Yesterday, I received the following email from a producer at ABC:
Hi Leslie, I am looking for a body image expert to comment on Kirstie Alley and her weight loss struggles. Specifically, she’s said she is down to a size 4 – but she seems more like a size 14 to most people. I would love to have you comment on how her very public struggles with weight play out in the media and what this says about her body image.
I’ll confess, my first thought upon reading this was: “No way is she a size 4.”
My second thought: “So what if she’s lying? My driver’s license says i weigh 130 lbs and have gray eyes, neither of which is true.”
My third thought: “Poor Kirstie.”
Not because it’s so horrible to be a size 14 or 12 or whatever she may be. But because the Cheers sexpot-turned-Fat Actress star is, like most of us, so completely and totally obsessed with numbers – on the scale, on her clothing tags – that she’ll go to crazy extremes in an effort to be the “perfect” size.
Years ago, she signed on as the Jenny Craig spokeswoman and semi-self-consciously danced around Oprah’s stage in wearing a bikini and strategically-placed sarong. When her spokeswoman reign ended, she stopped dieting and working out and turned her home gym into a dining room. The result: She wound up eating back the 75 pounds she had lost, plus an additional 10. Of course, we all know what happened. Unflattering photos of her were splashed across the tabloids. Insults were hurled. Once, after getting off a plane, Kirstie says a paparazzi photog screamed, “Fat ass, turn around so I can shoot you!’”
Now, like every other Dancing With the Stars celeb, she is on a mission to shed pounds and reveal her inner salsa vixen. She has spoken of her goal of becoming a “legit size four,” claiming she is currently wearing ”a stretchy 4-6 size… When I’m in that [size 4] for real, looking hot, I’ll be like, ‘That’s good. You’re done.’” Part of her regimen apparently includes not eating, as evidenced by her collapsing and falling down three stairs during rehearsals.
Alley, like many women, tends to pick a goal, no matter how elusive, and then publicly announce her intent to achieve it, typically within an unrealistic time frame. (Anyone who’s ever made a New Year’s resolution to lose 30 pounds by March should be able to identify.) She did it again on Oprah in early 2009, when she declared her mission to attain Michelle Obama-quality arms and get “ripped”…within six months. “It’s humiliating,” Kirstie said of her 85-pound weight gain. “The most painful thing for me is that I have all these people that I inspired and then I let them down.”
During that same episode, Oprah herself confessed to “falling off the wagon” and memorably voiced her frustration, saying, “I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight.”
This whole thing has me feeling just… sad. Do celebrities really think that we, the world at large, hold them to such high expectations that we would be personally disappointed in them if they were to lose their footing and gain back some weight? Everyone struggles – it can be a lifelong struggle for many – and while there are many people who do sit back and throw stones, there are countless other real world women who understand Kirstie’s and Oprah’s struggles all too well. In fact, I relate far more to them than I do to some Biggest Loser contestant who shed 200 pounds and has kept it off… by working out for three hours, twice a day, subsisting on 1200-calorie meal plans, eschewing white carbs, salt and alcohol and has a personal tummy tuck doctor on speed dial.
Then again, I cannot imagine the hell of hearing a paparazzi yell out, “Fat ass, turn around so I can shoot you!’” Or of having George Lopez compare me to a squealing pig on national television.
No one should have to feel “humiliated” because they’ve faltered or stumbled. No one should have to feel the pressure to go from plus-sized to “ripped” in six months. If Kirstie wants to fit into a size 4 for herself, then I applaud and support her. But I just want all of these women to understand that we won’t throw them to the wolves and call them names just because they are human. We are not the paparazzi. We are real women, too.
Am I wrong? To all those women out there minding their waistlines, do you hold celebrities to a higher, almost superhuman standard? Would Kirstie really be letting you down if she never fits into a size 4? Or do you appreciate her self-awareness and bravery in battling her weight so publicly, no matter what the number on the scale?