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Last week I picked up a celebrity magazine, and there was a photo of a radiant Reese Witherspoon, in a white T-shirt and flouncy skirt, with her new husband. Within the space of 11 seconds, I had the following thoughts:
Aww, she looks happy.
But also a little dumpy. Has she stopped jogging? I know she's a jogger.
Maybe it's the boxy T-shirt; she's short and it doesn't do anything for her. No one looks good in those. And she's had two kids. Girlfriend deserves a little slack.
God, I'm so judgy! So she's not skinny. Kudos to her for apparently not being obsessed with her body. Go, Reese! Attaway to be a role model.
But yeah, I've seen her look thinner. I'll bet she's ordering in Chinese with her hubby and blobbing out on the couch.
And then the big question: Why have I just devoted 11 seconds of my actually quite busy and productive life wondering whether someone I will never meet has been overdoing it with the General Tso's chicken? It's frankly insane.
But if I'm insane, our entire country is a few cucumbers short of a salad. A preoccupation with celebrities' bodies is a national pastime, as evidenced by the relentless flow of articles and TV segments about LeAnn Rimes' or Tori Spelling's protruding clavicles; how quickly Victoria Beckham or Gisele Bundchen bounced back after they had their babies; and whether Kirstie Alley will keep her Dancing with the Stars pounds off; as well as those bizarrely reassuring paparazzi images of Julia Roberts' postpartum belly and Katherine Heigl's marbled butt. Google "celebrity cellulite 2011" and you get a slide show with close-ups of stars' puckered parts.
But why do we care? I swear I have better things to do with my time, and so do you. There must be a reason, aside from the fact that celebrities usually have great bodies and we want to know how they got them.Stars -- They're Just Like Us
Turns out, there are a few factors that come together to explain our fascination. First, we have "natural impulses" to compare ourselves to those around us and to want to belong, says Helen Fisher, PhD, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and author of Why Him? Why Her? "In traditional societies, everyone knows who is the best singer, the best hunter, the best at making pots," she says. "Wanting to fit into the group in terms of style and body type is quite normal."
The thing is, we no longer spend our evenings sitting around the campfire with our friends and relatives. Some days we're lucky if we get to check in with them on Facebook. Celebrities, who are clearly seen as successful and beautiful, are the people all of us know, Fisher says. "I can't talk to you about the girl living down the hall from me, because you haven't met her, and I haven't met the girl living down the hall from you," she explains. "But we both know Jennifer Aniston, or think we do, so the two of us can talk about her." (And by the way, have you seen Jen's yoga body? Can you believe she's 42?)
Plus, thanks to the many diverse forms of media today, there are so many more pictures than there used to be of famous people we will never meet yet feel so familiar with: We see Kim Kardashian everywhere, and Kim is barely dressed half the time, so her various body parts are always on display before us, ready to be admired or disparaged. Beyonce's booty, Scarlett Johansson's breasts, Cameron Diaz's abs -- unlike the days when stars were known for what they did, today's glitterati are mostly known for what they look like and how visible they are, says Graeme Turner, director of the Center of Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland in Australia and author of Understanding Celebrity. "There's a difference between being famous and being a celebrity," he points out. "With celebrity, the focus is on the private and personal." And what is more personal than stretch marks on your boobs (thanks for sharing, Salma!) or Oprah's struggles with yo-yo dieting and a thyroid condition?
In fact, Turner says, the most popular celebrities are the ones who are extraordinary in some ways -- beautiful, talented, wealthy -- but just like us in others. We can relate to stars who have their own body dramas, such as Jennifer Hudson and Valerie Bertinelli, who worked hard to lose weight and who inspire us with their success stories. They're not perfect, and neither are we.
As for stars whose bodies look too good to be true: Well, you can't always believe your eyes. Remember, these people are actors, and we're seeing what they want us to see. "They control how their bodies are represented," Turner says, often through body doubles or computer imaging. And let's face it, having a fantastic-looking physique, which most of them get through tough workouts and careful eating, is pretty much a job requirement in Hollywood.
Bottom line: There's no harm in dishing about J.Lo's great butt or Jennifer Aniston's taut tummy as long as you don't criticize your own body in comparison. And if we get motivated to rev up our own workouts in the process, all the better. Who can't use a little A-list inspiration now and then?
Here's one thing women and men agree on: Jennifer Aniston and Will Smith have the sexiest bodies in Hollywood, beating out some pretty fit competition (see below). In our poll 34 percent of women say they want Jen's body, and 31 percent of men wish their wives or girlfriends had her shape. Will's physique is the one that 37 percent of guys want most, and an identical percentage of women wish their husband or boyfriend had Will's build.
The body women want most
The body men want most
We asked, "If you could have one celeb's body part, what would it be?" Survey says:
Jennifer Aniston's abs...65%
Cameron Diaz's arms...12%
Blake Lively's legs...11%
Pippa Middleton's butt...7%
Christina Hendricks' chest...5%
How to Get Jen's A-List Abs
The secret: a special combo of supertoning yoga and calorie-blasting cardio, like Spinning or running, devised by Aniston's longtime instructor, Mandy Ingber. Standard yoga poses, like the boat, become extra ab-firming in Ingber's sessions; try it for tummy-tightening results:
The celebrity whose body we're most sick of seeing? Snooki's, say 40 percent of all respondents. Thirty-one percent are tired of looking at Kim Kardashian's curves.Fit Over 40
Jennifer Aniston scores again -- along with her ex! -- proving you can look hot at any age.
Which female star over 40 has the best body?
Jessica Alba is the best-looking pregnant star, with 42 percent of the vote. Jennifer Lopez has the best body after baby, 37 percent of respondents say.
How J.Lo Got Her Body Back
Jennifer Lopez rebounded from having twins in record time by working out with her trainer, Gunnar Peterson, four or five times a week. Her mission: To complete in a triathlon later that year. Jennifer followed a regimen of running, biking, and swimming, plus Peterson's hourlong circuit sessions, which alternated upper-body exercises with lower-body moves, and spliced in quick cardio bursts to maximize her calorie burn. "Jennifer works as though she has something to prove every time," Peterson says. Not only did the diva finish the triathlon in 2 hours 23 minutes and 28 seconds, but she got that smokin' body back to boot!
The hottest talk show host on TV is Kelly Ripa, 38 percent of voters say. Anderson Cooper clinched second place with 20 percent.
Kelly's Kick-Butt Routine
Despite her jam-packed schedule, Kelly Ripa makes fitness a priority and exercises every day. Her fave workouts: Spinning and Physique 57, a program that helps you sculpt muscles using your body weight as resistance. "Physique 57 transformed my body in ways I never thought possible," Ripa says.
America's top chefs sure can generate some heat. Curtis Stone is the hottest male chef, 40 percent of women say, beating out such fellow foodies as Rocco DiSpirito and Tyler Florence. Rachael Ray is the hottest female celeb chef, according to 49 percent of men. She scored over such cooking faves as Giada De Laurentiis and Padma Lakshmi.Royally Hot
You're crazy about Kate. Fifty-two percent say Kate is the royal with the best body; 18 percent chose sister Pippa.Dynamite Duo
Victoria and David Beckham are the hottest celebrity couple, hands down. No other gorgeous twosome came even close.
David and Victoria Beckham...34%
Cameron Diaz and Alex Rodriguez (pre-split)...24%
Gisele Bundchen and Tom Brady...15%
Fergie and Josh Duhamel...15%
Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries...13%
No joke: Female comedians are in way better shape than funny men.
Who has the hottest body?
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, November/December 2011.