The March issue of Self is out this week, featuring Katharine McPhee on its cover, with teasers about her “secret shape-up.” The article celebrates her body, crediting her lean, toned figure to hard work at the gym and on the set of the new NBC musical, ‘Smash.’ But even if she’s putting in workouts that would benefit the rest of us, all the praise of her body—and, let’s be honest, her thinness—just shouldn’t be on a fitness magazine, or even on tv. If this isn’t an eating disorder trigger, then I don’t know what is.
Since her debut on American Idol in 2006, the 27-year-old singer and actress has spoken frankly about her experience with bulimia at the time. She told People that for five years, she struggled with the eating disorder, sometimes forcing herself to throw up seven times a day.
Growing up in Los Angeles and spending all those years in dance class, I’d been conscious of body image at a young age, and I went through phases of exercising compulsively and starving myself—I’d do all that stuff.
But when she started the show, she decided to get help. She said that with the guidance of Los Angeles’s Eating Disorder Center of California, she adopted an “intuitive eating” method and dropped 30 pounds. But she admitted at the time that she wasn’t completely recovered:
I’m definitely not completely healed; I still have to be really cautious of diet mentalities, like, “Oh, I shouldn’t eat this because I have this event coming up.” That’s why I don’t want to talk about numbers. I don’t want people to read, “Oh, she’s that size,” because it causes people to be more obsessed.
Which is why it’s so creepy that fitness magazines like Self—and for that matter, Smash—are celebrating her body. The March issue features quotes about her routine for the show, which sounds grueling:
I do a five-hour dance rehearsal. I feel it in my thighs and calves, but it’s so stop-and-go. I miss my real workout … I love my body when I’m in the best shape I can be in. It feels good to be strong.
And when asked what her “dream day” would be like, she says:
I’d do a one-hour kick-a** cardio program with my trainer, Oscar Smith.
Both workout routines sound intense, but even if they’re perfectly “healthy,” focusing on a recovered bulimic’s body and fitness so much just isn’t.
This isn’t the first time someone’s been outraged at fitness magazines for putting her on their covers. Back when Shape featured her on their cover in 2010, Katie Drummond wrote about McPhee’s hypocrisy:
…after purging as often as seven times a day, for five years, you’d think McPhee would know better than to perpetuate the very same unrealistic physical ideal she admits to struggling with.
But given her problems with body image, and the fact that she’s trying to make money like any other celebrity, it’s not surprising that she’s willing to talk at length about her workout and show off her body in magazines and on tv. But the editors of Self are a different story: They could easily tap into McPhee’s fame, talent and personality without finding so much occasion to talk about her body and workout routine. (Case in point: February’s cover model, Kristen Bell, talks more about how much she loves animals, chocolate, and Twitter than how many hours she’s logging at the gym.)
And so could Smash: The first episode, which aired earlier this week, spends an odd amount of time dwelling on McPhee’s body. Within the first five minutes, she’s talking about her weight: After a failed audition, she recounts the story to her boyfriend and complains about her body, wishing that she were fat instead of being hungry all the time:
I’m not sexy enough. I’m the girl next door….Why do I have to be sexy all the time? I wish I was fat. Plus Ii’m hungry, I’m gonna start eating more. And plus I’m light, as they keep saying, ‘they think that you’re light.’ What does that mean?
…All uttered between bites of dessert spoonfed to her boy the boyfriend.
If all of this isn’t an eating disorder trigger—for both her and her fans—I don’t know what is. It’s one thing to be inundated by one-dimensional beauty standards on television and in magazines, but actually prizing a recovering bulimic’s workout routine (and weight loss) is point blank condoning distorted body image and disordered eating (including “exercise bulimia,” something that five-hour daily workouts and a script that defines you as being “too thin” aren’t likely to help).
Drummond described fitness magazines like Self as “heroin for the eating disordered” because of their combination of misleading diet information and “airbrushed photos of impossible physical ideals.” Celebrating the body, workout routine, and diet of a recovering bulimic like Katharine McPhee is even worse.