Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bikini Mothers and Modern Expectations

I am quite done seeing “better than ever!” mothers in bikinis.

We have Melissa Joan Hart on People and Rebecca Romijn on InStyle. Just recently we saw “older” women, both mothers, proving they can wear bikinis: Valerie Bertinelli on the cover of People and Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the cover of Shape.

This doesn’t make life easier for the non-celebrity — and with the line between celebrity and non-celebrity growing murkier, so is our expectation for ourselves.

“Just plain people” like Susan Boyle, Nadia Suleman and Kate Gosselin are celebrities now by virtue of their self-promotion. (And none would have been good enough in their "natural" state, or why else would they have sought what turn out to be radical makeovers?) While they have thrust themselves into the limelight by their own actions (or lingered there after the media found them due to their extenuating circumstances), they are on our radar. Even the woman hired by Sarah Jessica Parker to be surrogate mother to her children is in the limelight, with threats against her and her family.

We won’t even talk about how today’s social media turns “just plain people” into media stars via Twitter (Sockington, anyone?) or YouTube (Paul Klusman of "An Engineer’s Guides to Cats"). However, there is a difference between Sockington and Gosselin: Sockington is a product, fiction. (Those who know engineers know Klusman is an exaggeration, but not by much.) The eight Gosselin children are real, and their lives are the product. (What about Klusman’s cats? They're cats. They don't care.) Some “just plain people” manage to garner fame without TMZ and tabloid coverage, but it’s not out of the realm in this 24-hour news cycle world.

Blurring the line between celebrity and Plain Jo(e) doesn’t help us determine what our expectations are for our appearance — and the bombardment of weight-loss programs and tricks doesn’t help, either. Add in the Jareds of the world whose weight loss is their celebrity claim to fame and the line disappears.

Intellectually, we know the difference between “my body is my commodity” and sitting at a computer for eight hours a day. We know our value isn’t based on our looks, those of us who are not splashed all over the gossip columns and celebrity magazines.

However, try telling that to a 25-year-old first-time mother who reads about how a recent new mother-celebrity hopped on the proverbial treadmill days after giving birth (and another who absurdly gave up avocados again).

Try reminding a 40-year-old office worker who sees tabloids mocking those who carry a few extra pounds, like she thinks she does.

When a celebrity can herald her realistic approach to weight loss, everyone wins. Hart took her time and did not lose herself in the game; 14 months and 72 pounds later, she looks good in a photo. To Dreyfus’ credit, she recollected how it was a gradual change and required attention to her life and body, something easy to lose in the workaday world.

We need to be healthy, yes — but we need to do it the right way and for the right reasons. For every Hart, there's a Jaime Pressly who lost her "baby weight" within months and Nicole Kidman, who maintained a rigorous workout plan during her pregnancy. We need to remember that those are the exceptions, not the rule — despite the barrage of information to the contrary.

The American woman always has known that stardom take a little Spanx, a little glam, a whole host of specialists and more than a few designer duds. The American woman, however, needs to be reminded that Hollywood might appear to be in her neighborhood, but it really is not in this galaxy.

The red carpet isn’t real. Photoshop isn’t real. Size 0 isn’t real. What is real is family and friends, good health and a happy, active life. That’s enough for me. Let’s hope it’s enough for the rest of my sisters.

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