In “Health,” How Far is Too Far?

Earlier today I read an article on Blisstree that delineates Beyoncé’s post-baby weight-loss routine. It’s centered around 4-hour workouts, involves living with her personal trainer, and represents how far our culture has taken its obsession with being thin. Apparently, B’s got 40 pounds to lose and she’s looking to meet her goal before April rolls around.

I consider myself a fit, healthy person. I’ve trained for and run marathons, and every one of them has taken me between four and four and a half hours. Those hours are grueling and leave my body depleted. Beyoncé is, essentially, committing to a full marathon’s worth of exercising every day. And while that appeals to the eating-disordered, exercise overload side of me (a side that I work very hard to keep in check), the healthy side of me (the one that has limits and understands what my body is capable of) can’t ignore all the red flags that this whole thing raises.

As Blisstree points out, Beyoncé’s schedule does nothing to stop the perpetuation of unrealistic standards that new mothers (and women of all ages) have to endure on a regular basis when it comes to what their bodies should look like. It goes without saying that Beyoncé has access to resources that the vast majority of us can only dream of – personally, I wish I had two to four free hours in a day to devote entirely to any one thing (other than work), and I don’t even have children. But that doesn’t change the fact that once she loses the “baby weight” and gets her “body back” (a phrase I loathe), her picture is going to be splashed all over magazine covers alongside a headline that says something like, “How to get Beyoncé’s sexy curves!” Pay attention, moms: all you need is four hours a day and a live-in trainer to work off that disgusting weight you gained while pregnant.

Unlike Blisstree, though, I don’t blame Beyoncé. She’s subject to higher scrutiny than the rest of us, and while I honestly don’t think her career will be too hurt if she doesn’t get hit her goal weight, I can’t help but feel like I would be doing the same thing if I were in her situation. The public is fickle, and the media and tabloids don’t care how much talent you have – in some cases, one unflattering picture is all it takes for you to become the object of ridicule. Why would anyone want to take that risk?

It’s shameful that things have gone this far. Celebrities and the rest of us “normals” should have the freedom to hang on to our baby weight, or break-up weight, or marriage weight, or life weight, or just plain old fucking weight for however long we like and not have to go to ridiculous lengths to 1) guarantee we lose it and 2) guarantee that we don’t end up being ostracized or rejected. The fact that we can’t stand up against these pressures and apply some pressure in return is disturbing. The ideal against which we’re all being measured is breaking new grounds when it comes to how perfect and unachievable it is. If Beyoncé, who’s naturally gorgeous, has to work for four hours a day to get there, what hope do the rest of us have?

Now that Beyoncé is buckling down for four-hour workouts, do we have to accept that this degree of extremism is going to become some kind of norm? Is this just another manifestation of societal ED rearing its ugly head? How far is this going to go before the whistle is somehow blown?

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Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at http://www.icametorun.com.

27 thoughts on “In “Health,” How Far is Too Far?”

  1. I hate ‘getting your body back. So, when there is weight gain/loss it isn’t your body anymore? What did it turn into, a fat suit? A vessel (okay you could say in a philosophical way we are just a vessel but that’s not the point right now). It’s so.. urgh. I’m all for losing pounds after pregnancies (if mum wants it, of course), but not this hurried job. We’ve finally acknowledged that it takes time to lose weight, but a new mother still needs to make it happen in two months? Urgh.

    1. Exactly. And I can’t imagine losing that much weight that quickly would be good for breastfeeding hormones and supply – not that I know or care of Beyoncé is or isn’t, but presenting super-fast weight loss as aspirational while also paying lipservice to ‘breast is best’ is one way contemporary culture is really fucked up about motherhood.

    2. I also hate the idea of “getting your body back”. The whole concept is absurd, and it’s exactly like getting a “bikini body” or a “better body”, or the term “real women”. What makes a fat woman more “real” than a thin one or vice versa? Those phrases just shame people into feeling like there’s something wrong with themselves.

      There’s no such thing as getting your body back. It never went anywhere to begin with.

  2. You know what I am missing from the discussion in the media? The fact that it is natural to have a fluctuating body weight (and size). There, I said it.

    How does this idea get perpetuated that you have to be a certain size and get back to that exact same size (if possible, thinner!) after all major life changes?

    For instance, up until I was 18 I was technically underweight – although I was completely, supremely unconcerned about my weight and size. It’s just that I was doing a lot of sports and had a body that grows muscles fast and a metabolism at the rate of a high-speed train.

    Now, there was an episode in between where I gained a few kilos due to emotional eating. I lost the weight just as naturally as it had come once I started feeling better again.

    Cue to a few years later: I was heavier (as the natural progression goes: you get heavier as you get older. it’s natural!). Then I had another phase of severe unhappiness, but this time my body reacted by dropping weight.

    So, the kilos on the scale were about comparable, i.e. younger, heavier me = normal me, a few years later. normal younger me = unhappy, underweight me, a few years later. The weight was the same, but it looked completely different on my body! And obviously, I felt completely different about it each time.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying: I think it is harmful to perpetuate the myth that your body has this one size that you should stick to and return to. Your body will weigh and look different as you progress through your life – it is an organism and not a machine. Why should anything be wrong with that?

    1. Hear, hear! Around Christmas I was home visiting my family and noticed that during almost every commercial break there was an ad for some hormone product that was supposed to get you back to the weight you were when you were 18, and feel like a teenager again. I found it appalling that they were essentially selling the idea that everyone should be gunning to get back to this so-called ideal weight they were at at whatever point in their lives. Bodies change, and bodies age. It’s a natural process. I think the way society ignores this is identical to its refusal to accept the overall process of aging and change. Yes, hair turns gray. Yes, your skin develops wrinkles. There’s nothing wrong with those things, and there’s nothing wrong with being at one weight, gaining some, losing some, etc. It’s disturbing that we aren’t allowed to have a range, we’re expected to have an ideal that we (ideally) achieve and then stick with. Inability to get there or to stay there is failure.

  3. It seems like a really extreme workout schedule, but it has nothing to do with me. I’ve never felt bad for not looking like a celebrity, any more than I’ve felt bad for not being able to fly a plane like a pilot. That’s their job. It’s not my job. Beyonce couldn’t do what I do, either.

    1. You’re right, it doesn’t have anything to do with us what her personal decisions are. But when this happens all the time to female celebrities, and their bodies/weight get plastered all over tabloids, there’s a definitive cultural message coming through.

      And then we can talk about the culture that pushes female celebrities to do this sort of thing; it’s like, society normally doesn’t accept “baby weight,” but since celebrities have to face super duper awful extra scrutinization, is this an example of overall culture in an exponential version?

      1. Oh absolutely, and I want only talking about my own feelings about it. And maybe in kind of a defiant way that could come off as arrogance, but my attitude is hard-won, for just the reasons you’ve said.

        I really believe it’s possible for individuals to an individual to decide that celebrites’ looks are irrelevant to her personal life and goals, and to de-centralize the importance of physical beauty.

        1. You’re definitely right! And it still isn’t really our business what she personally chooses, and it’s none of any one else’s business either.

          It’s just incredibly heart-wrenching to me that her and so many other celebrity women feel the need to go through punishing routines like this after they have a kid.

          I also, though don’t have the same sort of self-punishing experiences using these images, so I apologize if I came off as somehow dismissive of your own feelings on it!

    2. I don’t think I ever actually expect to look like a celebrity but I have been known to buy those magazines and use them as “motivation” (aka self torture) when I am feeling especially hateful towards myself or my body.In fact I have a copy of best/worse beach bodies shoved under my couch cushion (where my hubs and daughter won’t find it) now.

      I think you’re attitude is very admirable. If you don’t mind I think I will steel it. Maybe I can use it to break the cycle myself. If I can look at some famous svelte woman and think “She is beautiful but she can’t do what I do.” instead of “She is beautiful I need to work harder.” then maybe I won’t use competition as my motivation, it doesn’t work anyway.

      1. I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds here, but you are so smart and interesting and kind, and the idea of you using those images as “motivation” is making me cry.

        I know this next thing I’m going to say is super obvious, but: you wouldn’t do that to a friend. You wouldn’t come over to my house and tuck that awful magazine in my couch and say, “Bryn, I’m just going to leave this here, so you can look at it now and then and maybe get inspired to look better.” And we just met!

        Please show yourself all the love and kindness you deserve, because you’re fantastic.

        Maybe I sound like a hypocrite, since I do want to lose weight. But I’ll be damned if I make it my most important goal, or lie to myself and tell myself I’m a loser now for being plump, you know? :)

        1. I don’t want to go all Anne Shirley on you, and I know we just internet met (but I did used to read your commentary on the site-which-shall-not-be-named so I feel like I know you) but I feel all “bosom friend and kindred spirit” with you!

          It is ok to want to loose weight, I know I do. What I have to be so careful of is not to let it become an obsession. That’s where I tend to stumble. Your motivation and attitude is so empowering. I want to be like you! You don’t sound at all like a hypocrite you sound like someone with a healthy sense of self worth and good priorities.

          And you are right I would never say the things I say to myself to a friend, nor would I ever say them to my daughter (in fact I would punch someone in the mouth for saying that to my child) but learning to value myself and not have my intrinsic self worth caught up in what I weigh/look like is a daily struggle for me.

          Thank you so much for the support and the positive example! I’m so happy I came out of the lurking closet and made friends! Persephone is so worth it!

          1. Aww, I feel the same BFF way about you! :D

            And you know…I’m not really that smart about this stuff or anything. I’ve just entertained bad ways of thinking long enough in the past to realise, “Welp, this obviously isn’t working.” :D

            So glad you’re here.

             

  4. This is scary to me. Back when I was wrestling, I did two weeks of 4-hours-a-day working out (two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon) to make weight for a certain tournament. To put it bluntly… it sucked. That should not be expected of anyone.

    1. I did similar workouts when I was swimming in high school; up to five hours a day, six days a week. And I knew I wasn’t going to be an Olympian. I look back on all that over-training as so much wasted time (and damage to my body) and wish I hadn’t put myself through it.

  5. It seems completely illogical to me that the media uses celebrities to promote these lifestyles when celebrities don’t live any sort of ‘normal’ lifestyle so how they behave or what they do should not even be considered ‘normal’ behavior for non-celebrities.

    Does the media assume we can even begin to adapt this type of behaviour or lifestyle to our own? Have the writers ever commuted for work? Do they work 8 hour days or more? Do they raise children by themselves or with the help of a spouse who is equally busy? It’s completely absurd to promote this as usual. But by doing so, others feel that they must meet this same level of lifestyle.

    These people have a different world, a different culture, a different level of access than 99% of the world.

    I liked the TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” It made no excuses. It was a show about The Haves. Not a show about The Have-Nots Living Outside Their Means. They made no apology but no one was thinking that they too should have a helicopter pad and two tennis courts. This is Green Acres, baby. Nothing can change that.

    But no one’s going to stop People from running a spread… Bastards. They can have Park Avenue.

    1. There was a writer at the Daily Fail who attempted to stick to Madonna’s workout schedule a while ago. If I remember correctly she basically had to give up everything but that and got really sick.
      I refuse to go find the article and give that rag another page view :p

  6. Ugh, as someone who has struggled with cycles of disordered eating & obsessive exercise all my adult like this just makes me want to cry tears of frustration & anger. Right now I am on the miserably high end of my weight due to several weeks of emotional eating and having my routine screwed with by life. I just want to cry & eat & hide when I read stuff like this.

    1. Oh honey, I’ve been there. Just remember to treat yourself well–that should always be the most important thing. You’ll get through this time, you can do it. Take care of one thing at a time, and things will fall into place as they need to. Big hugs!

  7. Yes to all your points. This is a scary road we are going down, and I do not like it one bit. I like being strong and healthy, and exercise is a crucial part of my routine, but it cannot be the only thing in my life. I need to nuture my relationships, my brain, my skills, my work. We’re so much more than our size and shape, and I’d love it if society recognised that.

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