Friday, May 2, 2008

The Madonna "Diet"

My first interest in feminism and Women's Studies centered around body image, eating disorders, and social standards of "beauty." Jean Kilbourne's work propelled me into the field and focused both my activism and academic interests on the thinness, control, body image, and social influence. I attended a lecture by Kilbourne that taught me not only the importance of media literacy but also of the accessibility of social activism, cultural differences in beauty, and unconscious influence. In fact, when i started this blog i thought i'd be writing a lot more about body image and eating disorders than i have been, primarily because it's where i feel most comfortable and the area i know most about. In retrospect, i realize i haven't touched the subject all that much.

(check out About-Face and Jean Kilbourne's site for more negative advertising)

My undergraduate honors thesis examined body image satisfaction and thin-ideal internalization in relation to feminist identity. I hypothesized that feminists, or women with a stronger feminist consciousness, would be more satisfied with their bodies and would internalize thin-ideals less than women who did not relate to feminism. Some of my findings were inline with that: as feminist self-identification increased, body dissatisfaction decreased. Thin-ideal told a more complicated story. I measured two aspects of thin-ideal: awareness and internalization and found that although awareness of the thin-ideal was impacted by feminist identification, internalization of the thin-ideal was not. What this told me is that raising feminist identification in general may not be enough and although feminist identification raises awareness of negative stereotypes about women, it may not protect women from internalizing these stereotypes. Basically, social messages, images, stereotypes, advertising, etc. may effect us way more than we consciously know and realize.

Feminism taught me the importance of maintaining a critical eye. Whether i was looking through fashion magazines, watching TV, or going about my daily business, applying the feminist tradition of not accepting things as they were totally changed my life (and annoyed lots and lots of people).

Dealing with my own stuff surrounding food I quickly became empowered by feminist theories of "normalcy" and beauty. I also finally understood that a woman's value is not defined by how she looks or how much she weighs. I'm not saying that feminism will cure an eating disorder, if i could prove that i'd be rich and lots of girls wouldn't be starving themselves. What i am saying is that feminism allows women to embrace themselves and their bodies, as they are, and recognize that their value, importance, and position in the world should not be a direct result of how they look. Also, i quickly realized the amount of time, money, and energy women spend on looking a certain way. The conspiracy theorist in me was convinced that this "standard of beauty" for women was nothing more than a way to keep women in their place and far away from equality. As long as there are impossible standards of beauty women will never be equal.

Moving on to what this post was supposed to be about: Madonna. I used to be all about Madonna. I recently had an incredibly interesting intergenerational conversation with an older feminist about Madonna's legacy and influence on women's sexuality. I think Madonna has done some amazing things for the women's movement (intentionally or just as career moves) especially surrounding women's power, sexuality, and freedom. These arguably progressive and positive influences on women's bodies and sense of self have undoubtedly left a mark in music, popculture, and society in general. In fact, Courtney (who ya'll know i love) featured Madonna today on her "Thank You Thursdays" column.

Like I said, used to be all about Madonna. Until this week that is. US Magazine did a piece on Madonna's new "diet." In quotes because it consists of her eating around 700 calories a day and exercising about 2hrs daily... If this isn't an eating disorder guide for girls i don't know what is.

Needless to say, it left me a bit disappointed in Madonna... I won't go on a tangent about the social responsibility celebrities should take for the younger generation that is looking up to them, but for real, come on! Cele/bitchy calculated the caloric intake for some of Madonna's meals that appear in the article. Here is an example of a day in the life of Madonna's diet:

Breakfast: 1 cup Kashi cereal, with ½ cup plain—or vanilla—nonfat rice milk [262 calories]
Lunch: 2 hardboiled eggs with ½ cup each of baby carrots and cherry tomatoes [194 calories]
Dinner: 3 to 5 oz grilled sea bass with ½ cup steamed spinach [240 calories]

[Total: 696 calories]

Combine that with 2 hours of exercise and you have a really unhealthy and dangerous lifestyle that no one would be able to maintain longer than one week. Madonna has a huge influence in both music and pop culture. It scares me to death that girls will be reading that article and replicating Madonna's extreme diet.


Amelia said...

Very interesting post.

I have never had an eating disorder, but as Courtney Martin put it in her book (Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters), I do suffer from extremely disordered ideas about food. Eating is an ordeal for me, because every time I put food into my mouth, I feel guilty and disgusting. I also suffer from extreme body image issues.

The worst part is that I need food on a very regular basis because of my type 1 diabetes. It is difficult for me, because as a feminist, I have all these great role models, but I can't help but feeling influenced by people like Madonna who (I completely agree) do have a responsibility to the public to promote healthy ideals, and they often fail to do that.

Media and body image were the first feminist issues that I ever tackled, but interestingly, I have not touched on them very much in my own blog. That's so strange...

Anyway, great post.

phd in yogurtry said...

I don't know much about this line of research, but were you controlling for feminist ideals and influences while growing up? Vs. feminist ideals in the present?

Like many women, my dieting and thin-idealization started in my adolescence when I poured over glamour magazines (the antithesis of feminism) despite my parents repeatedly telling me I looked wonderful at my (normal) weight.

My body image issues have improved with embracing feminism but those old themes linger.

Re: Madonna, I'm guessing this is her "lose weight" diet and not her typical day in the life of Madonna diet? I can't imagine functioning on such little food.

nap said...

I've long been under the impression the diets and exercise regimens printed in magazines as purportedly being what Star X eats and Celebrity Y does to "stay fit" are totally bogus and the product of publicists.

So the idea Madonna (and others) PRETEND and CLAIM to do these things is in some way even more messed up and manipulative than it would be if they actually did eat only <700 calories/day.

Curiously, these "celebrity diets" typically fail to mention Adderall or other pharmacological assistance to help maintain their typically thin, and sometimes emaciated physiques.

Thanks. Good post. New here and glad to have stopped by.

Daisy said...

Yes, excellent post.

My first thought when she broke her arm was that she was calcium deficient... if she isn't careful, at her age (and I am about the same age as Madonna, but rest assured--I don't look N-O-T-H-I-N-G like that! lol) she could break more bones or end up a frail old woman with painful curved-back problems and easily-fractured hips. Us big gals have thicker bones as we age, so there is a plus side.

There is a calorie restriction movement ( that believes we extend our lives by calorie restriction. There seems to be some evidence for that... but they take a TON of nutritional supplements as well. (This is my profession, which is how I know.) If Madonna is taking supplements too, she needs to make sure people aware of that, as Dr Walford did.

Daisy said...

BTW, let me introduce you to my wonderful friend Kim, who also blogs about these issues:

This is not the way [you] want to die

FeministGal said...

Amelia - thanks for your candor. I agree, lots of girls and women in America suffer from disordered ideas about food and body image issues. Also, i agree, body image was my first interest in feminism and i don't write about it nearly as much as i though i would - maybe we keep away from the issues that hit too close to home?

phd, the way i measured feminist identity in my thesis was through a feminist consciousness scale. it evaluated participants before and after they had completed an intro to WS class. I also did ask a yes/no question about prior expose to feminist theory.

nap, thanks for stopping by :) and i agree with you - there must be something else going on there...

daisy, thanks for the link - i notice she's from CT (as am i!!!) :)