November 16, 2008

Her Image vs. Her Self-Image

Okay, so one of my good friends told me a piece of information about a certain really famous Hollywood actor who is close to my age (twenties) who shall remain nameless. Said young woman has always been one of my Hollywood heroes for being curvier than the average starlet. Of course she's gorgeous, so it's not like her appearance is that subversive to the beauty norms of the mainstream North American film industry, but I always respected her for being confidently voluptuous. That is, until my good friend told me her best friend went to high school with said film star. Apparently, back in the day, before she was as famous as she is now, she used to take diet pills and was desperately trying to become skinny. Word on the street is, she figured out this was never going to work and stopped taking them before she became a big star, but does the fact that she once had an eating disorder undermine her mantra that she is curvy and confidently fabulous?

Upon careful consideration, said actor is no less an inspiration to me because she once abused diet pills. In high school, lots of girls go through phases where they go to desperate measures to change their bodies before, if they are lucky, growing up to realize it's not worth it. The fact that she went through this common human phase is fine with me. It doesn't undermine her current message that just because she's like, a size six (I know, she's not even that curvy!) it doesn't mean she can't be just as sexy as her movie star peers.

Next, does it matter to me that she hasn't openly discussed her use of diet pills before she was so famous? Nope, it really doesn't. That's her private life and she wasn't a role-model at the time. If she's not ready to discuss her past and is setting a positive example for young girls now about body image, well then I see no reason why she has to bring up her previous abuse of pills. I also contend that if she revealed her old habit, it might make her less inspirational. Sure, she's human and so it's unreasonable to expect her not to have had human problems, but if it is revealed that one of the only curvy actresses in Hollywood wasn't always confident about her looks, but perhaps became that way only because even diet pills couldn't help her get skinny, then I don't know if her ability to symbolize body-image confidence would be compromised or not. If she's keeping this a secret because she doesn't want young girls to hear a story she thinks might undermine her ability to serve as their inspiration, well, I get that. Because it might. While it might be normal for curvy girls to go through a period of hating their bodies before accepting them, it totally shouldn't be and maybe this actress does a greater service to the world by appearing never to have gone through such a stage. She proves (whether truthfully or not) that you can love your body from birth.

Celebrity is a funny thing. The celebrity we know is not the person they are, but a sign that is constructed through media manipulation and a self-conscious desire to express a certain message. They are works of art in themselves that communicate various ideals. Meryl Streep, for example, is the consummate artist who proves one can age gracefully in the spotlight, while someone like Drew Barrymore shows it is possible to recover from the hell of drug addiction. Well, this girl is used by our society as an example of how you can love your body even if you don't look like Keira Knightly. She proves being skinny isn't necessarily better, and I am happen the narrative of her life does that. I don't want that to be disrupted, so I hope her secret doesn't get out.

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