Harley Pasternak, who's worked with celebrities such as Jessica Simpson and Hilary Duff, is a highly in-demand personal trainer. He's also a blogger for People.com, where he's now opining on the bodies of former child stars, from Miley Cyrus to Raven-Symoné. And while he focuses mainly on stars who he sees as fit, he also includes a few who, as he put it, "opted to 'fill out' rather than work out." Our hackles? Oh, they're raised, all right.
Ashley Tisdale, one of Pasternak's clients, wins praise for eating just one solid meal (along with two smoothies) per day. Another client, Hilary Duff, earns plaudits for her yoga and pilates regimen. But, the trainer isn't so kind to stars who he doesn't personally work with. He's "skeptical" of Christina Aguilera's hard-fought acceptance of her body: "While she's definitely not grossly overweight, she doesn't look comfortable in her own skin like she did once upon a time." As for Britney Spears? "She's not working out as much as she once was." Pasternak goes on and on, but we'll stop there, because quite frankly, we're not interested in spreading that kind of body-shaming negativity any further.
That said, it's still worth taking a look at what's happening here. And precisely why we think it's so troubling.
Eleven hundred words. That's how long Pasternak spends critiquing the bodies of these women — some of whom have histories of mental illness, self-harm, drug abuse, or eating disorders. Some are mothers whose bodies have changed after having children, and others still are barely out of their teens. Instead of focusing on their skills and accomplishments — or their struggles and challenges — Pasternak judges these women by their bodies alone. And he's essentially holding up one single standard of beauty as the one we should all be aspiring to — without even a nod to the breadth and diversity of body types (and ages) that make up the reality of women's beauty.
But, what's most frustrating about his piece is that it feels so unsurprising. Implying that women's bodies are "good" or "bad" (and we all know that's code for "skinny" and "fat") has become a depressingly predictable way to talk about women.
Predictable, maybe, but not popular. Judging by People.com readers' comments, it's clear we weren't alone in finding Pasternak's post distasteful, and last night he tweeted an apology. "In no way, shape or form do I think that a woman's value is determined by her weight," he wrote. "I was not commenting on these women's worth. ... I understand the objection that some of you had that I commented on women that have never been clients of mine, and I can't help but agree. We all know, as a nation, we're out of shape, and my job is to help people be the healthiest versions of themselves through diet and exercise. But we're also a nation fighting eating disorders and body image issues, and I should be more sensitive to both issues. Please accept my apologies."
We're still not crazy about the post itself, but we have to give Pasternak props for not weaseling out with a "sorry if you were offended" non-apology. Instead, we dare say that he seems more aware of how words can affect body image. "Skinny does not equal healthy, and fat does not equal unhealthy," he tweeted, "and neither can determine who you are as a person." On that, we wholeheartedly agree. Here's hoping that philosophy appears in his next column — and beyond. (People.com)
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