“This cake!! Mashed potatoes, gravy, fried chicken, cornbread and mac and cheese!! And it’s not just pretty, it’s seriously delicious! Thank you @breescakes!!!” (Photo: Instagram)
Pop culture is saturated these days with celebrities sharing what they eat with the world. Real Housewives of New York star and Skinny Girl entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel instagrams the cheese plates she makes for parties. Model Chrissy Teigen’s feeds are full of giddy tweets about vanilla pudding-filled banana bread and pre-pregnancy photos of her chowing down on cinnamon rolls. Even Gwyneth—who’s best known for healthy, clean eating—has been known to mention her love of pizza. On the flip side, stars including Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence frequently boast about never exercising. Do the math, however, and none of it seems to add up. Because if celebrities are really eating all that food while lounging around on the sofa—how are they staying A-list skinny and totally chiseled? In real life, eating high calorie food and avoiding the gym doesn’t yield those kinds of results.
One possible explanation for why celebrities talk so much about food: They want to appear relatable. All the food chatter and luscious pictures aim to position them as everyday folks who don’t have radically different lives from their fans. To that end, many publicists actually try to ensure that their clients are photographed munching away in order to score what’s often referred to as a “Documented Instance of Public Eating” or a DIPE. The whole “Stars! They’re just like us!” tactic is also the reason that so many celebrities mention in interviews how starving they are and how they can wait to order to most fattening thing on the menu. It’s almost a joke amongst celebrity interviewers how models and actresses always seem to order meals like cheeseburgers and fries during interviews.
In lots of ways, the strategy works. “I find a celebrity much more likable when the interview starts out ‘she was chomping down on a burger and chugging a milkshake’ than ‘she ordered a sensible salad with dressing on the side.’ I feel like I can hang out with the burger girl without being judged,” says Jessica Paugh, 28, from Brooklyn, NY. And she’s not alone. Brittany Lo, 23, a beauty and lifestyle blogger, agrees, “When [celebrities] instagram what they’re eating it’s like an authentic behind the scenes look into their lives. I end up feeling like I know them better—and it’s great to know that they indulge, too just like the rest of us.”
But is that what’s actually going on in reality? Are they really indulging all the time? While social media allows us all to document every day life, for celebrities especially, it is also extremely curated. A funny pose, or a reaction is often staged to get the perfect shot. “When it comes to posting, it’s often more about getting out there and being visible than thinking through the impact of a post or comment,” explains Sara Magee, PhD., associate professor of communications at Loyola University in Baltimore, MD. “And of course, the person posting is controlling the story. They’re deciding what to show and what to leave out.” Then there’s all the filtering and photoshopping that goes into creating images today—food photos included. “It takes a handful of people to create the perfect images we’re exposed to everywhere these days,” explains Tara Bench, a professional food stylist who works with top magazines and television shows. So if the food photos you’re seeing on celebrity feeds—or perhaps on other “Food Porn” sites—seem too good to be real, they probably are.
Real Housewives of New York star and Skinny Girl entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel with a huge plate of cookies. (Photo: Instagram)
In reality, the idea of celebrities eating all that food is hard to swallow for lots of people. The Instagram account You Did Not Eat That chronicles the implausibility of extremely thin people actually chowing down on the super-fattening items they often include in their photos. Plenty of women feel like celebrities are just being dishonest. “It’s unrealistic and insulting when celebrities post pictures of high calorie meals when they probably don’t eat any of it—or if they do, it’s a rare occurrence,” says Danielle Wink, 23, a public relations account manager in Chicago. In fact, plenty of people wish celebrities would just stop talking about food altogether. “They need to find other topics to connect with their followers over—and leave the false, unrealistic commentary of food and diets out of it,” says Pujah Shah, 26, who works in communications in New York City.
Also a problem: celebrities get away with posting these photos only because they are thin. “Our society is okay with this type of ‘food bragging’ when the person showing off is thin. But if someone overweight were posting pics of burgers and fries, they’d immediately become another victim of fat-shaming,” Shah points out.
So while a behind-the-scenes peek into celebrities’ lives can be a thrill, a bit of honesty would actually be more satisfying. “There are no short cuts to looking like this,” says Eric Von Frohlich a personal trainer in New York City to elite and celebrity clients and owner of Row House fitness studios. “And I think ultimately people want celebrities to be real about all the help they get from trainers, nutritionists and stylists.” In fact, that’s exactly what they want. “”Unless you’re a 12-year-old with an amazing metabolism, you are not staying a size zero by consuming burgers, fries or any other greasy meals on a daily basis,” says Pujah Shah. “So celebrities—and other women who post like this—should ditch the act.” Especially since celebrities are today’s mentors, heroes and role models due to their ubiquity. “Anyone who has millions of followers is a de facto role model because of all the eyes on them and people following their every move,” says professor Magee. “And that’s especially true if many of the fans are young people.”
Gwyneth Paltrow eating a slice of pizza. (Photo: Instagram)
Of course, there are people who are genetically pre-disposed to thinness and ultimately it would be great if we could all just move on from monitoring and policing what others are eating. But messages that encourage indulgence while celebrating skinniness are hard to navigate. “All of this can lead to a mentality of going overboard and then repenting,” cautions Stacey M. Rosenfeld, PhD., author of Does Every Woman Have an Eating Disorder: Challenging Our Nation’s Fixation with Food and Weight. “Playing games with food can lead to disordered eating habits.”
It’s also important to note that you can’t look at someone and determine if they’re healthy or not, says Claire Mysko, the chief operating officer of the National Eating Disorders Association. The biggest pitfall: copying others’ eating habits—real or performed—and thinking they’re right for you and your body. “It’s unintuitive to listen and heed external factors or trends instead of your own cues and body,” says Dr. Rosenfeld. “And that’s where trouble can begin.”