-of-two needs to be rigorously fit for it's a turtle movie based on a cartoon television show. 

 "She eats carbs," her trainer told Us Magazine, "She just eats the right carbs." 

The right carbs, huh? The implication is always the same. It has been since the celebrity fitness industrial complex began at the dawn of online gossip two decades ago: the path to replicating an actress's body is aspirational and easy. Which means, you should go out and get that body, too!

And everyone who has ever regretted nibbling on a Tim Tam knows exactly what a female celebrity body should look like: concave and/or muscular stomach, toned limbs, thigh gap, perky breasts. Or, if 'curvy' is part of their brand, they're allowed bigger breasts and a posterior, those components of the female body that can be readily sexualised. But the stomach must not change. Not even 'after baby'.

It didn't used to be part of every female celebrity's job description to have an unusually svelte body.

But here we are where it's now broadened to include everyone from Chloe Grace Moretz, 17, to Helen Mirren, 67, with every post-baby body in between, to spout the secret of their slender success.

Because this particular body type is, to paraphrase author Susie Orbach, the ultimate status symbol of Western culture, there are a slew of products attached to achieving it. Tracy Anderson gyms and DVDs, for example, are available to us civilians because this celebrity body is just a workout away!

This is what writer Lily Karlin refers to as 'the fraudulence of the celebrity fitness myth'.

The idea that celebrities are working just a smidgen harder than us to look like they do. Because something like height is fixed but the shape and weight of one's body is permeable. Nevermind the reality, which is that less than five per cent of the female population are born with the pop cultural 'ideal'.

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Nevermind that rest of us are not living the sort of lifestyles that can sustain such rigid practices

Occasionally, someone, like actress and mother-of-two, Julianne Moore, will admit the truth.

"I hate dieting" Moore told Eve Magazine in 2008. "I'm hungry all the time."

"I think I'm a slender person, but the industry apparently doesn't. All actresses are hungry all the time, I think."

But there's still one taboo many will not touch: plastic surgery. Gwyneth Paltrow vaguely referenced it in regards to breasts, after rumours swirled that she'd had hers 'done'. She called it 'reconstructive' surgery as opposed to 'plastic' because after breasts have fed babies, they are LITERALLY a broken body part.

Indeed, while many actresses who have had children appear to have blossomed over their careers, rare is the woman who will address it directly. And why should she? Everyone knows she will be punished; called vain, insecure, inauthentic, anti-woman.

But the truth is that in this alleged age of 'body diversity' a certain type of 'body-after-baby' is a career-comeback.

Take Jessica Simpson who turned her 'body-after-babies' into its own cottage industry. Or Beyonce's first concert 'post baby' where her weight loss was given top billing

Which brings us back to Britney Spears, whose weight fluctuations signal the stop and start of her status as a performer. As of two weeks ago via an Instagram post, her flat stomach proved 'the last 10 Years Never happened.'

So, her painful struggle with mental illness, that's neatly swept away by new abs too?

Nooo, we mean the babies!

It's as if she never HAD BABIES, SILLY!

Filmmaker Jean Kilborne in her documentary on images of women, Killing Us Softly made the point that the more often women are portrayed as disembodied objects - without faces, without other body parts - the easier it becomes to commit violence against them, including but not limited to rape. Indeed, there has long been an established link 'between dehumanisation and disinhibition of aggression'.

But when this dehumanisation spreads to include pregnant women and their 'bodies after babies!' we know that we've entered into a new kind of perversion.

This fetishisation of motherhood, including the sanitisation of birth itself, (which is always glossed over in the body reveal) would be laughable if it weren't so gross.

This bizarre sanctification of pregnant  'bumps' and obsession with abnormally slender post-natal bodies has been so normalised within popular culture it's now accepted that if you want to keep your career you're going to have to get back into your skinny jeans and get on that magazine cover before you can spell episiotomy, girlfriend!

Which leaves the rest of us, where exactly? If only, as Karlin writes, we could 'strip the weight loss industries of their cultural power.' And if only we could see motherhood - both pre and post natal - in all of its ordinary messiness, then the rest of us females, (including those who don't want children and are bored by the culture's Madonna obsession), could truly get our bodies back.

Here's a snippet of Jean Kilborne talking about how women are portrayed in the media is dehumanising ... 

- Daily Life

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