A lesson in health hypocrisy: Katharine McPhee and Shape
I don’t think there’s any single causative factor behind eating disorders – and neither do the experts. The National Eating Disorder Association cites a myriad of overlapping issues, from low self-esteem to troubled relationships to – yes – pop culture’s glorification of thin physiques and physical perfection.
What’s a great example of that last eating disorder trigger? Women’s pseudo-fitness magazines. You know, those mags that feature interchangeable, hard-bodied celebrity cover models, who flaunt their bikini bodies and do us a huge favor by sharing their workout tips (sometimes on collectible tearaway cards!). These magazines are like heroin for the eating disordered. They often offer misleading diet information, along with airbrushed photos of impossible physical ideals, and perpetuate ugly myths about how health ought to look. It’s obvious that these monthly doses are hurting us – but we can’t help shell out for our next fix.
You can probably tell that I think very little of these publications. That said, I don’t blame them for causing anyone’s eating disorders, including my own. I do, however, think they’re blameworthy for worsening a cultural sickness that’s already quite severe. So imagine my surprise when one magazine managed to sink to a new low this month: featuring a recovered eating disorder patient on their cover. Airbrushed and in a bikini.
Katharine McPhee, of American Idol, graces the February cover of Shape Magazine, looking exactly like every other cover model on every other issue of Shape Magazine: tight abs, protruding collar bone, disconcertingly luminescent skin. But there’s one big difference – McPhee has spoken openly before about her struggle with bulimia:
By the time she auditioned for the show [American Idol], she was purging seven times a day. Fearing she wouldn’t make it through the competition because of damage the vomiting could cause her vocal cords, she entered a three-month treatment program a few months before the season began.
Needless to say, that’s an intense struggle, and McPhee deserves credit for the strength to seek treatment and pursue life-long health. But after purging as often as seven times a day, for five years, you’d think McPhee would know better than to perpetuate the very same unrealistic physical ideal she admits to struggling with:
“Growing up in Los Angeles and spending all those years in dance class, I’d been conscious of body image at a young age.”
Exactly, Katharine. Being so conscious of your own body, and its apparent shortcomings, is very difficult. So, how do you think the millions of teens and young women eying you in a swimsuit are going to feel about their own self-worth? I’m not faulting McPhee for wanting to celebrate her health and recovery. But I am faulting her for doing it in a way that’s likely going to do more harm than good for other women. As anyone who has recovered from an eating disorder knows, the last thing – the very last thing – one should focus on is their bikini body, and, by extension, their weight or their size. Focus on strength, nourishment, how it feels to wake up energetic and vibrant. Not, as the McPhee cover teaser states, on “The Six Moves That Changed My Body!”
Full disclosure: I haven’t checked out the full text of McPhee’s “must-read” story yet. But no matter what those 1,400 words have to say about body image, my argument stays the same. Posing – in a bathing suit – on the cover of a magazine that offers tips on how to “Drop a Pound by Friday“? That makes you a hypocrite. And the antithesis of an advocate for eating disorder awareness. In her Shape interview, McPhee is quoted:
“The more I focused on my weight, the worse my bulimia got … Now I’m more easygoing. I stopped fighting myself and became more forgiving of my body.”
If women really want to become more forgiving of their bodies, comparing themselves to a bikini-clad American Idol singer is the last thing they should do. Seek out alternate forms of validation – ones that don’t represent health with headlines like “$5 tool that zaps jiggle” or “BLAST 300+ calories at lunch.”