Thursday, October 18, 2007

Airplane Chats, Plastic Surgeons, and Celebrity Fitness!

In my travels this week I wound up sitting next to a woman I’ll call Darla. That might in fact be her real name; I don’t know since she never told me her name.

If so, Darla, sorry for not protecting your identity.

Anyway, Darla said she was having trouble losing weight following the difficult birth of her five-month-old son, which had been preceded by three months of bed rest. Having told her that I was a trainer and interested in such things, I asked about what she was doing to lose the weight, and she said she’d been exercising diligently--she called herself a fanatic--and consuming no more than 1,000 calories per day. Her goal, she said, was to lose 15 pounds by the end of the month—meaning, in two weeks—because it was her 30th birthday and she wanted to look good for a party some friends were throwing for her.

She said that celebrities were able to lose baby weight quickly and, it would appear, easily, so she saw no reason she couldn’t manage a similar lightning-fast turnaround.

When she stood up at the end of the flight, I could see that she in fact looked great—especially given the recent one-two punch of her pregnancy and the lengthy confinement to bed. Did she have 15 pounds to lose? Perhaps—but to this eye, it wasn’t more than that. And this was a woman who was acting as if people were starting to call her Shamu.

She told me she had gotten her program from a trainer at her gym, and they were working together several days a week. Now, I’m not going to take this trainer to task for his methods: Darla came to him with a specific goal and time frame in mind and he designed a program to get her there. A good trainer should be able to create a “clear the decks” program for fast weight loss and/or muscle gain, and given that Darla looked healthy, happy and energetic, the program he created was probably relatively sane.

(Some trainers raise their eyebrows at ANY program they didn’t design; I’ve stopped doing that, simply because I assume that the trainer in question knows loads more about the client than I do, and is operating within a larger plan that I don’t know or can’t see. I do weird things sometimes with clients that, out of context, might look silly or pointless, but make sense in the bigger picture of what I’m trying to accomplish with them.)

Having said that, I hope for Darla’s sake that her trainer explained that a rapid fat-loss program like the one she was undertaking would probably result in some rebound weight gain after the fact, and that in order to keep the weight off, she would probably have to think longer-term, with a fat-loss goal of just one or two pounds a week.

What I tried to explain to Darla on our quick flight (which she was probably wishing had been quicker) was that comparing oneself to a celebrity is a recipe for a self-esteem implosion. Celebrities, I tried to explain, have to look good FOR A LIVING. It’s integral to their job. It’s not just NICE to look good in the dress on Oscar night, it’s IMPERATIVE. No size four, no career. And although it’s a little easier on male actors—tuxes are rather more forgiving than cocktail dresses—you can bet that nothing motivates a guy in the gym like knowing that in two months, literally millions of people will be seeing him with his shirt off, judging every little jiggle and hint of love handle.

So actors have the motivation in spades. They also have the time and the resources. Above a certain level of celebrity, personal chefs are just part of the package, as are trainers whose job it is to figure out how and where to give you a great workout whether you’re shooting in the Sahara or accepting an award in Milan. And everyone around you understands that an hour or more exercising per day is just part of the package. You’ve got to do it, or your career suffers.

Now—getting in great shape is never easy. I’m not saying that. It’s well known that Hilary Swank, for instance, sweat buckets for the physique she had in MILLION DOLLAR BABY. But given a make-or-break motivation to look great, plenty of time and money to spend on the endeavor, and knowing full well that you only have to look great for a finite period, which of us couldn’t make some pretty impressive progress over a fairly condensed period of time?

And when all else fails, of course, there are drugs, surgery, crash diets and outlandish exercise programs to turn to, and, in their shoes, I don’t know if I could resist the temptation myself. I once chatted with an L.A. plastic surgeon who told me that a famous actor had come into his office brandishing a copy of PEOPLE which featured a cover shot of him.

“See that fold of skin on my neck?” the actor said, pointing at his photo, “Get rid of it! It looks terrible.”

Very kindly, my friend the plastic surgeon, who is, contrary to the reputation of such people, an ethical and sensitive guy, told the actor that the offending flap of skin was there so that the actor could turn his head. If he were to remove it, he explained, the actor would have about as much neck mobility as Michael Keaton in BATMAN.

So the lifestyles of famous actors are hardly the gold standard for a wise and temperate approach to fitness and health. Sure, we can take a hint or two from celebrity trainers, who understand that they are working within the realm of illusion, and that if we crib some of their last-minute tactics for getting people to look great in two weeks or two hours, we need to do so with the understanding that the effects of such programs are short-lived and that good health and fitness is a longer process that requires a consistent diligence, and adherence to a challenging but modulated approach to both diet and exercise.


mamacita chilena said...

Great post, I'm glad you at least tried to talk some sense into the woman, but I'm guessing it probably didn't do I know...because I put the same pressure on myself.

Do I have a healthy BMI? Yes.
Am I an fairly decent shape? Yes.
Would I kill to look like Kelly Carlson from Nip/Tuck? OMG YES!

It's just a pressure that women and media put on themselves. In a world in which Britney is now considered "fat," because she had two children in the span of two years and didn't get her pre baby, adolescent body back, in a world in which fashion icons are the Olsen twins, Nicole Richie and Kate Bosworth, none of whom tops the scales at more than 100 lbs soaking's just impossible not to wish you were thinner.

Andrew said...

A good point; I guess in my ideal world we wouldn't look to celebrities--who are approaching fitness entirely from an aesthetic perspective, with good health as either a side effect (or even a possible casualty!) of their pursuit--to set the standards for fitness.

I'm fully aware that I'm living a dreamworld of leprechauns, fairies and gnomes.