Thursday, December 3, 2020

Which Celebrities Make you Feel Good about your Body?

December 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Body Image, Media Literacy, Role Models

This guest post provided by Dr. Dana from

Does Katy Perry have good body image?  What about other stars who wear little and reveal much?  Kim Kardashian, for example.  Does she love her body?

I got to thinking about whether we can discern someone’s body image after reading a post by Ashley at Nourishing the Soul.  Ashley has just announced that she is taking nominations for websites, bloggers, organizations, and celebrities who promote good body image (which is a fantastic way to celebrate those who counterbalance negative messages and provide inspiration).

But the celebrity category made me wonder: how do we know if someone has good body image, or if she is “body positive” as Ashley puts it?

I’m quite sure that we make inferences about body image all the time, largely based on what someone is wearing.   We likely assume that a skimpy outfit reflects confidence; we believe that if you flaunt it, it’s because you love it.  And we have a hard time acknowledging that someone considered to be an ideal beauty would not have fantastic body image, because just look at her! Millions of women around the world would kill for her body, so there’s no question that she’s confident.  Right?

In reality, we can’t accurately make conclusions about someone’s body image without one essential thing:  her words.  We don’t truly know how she feels unless she tells us.

Stars dress as they do for a variety of reasons, many of which relate to economic viability and career longevity.  To survive, most celebs have to dress the part and display their bodies in a very public way (e.g., on the red carpet).  In addition, it’s likely there are underlying psychological motives at play, such as the need to fit in or be liked.  Sexism certainly contributes, too, as reflected by the fact that women are subject to far more appearance-based scrutiny and discrimination than their male counterparts.

And then there is the element of performance, or wearing something because image is not just image, it is the act; it is the show. Clothing choice (and the extent to which the body is revealed) is as important as vocal or theatrical talent.  Think Lady Gaga.

The public often learns, after the fact, that an actor or model or member of the royal family has had an eating disorder or otherwise hated her body, despite

every indication to the contrary.  And we are shocked (shocked!) that so-and-so was able to hide it, because wouldn’t we have known?  (Isn’t that what People magazine is for, after all?)

Apparently not.  As it turns out, a star’s willingness to strut her stuff in a peacock-like display does not reliably indicate positive body image.  And in fact the opposite may be true: such parading may disguise deep dissatisfaction and shame.

In addition to how celebrities feel about their own bodies, there is also the issue of how they affect the body image of others.  For instance, how does a 13 year-old react when she sees pictures of Kim Kardashian in a bikini, or Miley Cyrus in the much-discussed Vanity Fair shoot?

Research suggests that media exposure can negatively impact body image and self-esteem, as well as contribute to a drive for thinness, in girls as young as 5 years old.  If we imagine the cumulative effect of such exposure over the course of a lifetime, it’s easy to see why girls and women have internalized the message that weight and appearance are critical to happiness and acceptance.

But is it a celebrity’s responsibility to worry about her impact on the body image of others, anyway?

I very much admire Kate Winslet, who has talked about the fact that she does not diet or pursue corporeal perfection.  She was once quoted as saying, “This is who I am and look at me not being perfect!” about refusing to lose weight for nude scenes in her film, The Reader.  But is she fulfilling a responsibility by accepting her body (and thereby suggesting that others—including young, impressionable fans—could do the same), or just acting as a decent human being?  Or perhaps her motivations have nothing to do with others, and are purely in her own self interest.

Kate aside, there seems to be a fundamental feminist issue at hand:  should a celebrity be responsible only for herself, or for the impact that she has on others? Does her individual right to self-determination conflict with the best interest of the masses?

In some ways these are ridiculous questions, as there is no way that a celebrity (or anyone else, for that matter) can take responsibility for the responses of others, for the insecurity or inadequacy or competition that she (unknowingly or not) incites.  And it’s important to note that men are rarely subject to these questions, which tells us that men are allowed to be autonomous, while women are expected to think about the collective good and take care of others.

Celebrities (just like the rest of us), should have the ability to wear what they please.  But, their impact is enormous, and it would be helpful if they remembered this while going about their business and choosing clothes and snorting cocaine and popping diet pills and starving themselves. Is this a fair expectation?  I’m not sure.  Is it what I want from them?  In most ways, yes.

Perhaps the most reasonable hope (if hope can be subject to reason) is that celebrities take good care of themselves for themselves; that they choose to live good, productive, and healthy lives for their own sake.

And in the meantime, we can choose to honor and celebrate stars who show us that it’s possible to be body positive, even in the most critical of environments.

Kate Winslet, you get my vote.


So what do you think?  Can you tell if someone has positive body image by looking?  Which celebrities inspire you and why?  And what about the whole issue of responsibility: should stars care about how they impact the public?

Photos:  Kate Winslet (source); Katy Perry (source).



7 Responses to “Which Celebrities Make you Feel Good about your Body?”
  1. Ashley says:

    You have pin pointed a lot of important issues and questions that so many other articles about celebrities and body image seem to exclude.

    First, I have never automatically equated someone who flaunts it as confident. Maybe that is because I have seen women who are very insecure “flaunting it” only do so in desperate attempt to gain attention and approval. Of course that is not the case for everyone. You can wear revealing clothes and be either confident or insecure, but what I often look for are other factors to determine whether or not one is confident. It’s more about the way they carry themselves rather than what they wear.

    I’m glad you outlined the issue of whether or not celebrities can be held accountable for the body images others. The fact is, no one can please everyone. No matter your body type, there will always be plenty of people who don’t like it and claim that is “makes them feel uncomfortable” whether we are talking about a thin celebrity, a fat celebrity, or anyone in between. We need to stop comparing our bodies to others and relying on others to determine how we feel about our own bodies.

    “But, their impact is enormous, and it would be helpful if they remembered this while going about their business and choosing clothes and snorting cocaine and popping diet pills and starving themselves.”

    I agree with this, however it is a lot easier to ‘remember the impact’ they have when talking about wardrobe choices than it is to worry about how your body is being viewed by others. I don’t think the two is a fair comparison becaise like I said, no matter how your body looks, there will be a swarm of people complaining that the celeb is too skinny, is promoting anorexia, and makes them want to starve themselves while simultaneously there are other groups swearing that person is fat as hell and is promoting obesity. I agree that Kate Winslet is a great actress and a great role model, but I know for a fact there are groups of people out there that feel she makes them feel bad about their own bodies.

    It’s a tough call with this, but I think your last few lines about them taking care of themselves and encouraging others to do the same is the bottom line we need to drive home.

  2. Hannah says:

    Beth Ditto. Love her. If you don’t know who she is, look her up!

  3. I’m with Hannah. Beth Ditto for sure. That is a truly body positive celebrity.

  4. Kristin says:

    We always hear people saying that the price celebrities pay for all the fame, wealth and privilege is the right to privacy. I disagree. Nothing give us the right to invade people’s home lives and stalk them vicariously through the paparazzi. But I do believe that the responsibility anyone takes on when they step into the public eye is to be cognizant and concerned with the impact they will have on the audience.

    While it is true that men are not asked to take responsibility for the body images of others we do talk about them being role models, this is especially true of professional athletes.

    Celebrity gives people power over the perceptions and beliefs of others and with great power comes great responsibility. If you want to earn millions of dollars each year and get free designer gowns you do owe something to the people whose adulation put you there. This doesn’t mean you have to live your life for them, and it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect but it does mean you should be honest about your insecurities and your screw-ups and take some damn responsibility for yourself, things we should all be doing.

  5. Chelsea says:

    I love Kate Winslet’s attitude. She’s not only a divine actress but she has a realistic idea of what a woman’s body looks like.

  6. Lisa says:

    Great and thought provoking article. In addition to Kate Winslet, I’ve always been impressed with Queen Latifah–clearly beautiful and happy with herself.

  7. Vertigo says:

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