Breaking: In the world of celebrities-excusing-their-thinness, Katherine Jenkins recently tweeted a photo of three slices of cakes to make sure her fans knew she wasn’t on a diet. Nay, she is actually trying to gain weight. As others have noted, it’s near impossible for women to talk about dieting and exercise without getting slayed by bloggers just like me, so I probably shouldn’t say that I’m annoyed with Jenkins for telling the media that she wants to be healthy, then tweeting that she’s trying to gain weight by eating three desserts. But I’m gonna say it: Because I’m also really really tired of the whole junk-food-as-rebellion trope that’s supposed to make me feel better about my body…and the piles of junk that I’m supposedly feeling really deprived of right now.
Lately, it seems you can’t go three days without a celebrity explaining why she looks thinner than usual, or fatter than usual—and how she plans to remedy either ‘problem.’ Last week, it was Miley Cyrus‘ gluten allergy debacle; later last week, it was Kristin Cavallari explaining that her less-than-Jessica Simpson pregnancy weight gain was a matter of health, not deprivation. Now it’s Katherine Jenkins‘ turn, and she wants us all to know that it’s ‘Dancing With The Stars’ that caused her weight loss; not dieting. Yesterday, the Welsh singer tweeted: “The new Katherine Jenkins Diet Plan… #WhoSaysImNotEating #MumWouldBeSoProud.” along with the following photo:
And she also told the Daily Mail:
I’ve lost a stone and a half. I’m burning so much energy now that it’s hard to put the weight back on.
But I like to be curvy so I’m trying not to lose any more. But I do want to be healthy, too – there are so many skimpy costumes to wear. That scares me.
Why any of these actresses should have to defend their bodies in the first place is another topic—probably best addressed by Ashley Judd‘s recent rail against misogynistic scrutiny of women’s bodies in society. But what frustrates me from the stance of a health blogger and body image advocate is that so many people are getting it wrong when it comes to having a healthy diet AND attitude towards their bodies.
Girls and women are empowered by being healthy. I’m not talking juice cleanses and yoga retreats; I’m talking about basic nutrition and bodies free of injury and disease. Those might sound like third world concerns, but increasingly, American women are plagued by obesity, heart disease, and diabetes—and yes, eating disorders: All chronic problems that diminish our well-being and ability to achieve.
The opposite of an eating disorder isn’t eating junk food: It’s having the freedom and state of mind to make choices that prioritize health over what’s in fashion—whether that be eating too-few calories to look skinny or eating junk food to because of it’s contrarian cache, as Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan described succinctly last week:
Even the First Lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, which aims to gently encourage kids to improve their eating habits and exercise, has been criticized for hurting kids’ self esteem. Some right wing lawmakers have grumbled that it’s akin to the government forcing people to skip dessert. Meanwhile, 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon — God love ‘er — has become a bit of a quasi-feminist hero for her unabashed love of terrible food and using her treadmill as a ham juice-covered wedding dress hanger. Women Eating Cake is a photo project. Being unhealthy has become cute.
Women get criticized all the time for talking about food—especially if they advocate doing anything to moderate their calorie intake or manage their weight. Which is probably why Katherine Jenkins felt she had to prove that she isn’t on a diet with three plates of cake. She shouldn’t have to explain her weight at all, but as Ryan points out, she also shouldn’t have to fear being torn apart like Lady Gaga was when she advocated eating a salad instead of a cheeseburger:
Was Gaga’s tweet ill-advised? Yes. But so is overpolicing public discussion of eating and exercise habits. Even if she’d omitted the weirdly incoherent hashtags, if her diet/exercise related tweet had something to do with anything besides eating a big fucking piece of cake and then giggling about how adorable that is, someone would have been offended. Even though cheeseburgers are delicious, they’re unhealthy, and sometimes it’s in a person’s best interest to choose to eat a salad instead. This isn’t a harmful idea.
Eating junk food isn’t rebellious, or empowering. It is just fine to do every once in awhile, but making cheeseburgers and cake the mainstays of your diet isn’t any healthier than turning to diet coke and rice cakes—mentally or physically.