Are celebrities a health hazard?
The recent GQ cover showing a suspiciously svelte-looking Kate Winslet
inevitably prompted a furious discussion about the influence of celebrities’
images on our physical and mental health.
Whatever the pros and cons of the magazine’s decision to doctor the
photograph of the English actress, the publisher sent out the message that a
certain look not only sells magazines but is what we should aspire to.
However, for those of us not fortunate enough to have the looks – airbrushed
or not – of Ms Winslet or Johnny Depp, what effect do these perfect images
have on our self-esteem?
Most experts agree that the relentless barrage of pictures of glamorous stars
puts us under pressure to conform to an impossible ideal.
Recently the marketing company Bounty, which supplies parenting packs for new
mothers and their babies, entered the fray by launching a campaign encouraging
mums-to-be to put their health before fashion.
The decision was prompted by images of public figures such as actress
Elizabeth Hurley and singer Victoria Beckham, who both lost weight remarkably
quickly after childbirth and were soon – once again – adorning the front
pages of celebrity magazines.
Bounty has chosen to use only what it calls a broad range of “real women”
in its marketing literature. “We want to convey a true picture…rather than
some idealistic image that’s hard for the vast majority of women to live up
to,” said a spokeswoman.
“At the moment we receive hundreds of emails and letters everyday from women
who are concerned that they don’t look like Victoria Beckham did during her
pregnancy, or haven’t managed to get into their old jeans five months after
“It’s time we put the record straight by raising the profile of ‘real
names’. This way we can help women to feel good about being pregnant and
motivated to stay fit and healthy for the sake of themselves and their
Her views appear to be endorsed by many of the very women she is talking about
including 21-year-old mum Gill Prescott from the Midlands. For Gillian, who
gave birth to her baby Jack last year, seeing images of Victoria Beckham and
other celebrities was particularly difficult as she’d always been a fitness
fan and the self-confessed owner of a “six pack”.
She says that, to her disappointment, she has not been able to regain the
physique she had before Jack was born and says that money plays a large part
“When you see highly paid celebrities looking so fit and well-dressed when
they are pregnant, while you are walking around with your huge belly, it does
“I can’t afford a nanny to give me the time to get back into attending the
gym or a fitness trainer. Another problem is that people see celebrities
looking so well and think anyone can do the same.”
Worrying about the super-slim
Friends didn’t help either, admits Gillian. “I know they were only teasing
but because I was always so fit, once I grew they would start chanting
‘fatty, fatty’ and even though I knew it was a joke it still disturbed
However, she has a word of advice for other would-be mothers or those who have
recently given birth. “I would advise to try, however hard, not to worry
about your physical shape because the chances are you look absolutely normal
for a pregnant woman.”
The problem of the adverse influence that celebrities who are naturally
“super-slim” can have on young people is also of concern to charities
representing those with illnesses such as anorexia and bulimia.
A spokesperson for the Eating Disorders Association says, “It would be wrong
to say that images of naturally slim models cause eating disorders.
“But for people with low-self esteem they can be an influence. And less
emotionally robust people and particularly the young may not understand that
the real world is not that of the celebrity.”
A sting in the tale
However, Professor Mike Griffiths, a psychologist from Nottingham Trent
University with a particular interest in the influence of the media, says that
in some cases media celebrities and the mediums in which they appear can be a
force for good.
He points out that the intelligent scripts of certain soaps such as EastEnders
have promoted an understanding of problems as diverse as schizophrenia and
And while he expresses the same concerns as those who say media images can
have a detrimental effect on impressionable people, he says celebrity images
can sometimes have a beneficial effect on our health.
“I was once on holiday with my then girlfriend and she was stung by a
jellyfish,” he says. “I remembered an episode of Friends in which
Courteney Cox’s character talks about just such an incident and how
urinating on the burn relieves the pain – it came in useful.”
Eating Disorders Association
The British Psychological Society
© HMG Worldwide 2003