The More Things Change, the More They Stay Panicky About Weight

As I’ve mentioned before, Mr. Twistie always finds interesting things at flea markets. A couple weeks ago, he found an issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal from 1961. There were several articles in it he wanted to take a look at, but as soon as he got it home he handed it off to me so that I could take a look at the article about how three Hollywood stars – Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, and Natalie Wood – manage to stay so slim.

I thought in light of Plummy’s recent call for your stories of fad dieting, some of you might be interested in a couple quotes. For those of you who may have been dealing with an ED, be aware that some quotes may well be triggering and proceed with caution, if at all.

From Janet Leigh:

“I didn’t try to lose a lot of weight fast because crash diets aren’t good for you and their affects don’t last long” Instead, Janet cut her calories to 2000 a day, gradually reduced the number to 1000. Results? In less than two months she had shed 14 pounds without “becoming tense or nervous.”

Seriously? 1000 calories a day is starvation level. She also goes on to brag that she only gained fifteen pounds when she had her first child, and ten when she had her second. She goes on to tell us:

“I’ve found it’s just as easy to eat fruit as pastries. And one of my favorite salads is a wonderful one my husband [Tony Curtis] makes with crisp, crisp cucumbers and onion rings in a vinegary dressing – and it has practically no calories at all!”

There’s also a bit about how she eschews fad diets. Because eating less than half the calories recommended by the FDA is such a non-faddy response to the possibility of weighing another fifteen pounds.

As for Jack Lemmon, he doesn’t really have a diet plan, per se, that he shares, but he admits that he’s “always hungry.” And he says “Bad shape for me is five pounds over” his preferred weight of 150 pounds.

Natalie Wood admits her struggle is to gain weight, rather than lose it. To make matters worse, she feels the need to avoid “chocolates, fats, and fried foods” because she thought they made her face break out. At 5’2 1/2″, her ambition was to weigh 100 pounds. In order to keep her weight up, she eats lots of pasta.

So, nearly fifty years ago, we have one woman eating literally starvation rations and proud of the fact that she gained nearly no weight while growing a whole other person in her body, one man who would rather go hungry most of the time than gain five pounds, and one woman trying her best to gain weight while avoiding many foods for fear of zits.

What do we learn from this? That fear of food is nothing new. But the fact is that just because it isn’t new doesn’t make it healthy or smart. There will always be people willing to do nearly anything to fit a cultural ideal, whether it’s trying to be smaller or trying to be bigger, trying to be paler or darker, trying to be more like we’re told everyone else who’s anybody is.

Ultimately, though, I think we’re all much better off spending that energy on being who we are, weight and zits and all. I have no clue how many calories a day I consume. In fact, I’m guessing that it varies according to what’s around to eat, whether I’ve got money to go get something else, and my activity level for the day. I eat what I want of what’s available, and feel perfectly free to choose exactly the same foods, entirely different foods, or a combination the next day.

My body is not slender. It is not tall. Do I care? Sometimes, I’ll admit, it would be nice to reach the top shelves by myself and to walk into any store I like and be able to find clothes that fit me on any rack that catches my eye. But it doesn’t matter enough to engage in a probably futile effort to be more ‘average.’

I am who I am. And you know what? I’m happy with that. If anyone else has a problem with that, it’s their problem, not mine.

2 Responses to “The More Things Change, the More They Stay Panicky About Weight”

  1. perletwo September 19, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    I would add two caveats here.

    One is that if you’re in the entertainment industry, weight and appearance are part of the “selling yourself” package – the stakes are much higher for all three of these people than for most of us. Avoiding breakouts becomes a significant concern when your face is going to be projected on a screen 10 feet high, but it’s not a concern most of us are ever going to have to deal with, or wish to.

    Second, Janet Leigh and Jack Lemmon have always seemed like fairly stable, well-balanced individuals. But with the benefit of hindsight, Natalie Wood does not strike me as having been a very happy soul, despite apparently having everything one could want. Something to consider before taking her as a role model.

  2. Twistie September 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    @perletwo: This isn’t about whether or not we would like these people if we met them, or the reasons they might or might not want their faces to break out (and no medical connection has ever been proved between chocolate and zits, despite popular assumptions), but rather the way that articles like this have been normalizing disordered eating for at least the past forty years.

    Would I have liked any of these people if I’d met them? Could go one way, could go the other. That doesn’t change the fact that a 1000 calorie-a-day diet is not healthy. It doesn’t change the fact that a naturally extremely thin person can only do so much to gain weight, and a naturally fat person can try living on a teaspoon of air a day without becoming thin. It doesn’t change the fact that choosing long-term hunger is not a reasonable decision.

    The point is that these interviews make a lot of people assume that these choices are perfectly reasonable. See? It works for Janet Leigh. It works for Jessica Simpson. Obviously it will work for me… and if it doesn’t, then I must need to try harder and cut the calories further.

    And that way madness lies.