Check out this article in The New York Times, “Bingeing on Celebrity Weight Battles,” about the attention paid to the yo-yo dieting of Kirstey Alley, Oprah Winfrey and the like.
How do heavy women — many of whom bluntly describe themselves as fat — respond to these sagas? Judging by the Internet applause, many feel inspired and connect to the celebrities’ seeming candor.
But for many, these mortification-of-the-flesh narratives are not galvanizing, but toxic, undermining their hard-won self-esteem and exacerbating the derision they face. These celebrity stories can even be counterproductive: health experts say that many famous dieters flaunt weight-loss goals that are unrealistic for most obese women.
It’s not that these women are unsympathetic to Ms. Alley. Been there, felt that. “You loathe yourself,” Ms. Alley told People. “You hate what you’ve done to yourself.”
But the yo-yo dieting and disparaging comments prompt some women to feel unmotivated and hopeless.
“I can’t believe this is still getting to me,” said Sarah Morice, 31, a doctoral candidate in theology at Notre Dame. “I see what Kirstie Alley says about herself and how easy it is for that to become my script. It’s easy to lapse into ‘Oh, my body’s ugly,’ and ‘What’s the use?’ She triggers all those messages for me.”
For women who have made peace with their bodies, confessions by Ms. Winfrey and Ms. Alley seem puzzling, even irritating. To them, the “before” shots of these celebrities look pretty good.
She also notes the wise words of Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration:
“Celebrities perpetuate the idea that we have a handle on this, that we understand what is driving our behavior,” Dr. Kessler said. But resisting certain foods “is not an issue of willpower. This is not about shame and humiliation.”
Developing new, rewarding stimuli takes time, said Dr. Kessler, a former yo-yo dieter himself.
“No one wants to be fat,” he added, “but I care most that people stop beating up on themselves.”