What would we ladies do without Heat Magazine? If it weren’t there to inform and educate us, we might forget to subject other women’s bodies to the sort of scrutiny once reserved for crime scene investigations. We might not be aware that cellulite is shameful but clavicles are even worse. And I’m pretty sure we would be blissfully ignorant of the private lives of Jade Goody and whatever annoying nonentities are in the Big Brother House this year.
While Heat loves to sneer at celebs who’ve commited the cardinal sin of leaving the house without dieting and exercising away every fat cell in their body, they reserve their special ire for those who dare to go out and about looking a bit thin.A few weeks ago (in that dark period when we Anti-Roomers were sadly too overwhelmed with jobs and stuff to do much posting), they ran yet another cover about too-skinny stars. The defiant headline was “We’re Skinny – Get Over It!”, displayed above the usual array of photos designed to show the likes of Keira Knightley at their most scrawny. Could this be a rare example of Heat, in typically cack-handed and hypocritical style, defending women’s right to go about their business without complete strangers judging their physiques? Of course not! Because the charming subhead beneath this declaration was “Deluded stars claim they eat normally”.
I am not a large woman. I’m 5’2″ (just about) and weigh about eight stone. I have a slight frame and am, by most people’s standards, pretty slim, and when I was younger and my metabolism hadn’t started slowing down, I was downright skinny. When I was in college, I weighed under seven and a half stone. And while I may not have had the healthiest diet in the world back then, that was more because I was a student and was living on supernoodles, toast and all-day breakfasts in the Alpha rather than because I was on a diet. In fact, I’ve never, in my entire life, been on any sort of diet, and I don’t own a scales – I only know my weight because I sometimes measure myself on the scales in a friend of mine’s bathroom when I’m over in her house. I eat three vaguely healthy meals a day and a few biscuits and go for walks. Basically, it seems that nature – or rather genetics – has designed me to be a small, skinny-ish woman, the same way my sister is a tall, skinny-ish woman, and when I say that I eat normally, I’m not “deluded”.
So when I see Keira Knightley and her ilk, I don’t automatically think “oh, they’re starving themselves to death!” Yes, there are some plenty of celebs who are unhealthily thin, too thin for their natural frames. I’m not going to pretend that someone whose every thigh sinew is sticking out like a cable is eating a balanced healthy diet. But Keira Knightley, to me, just looks like a skinny, flat-chested girl. And that’s another thing that enrages me about Heat‘s approach. One of the reason Knightley looks particularly thin is because she doesn’t have big boobs. In fact, she’s probably barely barely an A-cup. And while the weight gained as my metabolism slowed now means that I’m (just about) a 32B, I was (just about) a 32A until my mid-twenties. Most clothes are made for women with larger bosoms, and can often make a flat-chested woman look more scrawny, especially about the chest, than she actually is (I speak from bitter, badly fitting experience). It’s actually quite hard to put weight on your upper chest (as opposed to, say, your hips or thighs), and looking a bit bony there doesn’t mean that you’re wasting away.
Of course, by Heat‘s standards, the worst thing about being stick-like and boobless is that it is apparently inevitably unattractive to men, and we should, of course, always think about how our bodies appeal to the opposite sex. The “deluded” stars on the cover enjoy the privilege of having their bodies judged by two “experts”. One of the experts is actually a nutritionist – albeit one who has no personal knowledge of the celebrities themselves, of course – and the other expert is….some bloke who presents some programme I’ve never heard of. His expertise seems to consist purely of the fact that he’s straight and a man. And he doesn’t fancy really skinny birds. That is, seriously, about it. That apparently give him the right to criticise the arses and thighs and collar bones of lots of women he’s never met.
Heat started off as an attempt to copy the far superior American magazine Entertainment Weekly, but it wasn’t until it started dissecting famous women’s bodies that the magazine really took off. These days, the average issue of Heat is more like the Two Minutes Hate in Nineteen Eighty Four than EW. It encourages its mostly female readers to sneer at and mock the appearance of other women. Are some of the women in those faux-horrified photo spreads unhealthy? Yeah, probably, although there’s no way of knowing that unless you’re their doctor. But what good does it do to point this out on the cover of a magazine? Do they really think Mary Kate Olsen is going to see herself on the cover of Now magazine and get herself to an eating disorder clinic? Of course they don’t. It’s Schadenfreude masquerading as concern for these poor unfortunate waifs, and it’s revolting.
These magazines encourage us to see totally normal bodies as somehow wrong and freakish. I’d like to think that I’m fairly media savvy, and that I view the world of magazines with a critical eye. But it’s hard to avoid the warped ideas peddled by these magazines, even if you know how cynically they’re put together, even if you know that they’re designed to appeal to our worst, most self-hating instincts, even if you’d never dream of buying Heat (and I wouldn’t, although I’ve been known to read it in the newsagents). We’ve been so trained to hate our “bingo wings” that it’s hard to remember that adult women’s upper arms usually have some actual flesh on them. We forget that most adult women’s stomach aren’t concave and that visible collar bones aren’t a sign of terminal anorexia. We forget that unless you’ve Botoxed your armpits, you’re probably going to sweat under your arms at a crowded pary. We forget what normal women’s bodies actually look like and what they do. And as long as Heat and its ilk continue to put women on the cover in their pants with circles around their cellulite and sweat-stains, it’ll take us a while to remember.