Body-shaming, dangerous diet routines and "Honey Boo Boo's" Mama June Shannon: What the tabloids leave out

When celeb magazines show photos of dramatic weight loss out of context, they only reinforce unhealthy practices

Published July 14, 2015 3:43PM (EDT)

Honey Boo Boo (Alana Shannon), Mama (June Shannon), and Kaitlyn Shannon.          (TLC)
Honey Boo Boo (Alana Shannon), Mama (June Shannon), and Kaitlyn Shannon. (TLC)

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but when it comes to weight loss, photos can only tell us so much. Yes, you may think you’re seeing someone transformed to a “healthy weight,” but unless you’re their doctor, you don’t really know what’s happening behind the scenes, and can only speculate. We’re so conditioned to believing that a lower weight is automatically a better one that, especially in summer swimsuit season, we heap praise on those who’ve dropped pounds without knowing how they went about it.

Take the case of former "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" star Mama June Shannon, who posed last week in a red one-piece bathing suit to show off what Us called her “impressive weight loss” of 60 pounds. Sure, she’s been seen working out with a trainer and been photographed drinking a green juice, but beyond that, we don’t really have an accounting for exactly how she dropped those pounds, and without that, we just have further reinforcement that losing weight is always a positive step. It very well may be, but the splashy triumph should be about the process of getting healthier, not simply the end result, that will require keeping the weight off.

We see the same thing with celebrity moms after they’ve given birth and the rush to trumpet how quickly they’ve lost the baby weight, as if that is more important than anything else they might be doing, like, oh, parenting. So it’s refreshing to see celebrities who’ve lost weight also share aspects of it beyond the flashbulb moment, like comedian Lisa Lampanelli, who had gastric sleeve surgery in 2012 and lost over 100 pounds. Yet she told Yahoo Beauty:

Everybody focuses on a simple fix. Weight loss surgery is a tool but it’s not an easy, simple fix. It’s about the emotions. It’s not a trick. It’s not about willpower. It’s about every time you’re hungry: is it about emotional hunger or physical hunger. This is not a sound bite way of life, it’s an every day, every meal, wondering if you’re eating your feelings or if you’re eating for nutrition.

But celebrity gossip culture still encourages and praises what seem like dangerous dieting routines. Take OK! magazine’s recent “From Flab To Fab: Inside Selena Gomez’s Emergency Slim Down Plan.” While most thinking people would at least raise an eyebrow about a 20 pound weight loss in three weeks, which Gomez has reportedly achieved, OK! Is okay with touting this as a positive step, stating “And it definitely paid off! Selena is looking toned and tiny nowadays.” They report that a source said, “Selena has given herself a ‘thin-tervention,’” without a trace of concern over why a relatively minor weight gain is even considered an “emergency” in the first place. This is the kind of thinking that encourages young female fans of Gomez to try to lose as much weight as possible, and puts Gomez’s health second to her looks.

I’m not saying gossip magazines shouldn’t report on stars who’ve lost weight, but it’s a problem when they do so only armed with photos, not facts. I’m also not against celebrities sharing their own weight loss photos as a way to share their pride and perhaps inspire others to live a healthier lifestyle, like Kevin Smith did recently on Twitter to broadcast his 85-pound weight loss. But Smith didn’t just gloat about his smaller figure and leave it at that; he’s revealed that it actually takes effort to lose that much weight.

Unlike, say, Jennifer Lopez, who’s hawking products via her BodyLab line such as a 7-Day Ultra Fast Slim Kit that a personal trainer called “fairly useless stuff for the people she’s trying to target,” Smith has shared a weight loss tip that might actually work for regular people (and is free). Commenting on Facebook, he wrote: “The secret is to not eat sugar and stand all day. I never sit behind the monitor: I’m always moving now. I’ve been wearing a Jawbone bracelet and using the UP app to count my daily steps and every day this week, I’ve averaged 12,000. That’s close to walking 5 miles a day. I NEVER walk 5 miles a day EVER. So while I stand there every day making this weird little movie with my kid and her friend in it, I’ve been quietly cutting pounds in the process.”

That’s more like it: not some mumbo-jumbo about simply eating whatever you want, or a dramatic photo finish, with the implication that the work is over once the pounds have come off, but actionable advice that isn’t just about weight loss, and could apply to anyone, no matter what number their scale reveals.

By Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the author of "Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays" and the editor of more than 70 anthologies, including "The Big Book of Orgasms" and the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series. She teaches erotica writing workshops online and in-person, writes widely about books, culture, sex, dating and herself, and Tweets @raquelita.

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Honey Boo Boo Kevin Smith Lisa Lampanelli Mama June Shannon Weight Loss