Monday, December 15, 2008

Here We Go Again: Another “Imperfect” Movie Star

A big thanks to Cynthia Hart Werry for drawing my attention to the latest example of media frenzy about women’s bodies in Hollywood. This time the subject is Jessica Alba, the twenty-something starlet who gave birth to her first child five months ago and has been digitally "slimmed down" for her appearance in the newest round of ads for Campari. New York magazine gives all the details and images .

There has been much celebrity media ado about Hollywood’s baby boom, and unbelievably thin new mom actresses. Alba herself was interviewed toward the end of her pregnancy and expressed discomfort about her changed body and the challenges ahead for returning to her post-baby shape. I remember reading that interview and feeling sad that she was so worried about her appearance in addition to worrying about having a healthy baby.

But it turns out she was right to be so worried. Apparently her image as one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women, wasn't enough for the agency for Campari. When I look at the before and after pictures provided by New York, it's astonishing to me that anyone could think the before photos needed "perfecting." But her appearance is her career in some ways.

Of course, people will disagree with me about that. No one is physically perfect. But I'm not interested in getting into a discussion of what is beautiful enough. That conversation will only lead us down the path of comparing our bodies to other women's bodies. And, in the age of PhotoShop, comparing our bodies to artificially perfected bodies.

That's exactly what all our daughters need us to STOP doing. Stop buying in to the myth of appearance perfection. Stop talking about how new moms should try to look as though they never had been pregnant. Stop striving to look like a few genetic outliers who meet this year's standard for physical beauty. Stop criticizing our own appearance in casual comments that litter conversations with friends and acquaintances.

Our daughters absorb the message that they should hate their own appearance every time we do any of those things. It's hard to stop - believe me, I know that firsthand. But it's worth the effort. For many ways to help your daughter learn to love her body check out "101 Ways to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body" by Brenda Lane Richardson and Elaine Rehr. And for a great read about how to help us adult women learn to love our bodies check out "The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to be Perfect" by Margo Maine, PhD and Joe Kelly. The two books together would make a wonderful New Year's present for mom and daughters.

So, even though I doubt it's the case, here's hoping that Alba doesn't see herself, and her new daughter, as anything besides beautiful. After all, her body gave birth this year, which is an incredible physical and emotional achievement. An achievement far more important than appearing "perfect" in a Campari ad will ever be.

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