I've just read four issues of the British celebrity gossip magazine Now, and feel as if my head's made of even more sawdust than usual.
The context was the part played by Now in a recent documentary by Louise Redknapp looking at the last taboo about eating disorders, "pregorexia" - compulsion to lose weight during and just after pregnancy.
I've long been aware of the singer, who performed with Eternal and as a solo artist, presenter and model who is usually known by her first name, but she appeared firmly on my radar last March with a documentary called The Truth about Size Zero, during which she put herself through a gruelling diet and exercise regime to reach the magical dress size (UK size 4). She was beginning to experience a morbid satisfaction in the power dieting gave her over bodily appetites when she achieved her goal, but was crying uncontrollably and forgetting lines: her nutritionist, Dr Adam Carey, was at the point of withdrawing his cooperation.
She spoke to Dr Carey again as presenter for the first of three documentaries on The Truth about Beauty, where she investigated the effect of "celebrity culture" on women who are pregnant or have recently given birth. At one point she started crying while interviewing an anonymous pregnant woman who was so desperate to control her weight and appearance that she admitted to having eaten only one apple during a two-day period. Carey referred to a woman whose eating disorder was so easily triggered that she saw pictures of pregnant women in a famine-blasted part of Africa and thought "if they can do it...".
For me, things started to get really interesting was when Size Zero veteran Melanie Chisholm (Mel C of the Spice Girls and easily the outfit's best voice) joined Louise in a taxi; they pored over an issue of Now, and found an item referring to Redknapp's pregnancy, saying she had "gone into hiding" because she was "massive".
Louise would later secure an interview with Abigail Blackburn, who became editor of Now in March 2008. When the celebrity confronted her about the remarks concerning "hiding herself away", the woman whose career depends upon finding nasty things to say about celebs made a comment about everything being passed by their lawyers. If it was meant to be threatening, Louise had obviously survived more convincing challenges, and asked about the "massive" comment. After an unsuccessful attempt to wriggle out, Ms Blackburn eventually admitted that her magazine operated on a system of chinese whispers.
But whispers in magazines with huge circulations can be damaging, as Louise found out when she interviewed the poor pregnant lady who was subsisting on apples. Things got worse: going to California (why do shows about body-image tend to visit L.A. and thereabouts?) she met a lady called Jocelyn Cisco, who had given birth to a wonderful child five months previously, and was about to go in for a procedure called a "mummy tuck" or "mummy makeover" - tummy tuck, breast lift and liposuction.
This is concerning. During labour and for some time thereafter, a mother's blood thickens as a mechanism to limit the catastrophic potential of a haemorrhage. Just so, the surgeon, a Dr Delgado, commented while operating on Ms Cisco that "this is a lot easier than exercising", and added that the most risky cosmetic procedure was a tummy tuck (abdominoplasty), because of the risk of potentially fatal blood clots. (I don't know if it's related, but an article in Medical News Today stated that the incidence of blood clots in cosmetic surgery could be reduced by prophylaxis - preventative measures.)
Now runs a line in spotting "baby bumps", a term which isn't in my Chambers dictionary, but is defined by etymological blogger Lynneguist as an "abdominal protuberance evident in pregnancy". From what I'm able to make of the phrase, which according to Lynneguist only made the Oxford English Dictionary last year, it denotes undeniable visual proof of pregnancy, but Now predicates the term of celebs where I can see no "bump" at all. The subtext, I think, is that the magazine will act like the bully in the girls' playground, and inform the world that any woman in the public eye who dares put on any weight beyond what it declares acceptable is pregnant. Look at the image of Tess Daly, presenter of Dancing on Ice, to the left, and see if you can discern a "baby bump". Maybe I'm just thick or male (if there's a difference), but I can't.
There are also pics posted of actress Kate Hudson and singer Claire Richards, with arrows for the sake of those whose minds have been so numbed they can no longer read. I'm not being facetious - looking through the mags, both Maxima and Minora agreed that after about ten pages the insipid text had them sufficiently somnolent so as only to be able to see the pictures.
Thankfully, in the documentary Louise went to San Diego to visit a group of women who had started a site called The Shape of a Mother, celebrating the post-partum female figure. The site, which also deals with issues such as loss of a child and infertility, was set up "to help women love their new bodies" and not seek such dangerous quick-fixes as those offered by Dr Delgado; and also as an antidote to internet chat-rooms frequented by pregnant mothers desparate to lose weight after the fashion of Britney Spears, Jessica Alba or Christina Aguilera - or, more precisely, not to give the playground bully more evidence of their abdominal protruberances than they have to. Significantly, after her "mummy tuck", Jennifer Cisco confessed she'd never had the opportunity to see another mother's abdomen post-birth.
Louise and Jamie Redknapp's son Beau was born in November 2008. As well as being a cause for rejoicing, it gives us a time-fix for whenabouts the documentary was filmed. So I imagine it gave Abigail Blackburn some time to put together a special edition of her magazine called Now Celeb Mum & Baby. Its fairly innocuous content belies its function as a cynical manipulation of public opinion, published two days before the documentary aired.
But where's all this coming from? I think Radagast hits the nail on the head when he writes that "our society's obsession with boosting children's self-esteem is encouraging 'a narcissistic generation' who [are] focused on themselves...undermin[ing] the traditional role of the family in forming children's emotional and social upbringing." Blackburn's tawdry rag both feeds on and exacerbates the parasitic need to raise one's own self esteem by knocking that of others until cause and effect are indistinguishable, like Ouroboros eating his tail. The prospect of a thick ear for taking people down is gone, replaced by the promise that the sky's the limit, depending upon how many - often fragile - human beings you're prepared to step on.
Louise was extremely worried about the prospect of having nine weeks to slim down after giving birth in order to do a photoshoot as the official face of the lingerie company Triumph. After negotiating with a rep who was initially rather pushy, she won a six-week extension - and even then her personal trainer tried to persuade her not to pursue her goal-weight so stringently. I feel sorry for those who, finding themselves upon the altar of celebrity, feel for whatever reason that they cannot fight for their rights, but it is heartening that they - and others whom our broken society has deprived of proper role-models - have found a champion in Louise Redknapp.
Claire Sweeney's big fat...
Body image isn't all it looks like