Topic: Business & Commercial

The Perfect Deception: Hollywood Celebrity Weight-Loss Secrets

Pointing out that the ads for weight reduction programs are misleading is the equivalent of suggesting that Britney Spears is not “Mother of the Year”. What other industry is required by law to do something as self-contradictory as append the legend “results not typical” to the before-and after photos that are its primary marketing tool? Of course, this disclaimer doesn’t seem to register on the chronically overweight and desperate; perhaps “this probably won’t work for you but we think you are so gullible that you’ll pay for it anyway just to find out” would be more effective.

Emboldened by the fact that even fine-print honestly won’t stem the stampede of hefty Americans seeking a quick slim-down that doesn’t require hunger and exercise, the weight-loss industry has ratcheted up its deceptive practices by recruiting former Hollywood fatties to become spokespersons. This wasn’t imaginable in the old days of Clark, Ginger, Marilyn and Cary. Self-respecting Hollywood stars of yore would have preferred to chew off a foot than suffer the indignity of being featured in a weight-loss commercial. But today many celebrities have no shame, partially because their celebrity was undeserved in the first place, partially because E!-addicted stars will do anything (including chewing off their own feet) to stay in the spotlight, and partially because nobody has any shame in the era of “I slept with my brother’s daughter” Jerry Springer episodes, reality show humiliations, former U.S. senators pitching erectile dysfunction cures, and cigar tricks in the White House.

For weight-loss companies, the availability of celebrities willing to parade their weight loss is a dream come true. The public has responded to endorsements by celebrities since the days of Davy Crockett, and actors and actresses make for better and more persuasive success stories than normal people. Their successes are also more misleading than those of the atypical non-celebrity who goes from fat to fabulous. They might as well be a different species than the Americans they are conspiring with Jenny Craig, NutriSystem and the rest to deceive. The use of celebrity actors and actresses in “before and after” ads is a far more unethical practice than the deceptive ads of the past.

To begin with, the actors and actresses who appear in these ads started out unusually attractive before they were overweight. Wayne Knight, the rotund and far from comely actor who played “Newman” on “Seinfeld” dieted with spectacular success, but attracted no interest as a weight-loss spokesman: his “after” photos wouldn’t be pretty enough. But the “after” versions of Kirstie Alley, Kristy Swanson and Anna Nicole Smith were unusually attractive —and much more misleading. The typical middle-aged American woman who loses as much weight as Kirstie Alley still isn’t going to look as good as Kirstie does; she has a better chance of looking like Wayne Knight. But weight-loss companies, despite their sales pitch, aren’t in the business of selling truth, health, or likely results. They sell hopes, fantasies and dreams, and use deception and misrepresentation to do it.

Part of the deception in the implicit representation that “if she can do it, so can you!” is the fact that professional screen actors and models are more motivated and better equipped to stay on weight-loss regimens than non-performing members of the public. Valerie Bertinelli, who has joined Kirstie Allie as a Jenny Craig poster-girl, lets the cat out of the bag in her on-line video blog, when she says that seeing a supermarket tabloid spread of unflattering photos of her in a bathing suit while vacationing with her family convinced her that she had to lose weight. Celebrities today have two choices: stay in shape, get jobs and big paychecks, or be out of shape and be humiliated in print and by Jay Leno. Resisting that Twinkie is much easier when you know that your love handles may end up as part of Conan O’Brien’s opening monologue.

Movie and TV stars are psychologically trained to go through hell for their careers…that’s the only way they become stars. Losing weight on NutriSystem is a piece of low-calorie cake compared to other ordeals that are a routine part of their jobs. Actors’ assignments and contracts require them to bulk up, trim down, learn to ride horses and do gymnastics, swim underwater, climb mountains and endure extremes of hot and cold for their craft, because if they won’t, someone else will. How do Hollywood actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Demi Moore lose weight so quickly after pregnancy? They do it because a gun is figuratively pointed at their heads: if they don’t lose the weight fast, they risk becoming full-time mommies permanently.

Staying on weight-loss programs is also much easier for celebrities than for the rest of us. Their schedules are flexible; they have time to spend hours in the gym; they can hire chefs to cook delicious low-calorie meals; they can hire personal trainers, or build gyms in their homes. Do you really think that Jenny Craig’s pre-packaged meals were the sum total of the regimen that stripped Alley of 75 unwanted pounds? Do you believe that Anna Nicole Smith went from a bloated, blowsy blob to fold-out model thin in less than a year by just taking TrimSpa hoodia? If so, you’re probably writing checks to a weight-loss company.

A spectacular globular-to-gorgeous transformation is almost a foregone conclusion when the subject is a Hollywood celebrity. Ironically, for them these results are typical, but they themselves are not. Celebrities are the best possible customers for weight-loss programs, because they have great genes, powerful motivations, off-the-charts vanity, unusual resources and fanatic work habits. Because of all that, they are the almost irrelevant as examples for the rest of us, even though they appear to be the most inspiring models of what weight-loss gimmicks and diets can accomplish. Using them is a dirty trick…but undeniably, an effective one.

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