I have a very high-maintenance body. Well, that's not true -- for the first 18 or so years of my life, I was effortlessly overweight. But ever since I lost 100 pounds and opted in to the world of weight maintenance, I have had to remain vigilant to maintain my smaller shape.
This is how I lost that weight: I counted every carbohydrate gram that went into my mouth, every day for over a year. I did not eat a pancake, a donut, a slice of bread or a slice of pizza during all that time. I did not drink alcohol. Once, I accidentally drank half of a regular Snapple instead of a Diet Snapple due to similar packaging, and when I realized my mistake, I recoiled as if from a hot flame and threw it away immediately. I had carbohydrate dreams, and woke up feeling vaguely guilty. I worked out for about an hour-and-a-half a day, usually combining a Pilates class with cardio on the elliptical and stationery bike. I walked everywhere.
Overall, this was a wonderful time for me. Gaining control over my eating for the first time in my life, discovering my body's inherent strength and beauty at the gym, and seeing results toward a goal from hard work all made me feel legitimately awesome. (Plus, I was like 19 and single in New York City and my ass looked awesome.) But there were times when I sagged under this strict regimen of self-imposed bodily discipline, when I wondered if I would ever be able to just put something in my mouth again without having to THINK so hard about it.
In short, getting a significantly smaller body size was a whole lot of EFFORT.
So is maintaining that body size. For me, to look too long at a carbohydrate is to gain a quick 5 in my midsection. (Always my midsection, never my ass, proof of a cruel God.) In order to lose that 5 pounds, I have to be basically starving. My body sometimes feels like a coiled spring pulled taut, requiring only a moment of relaxation to snap back into its original form.
So I find it refreshing when celebrities admit that maintaining a Hollywood figure is hard, unpleasant work, such as when Gwyneth Paltrow told Self Magazine, "It's not luck, it's not fairy dust, it's not good genes. It's killing myself for an hour and a half, five days a week."
But that kind of candor is the trend of the past, according to a recent Elle Magazine article entitled "Out of Body Experience." What's in these days? Still having a perfect body, but SEEMINGLY EFFORTLESSLY. The piece cites stars like Kristen Stewart, Zoe Saldana, Alexa Chung and Michelle Williams as examples of the new breed of Hollywood starlet, who would "rather you think they're drinking a six-pack with friends than acquiring one with a trainer."
It goes on:
"The trend isn't about Hollywood accepting curves or larger sizes. These women still have the sort of thin, sample-size figures that are far from America everywoman's. They're movie stars after all. The difference lies in an air of effortlessness, in the refusal to seem to work as hard as the preceding generation -- even if they actually are."
A few pages later, a feature on celebrity gyms actually outlines Kristin Stewart's workout and diet routine.
Of course, there are women who are naturally thin -- Chung, for instance, has spoken out about her naturally thin frame, although she specifically says that she does not want to glorify her shape. But the majority of women's bodies are not naturally shaped like your average Hollywood actress.
I believe fully in a woman's right to do whatever she wants with her own body. As a feminist, I obviously feel sad about the fact that women are socialized to prioritize the appearance of our bodies so highly, but we're the ones who have to live in there. And if we want to whittle ourselves through diet and exercise into a shape that our bodies would not otherwise maintain that's our business. (Although I am currently reevaluating my decades-long dedication to that particular fight.)
But to deliberately obscure the work involved for the sake of fetishizing some sense of breezy apathy? That shit is downright harmful. That's the shit that makes women hate themselves. Because if that Hollywood starlet can mainline French Fries and skip the gym and still fit into a size 0, why the hell can't you?
The "new trend" is just the same old no-win system women have been navigating for decades -- we're supposed to be thin but eat like one of the guys, naturally beautiful and virtually make-up free, put-together but not neurotic about our appearance, youthful without plastic surgery, gorgeous but not frivolous or vain, fit but not because we spend our lives in the gym.
The pervasive myth of "effortless beauty" is a no-win situation for all but the most genetically blessed. And for someone like me, who likes to frolic in the gender performative world of fake hair, towering heels and bright red lips, the effort is half the fun.
And that's just fine -- as long as we're honest about it.