I am one of the few women on the planet who choose not to watch "Gossip Girl." I'm not judging the show or its viewers -- some of the brightest, most clever friends are devoted fans -- but I just do not get the appeal. I love the clothes, I appreciate the raunch, but it does not capture my attention.
Blake Lively did make me do a double-take, however. It happened the first time a few months ago when I opened a People magazine and saw a picture of her that was all boobs and hair and va-va-voom. I was excited that this small screen leading lady looked so womanly. Of course, that is all relative, since most women on television are painfully thin, have a profile that looks like a pencil-drawn line and seem in danger of being whisked off set on their 5-inch thousand dollar pumps at any given moment. The talent, as we've all seen prime time after prime time, is in getting (and staying) startlingly thin.
I'm not writing a manifesto about body image and gender and modern media here that you haven't already read. What I am saying is that Blake Lively stood out to me as slightly more curvy and this was refreshing. Standing next to me or any of the women I know or any woman plucked from a Claire's Boutique in the mall, Blake Lively probably looks like a pair of tweezers held up to a giant pair of grilling tongs. But on the pages of a gossip rag, she looks a little more Marilyn Monroe than we often see.
The second time Blake Lively made me do a double-take was this morning when Shine's entertainment maven Joanna sent me this link that I swear came across the Internet with a big sigh. When I opened the article, there was Blake Lively again, just as glorious with her boobs and hair and va-va-voom. Only this time, she was spilling quotes about her body and weight and a new movie that made me close my eyes and count to ten.
Apparently, she plays a beauty queen who dies as a result of being bulimic in the upcoming movie "Elvis and Annabelle." And, of course, because she had to play a character who was not only competing in a beauty contests (not that we'd forget the highly-regarded talent component in these competitions) but was also horrifically sick from an eating disorder, Blake Lively told W magazine that she had to lose "serious" weight.
This is not the issue. The issue is that Blake Lively then says that because beauty queens tend to be toned as well as thin, she slimmed down and toned up. While this might not ordinarily sound bad, consider her statement about all these changes to her body: "So I lost weight, but I got toned. It was the healthiest I've ever been!"
Take a moment to let this sentiment sink in. Blake Lively lost a "serious" amount of weight -- oh yeah, and toned up! - to play a woman who dies from self-induced malnutrition. And she says it is the healthiest she's ever been.
The equation, as ridiculous as it might sound and as easily as we might think we can laugh it off, goes like this: If you whittle down to a fatal eating disorder weight and then add in some muscle tone (which will, no doubt, show up better without all that pesky fat surround it), you will be healthy.
Ohhhh, so that's how it's done. I get it now.
While I'm no longer doing a double-take at Blake Lively (more like a blank stare accompanied by irritated head shaking), my concern is really not with the actress. She has a job and a manager and fans and a stylist and a nutritionist and a personal trainer and a whole slew of people and resources to help her negotiate the sexist and impossible beauty standards for women in media. I am more concerned about what she represents and the thousands and thousands of girls who watch her weekly, who read about her, emulate her style and want very much to be the Gossip Girl of their own little corner of junior high or the JCC or their sorority. I worry that they will read that and hear "playing a dying woman made me feel amazing in my own skin!" and won't have anyone or anything to balance that all out with arguments about how ridiculous the standards are or how effed up that whole logic is or why the business is killing women.
I could go on and on. What it comes down to for me, though, is that this actor impressed me with her presence and now I am just saddened when I see her. One woman, in Hollywood or anywhere else in America, who follows this formula for "health" is self-abusing. But what happens when fans start to follow along? What happens when it's not about a role or a movie, but bodies breaking down, self-esteem falling apart and sometimes, even death?
What happens then, Blake Lively? Please do answer, because there are thousands and thousands of young women hungry for an answer.
I will be one of those people listening. I won't be watching, but I will definitely be listening.
Read more letters to celebs:
- Dear Sienna Miller, please STFU about your butt
- Nope, Mariska, you are definitely not "full-figured"
- Posh and Katie, please can your scary dieting club
[photo credit: Stephen Lovekin/Staff/Getty Images Entertainment]