Sunday, March 29, 2009

Valerie Bertinelli: Second Verse, Same as the First

So, after signing up with Jenny Craig, Valeria Bertinelli went from a 14 (read average American woman) to a Hollywood perfect size 6 (okay, actually, Hollywood thinks size six is the last stop in acceptable land--0's, 2's, & 4's are safer territory and an 8 is officially fat, but I digress).

How did she achieve this? 1200 calories per day (the minimum any respectable doctor would allow her patient to eat to live), a personal trainer, a promotion deal with a diet company (remember cash is motivation), tons of time (when "getting back into shape is your full-time job it makes it a tad easier), and of course--AIRBRUSHING!!! Look at her face, its completely been distorted and I'm fairly sure some of those abs have been enhanced. She is undeniably thinner, I totally do believe that's she's lost over 50 lbs, but its the how and the why that I'm concerned with.

Valerie Bertinelli was an all American sweet-heart of the 70's--the good girl in a family sit-com about a newly divorced mother of two daughters. She was pretty, thin, and personable in her interviews. Then she grew up, married a rocker, had a kid, and gained a bit of weight. She went from sweet-heart to average and in Hollywood, that's a sin. Now, as penance for that lasp, she is on the cover of People magazine in a bikini at the age of 49. She looks good, but as I've said, she's had tons of help both in reality and in the chambers of make believe in Hollywood's best airbrushing studios.

I'm not hating on Valerie Bertinelli, its just that her particular journey for most American women isn't particularly helpful in terms of recognizing what health is verses thinness. The expectation of a bikini body at 50 is not conductive to achieving greater health and well-being for American women and girls. It is counter productive in fact, because if you can't have that, then why try is an oft heard response. Why try for what? What is fitness, what is health? Is it an exact weight? I don't think so. Is it the ability to wear a bikini and look completely fabulous at the drop of a hat? I definitely don't think so.

We all have to define or strive for what health means individually, but we are guided by the cultural messages that we are fed daily. Even in my more modest goals, I look at Ms. Bertinelli and I think: "maybe I should try to wear a bikini one day" even though I know that's not an indicator of health, but an impulse implanted in my psyche by cultural expectations and values I don't really share. I've never wanted, even in college, to go to one of those over-priced Spring vacation places and get really drunk wearing a bikini to be mocked on Fox News while they simultaneously talk about the moral decline of American youth and exploit their nubile bodies for ratings. Eek. That's what a bikini means to me. It means MTV and trying to please total choads. It probably has different meanings for other readers--by no means am I saying this is universal.

One friend who moved to California for a while expressed to me the hope of wearing a bikini (she's a size 10, sometimes 8) because she felt like that's the only acceptable bathing suit one could wear in their 20's. It was weird--it struck me that for her, the bikini was about fitting in as a standard of dress. Kind of like a graduation robe or a white wedding dress--one simply couldn't deviate and wear a one-piece to the beach. Even, if it didn't look as good on a size 10 frame as a 2, you still wore the bikini. I thought that that sounded crazy, but it was her belief and it was how she thought of the bikini.

So, the bikini on Ms. Bertinelli probably has another meaning, private only for her. I don't know what it is, but I think that the public act of wearing a bikini on People magazine will be interpreted by millions of American female readers as some kind of bodily redemption--she fell into the sin of the average and has re-emerged exceptional, sculpted, and perhaps ready to take on new movie/tv roles. She was the relateable and likeable 70's girl and now she's the relateable and ex-fat modern woman. She is role model and expectation--but this message is delivered uncritically and without the truth of how our dysfunctional work/life balance, how our nutritionally deficient food supply and how are unreal expectations of thinness screw with our collective health. I'm tired of these stories: she did it, so can you. Guess what: you can't. You have to work, you have kids to take care of, you don't have the money or the time for a professional trainer or a chef, you have the stresses of the economy, loss of your retirement, and of course your elderly broke parents to help out. You, American woman, you're life sucks compared to Valerie Bertinelli's, but that doesn't keep the media from making you feel bad because you don't look like her.

1 comment:

  1. To give you back ground:

    Kirsti Alley did wear a bikkini on Oprah after Jenny Craig because people refuse to believe she loss the weight.

    We have to remember in the land of spanxx and body shapers many celebrities are faking it. So a bikkini shot is the closest a person is getting to naked.

    On the Jenny Craig website you can see 2 years of blogs of Valeri losing the weight and keeping it off. Even she will say that she generally eats 1700 calories with Jenny Craig when not doing the bikkini shot.

    Also, Jenny Craig does offer the size healthy option with Queen Latifa and Phylica Rashaad, but most americans when consuming diet info are not looking for the size healthy. They are looking for a number on the scale.