These are conversations, by the way, that the celebrities actively participated in by posting about weight loss on social media and/or allowing journalists to interview them about the topic. But whether or not the celebrity participates in it, the mainstream narrative surrounding any bigger, famous person who has lost a significant amount of weight is that they look so much better now, don’t they? And they’re healthy now!
This is where the problem starts, especially when the stories are presented with pictures of celebrities before and after their transformations, as many of them are. “I think [before-and-after imagery] offers people an opportunity to think that achieving weight loss is something that’s worthwhile,” says Phillippa Diedrichs, PhD, a research psychologist who specializes in media and body image. The issue really lies in the fact that it is often suggested the “after” image is the better of the two. “It sends the message that a larger body type is not ideal and could and should be changed.”
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight “the old-fashioned way” (diet and exercise), you know how impossible it can feel simply because you don’t have time to hit the gym every day before or after the commute to your nine-to-five job. You might not have the budget to buy food that hasn’t been processed. You don’t even know where to begin with working out or eating because there’s an endless sea of information about weight loss on the internet and little of it is realistic or trustworthy. You have these struggles because you’re a normal person, one who probably has not sold hundreds of millions of records or written half a dozen hit television shows.
That’s reality. Celebrities don’t live in reality. Imagine how much easier losing weight would be if you had a full gym at home or access to a private fitness center where the machines are clean, functioning, and always free to use, where men don’t openly leer at you, and where you have your very own instructor telling you exactly what to do — not to mention a work schedule that allows you to indulge in all of these things several times a day (or perhaps even a job that literally pays you to do so). At home, your personal nutritionist prepares post-workout smoothies and perfectly proportioned meals. You might even have an appointment with a doctor to discreetly discuss liposuction or going on Ozempic.
My imaginary scenario isn’t stone-cold fact (though I will present this interview with Rob McElhenney as evidence), but these are very rich people we’re talking about and rich people can afford a lifestyle that just makes things easier — and that includes weight loss by any means necessary. But when the celebrity or the media outlets covering said celebrity depict drastic weight loss as something that can be achieved simply and quickly, you feel like a failure when you can’t lose weight after you ate nothing but chicken breast for a week and bought a treadmill desk.
Those feelings of failure can cause a cycle that impacts one’s overall well-being in the long run, according to Dr. Diedrichs. “People can have unrealistic expectations about what they can achieve with weight loss, particularly if it is being marketed as a result of managing diet as well as exercise. That presents a very simplistic view of how a person’s weight is determined.” And she notes, a person’s weight often comes down to a variety of factors such as genetics, biology, and socioeconomics, things that are perpetually glossed over in marketing and other online conversations about weight. “If influencers or different people are sending a message that we can modify our bodies simply through exercise and diet,” Dr. Deidrichs adds, the science simply doesn’t support that.”