Kelly Clarkson succumbs to celebrity diet culture

Every shopper knows the unavoidable magazine display at the register, the check-out landmark that showcases popular women’s magazines and tawdry tabloids, covers awash in headlines that boast tone up tips and slim down secrets. Digitally doctored celebrities pose provocatively next to unhealthy promises of how to “Eat, Drink, and still Shrink.”

A recent US Weekly issue features Kelly Clarkson’s weight loss and promises to house “her simple diet plan that will work for you” and “how a new boyfriend boosted her confidence.” It lauds her for her “svelte shape” and bandies about dangerous phraseology such as “goal weight” and “magic number”.

As per standard the elusive “insider” does the majority of speculating on Kelly’s reasons for slimming down (she wanted to look good for her man, duh!) and her contentment with her “new body”. Yet in 2003, she was the cover girl for the same magazine, described as “curvy and confident” and posing alongside the proclamation, “I won’t starve to be a star.”

Anyone who has followed Clarkson’s career knows that the media has been particularly harsh on her for her size and she was often celebrated because she did not conform to the industry’s demands. Except now she has. Even those who purported to be at peace with their bodies in the past, are now, after a trimming transformation, finally happy.

Back in September 2009, Kelly was the featured cover girl for Self, unceremoniously dubbed the “Body Confidence issue.” There was a media stir after it hit stands, as Clarkson was noticeably photoshopped on the cover. The magazine publicly confirmed this, and unapologetically dubbed it “industry standard.” Yet they still disingenuously quoted Clarkson on her past struggles with bulimia, how she came to peace with her body and her attempts to eschew the pressures of Hollywood’s one-size-fits-all standard of beauty.

Was Clarkson lying in 2009 when she said she was happy with her body and that Hollywood’s pressures had no bearing on her self-esteem?

Regardless, the message received is this: Celebrities are happier when they are thinner. Weight loss is normalized, passed off as empowerment. The message becomes that altering our appearance is a legitimate avenue to feeling good and better about ourselves. It is troubling when a star publicly embraces her figure and then years later is praised for a slimming down. Celebrities are positioned in an attempt to appeal to readers by treating body dissatisfaction and weight loss goals as a universal concern, ultimately normalizing it.

Another notable irritation for me was the emphasis on a new boyfriend being a key motivation in her exterior transformation. The illusory pal purported that she “wanted to look good for him.” This is really stark sexism at its best and conveys a troubling dual reinforcement: you should lose weight so that you can look good for your mate, who will in turn, be a motivation to stay subscribed to this thin ideal. Validation is achieved through being in a relationship and based on your body size and ability to fit a standard of sexiness and attractiveness.

US Weekly is just another example of mainstream media pandering to the perceived allure and fascination the public has with the famous and our attempts to emulate them. US Weekly boldly highlighted a caption in the spread quoting Clarkson as saying, “The most important thing to do here is just be yourself and be comfortable and confident in that.” I agree with this, but not in support of shrinking yourself to fit an ideal that celebrity culture has seared into our psyches.

I believe our core power comes from so much more than our appearance. In the warped world of bling and beauty, women are hyper sexualized and objectified, their currency measured by their ability to embody a standard sold to us by society. We are more than our physical selves. This glossy garbage presents us with fraudulent messages about quick fixes and materialistic means to happiness. We must push back against profit-driven media myths and determine our own definitions of fulfillment.


4 thoughts on “Kelly Clarkson succumbs to celebrity diet culture

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  1. While I agree with the general media always emphasizing this diet culture, I am also disappointed that your article implies that Kelly Clarkson is also at fault. She has said recently that she is not trying to be super skinny, and her goal is to just be happy and her fans to be happy with themselves. She has ALWAYS expressed how the media’s focus on her weight is troubling and stupid, so she is not looking for validation by losing weight. She’s also said that she decided to do something when she noticed she was huffing and puffing while performing, so it’s not just a matter of vanity.

    Furthermore, the overall idea that we should chastise women for falling into this media expectation does not sit well with me. Am I to cast aside all women who i see at the gym, working hard to keep their physique as simply sheep seeking approval? I think you need to be careful where you cast your stones.

  2. I have to agree, at least in part, with Kat. Though this article does an AWESOME job of picking out sexism in our culture, I don’t think Kelly Clarkson is at fault for “succumbing” to diet culture. Unfortunately, a majority of women “succumb” to societal beauty standards all the time – some by as much as developing eating disorders, others by wearing lipstick or high heels. If you’ve grown up in a culture that perpetuates these beauty standards, it’s not easy – even if you’re the starkest feminist out there – to be comfortable in a body society deems “overweight.” In my opinion, we have to shift the judgment completely from Kelly Clarkson to media. Because if we don’t, at the end of the day we’ll just be judging women for THEIR choices about THEIR bodies, which is what we try to fight in the first place.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Hailey and Kat. The intention of the piece is not to chastise Kelly for wanting to be healthy (or to judge her or any celebrity for that matter), but rather to look critically at the way it was framed by US Weekly. The actual article really has only one (or two, I don’t have it in front of me, so I don’t want to swear to it) quotes directly from Kelly herself. The others come from her speculating associates. It’s the way that magazine’s skew it and the impossible ideals they reinforce that are the dangerous element. It fuels the larger monster that glamorizes weight loss, calorie counting etc. with beauty and health and sends the message that our bodies are to be maintained and managed, not honored or enjoyed. Instead of highlighting the positive lifestyles changes, it extols the shrinking. I rarely see men’s weight loss (save for the Biggest Loser contenders) splashed across magazine covers, lauded for their trim downs, with the same frequency that I see female. These magazines judge “Best” and “Worst” bodies, treating them as commodities and not people and that’s what is really upsetting. (Star Magazine, I’m talking to you!)

  4. The title of this article, “Kelly Clarkson submits to celebrity diet culture” is just as bad as Us Weekly’s article. You don’t know why she lost weight… you said yourself that there were only a few quotes by Kelly herself. You are just as bad as they are by assuming she lost weight for any other reason that wanting to be healthier, Maybe you’re reading too many Us Weekly magazines. I don’t read them myself, and therefore don’t need to worry about judging celebrities for the choices they make about their own bodies.

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