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BMJ. 2001 Apr 21; 322(7292): 1002.
PMCID: PMC1120112

Under cover

A magazine that was at the centre of a row over the media and eating disorders earlier this month claims that it is sending up our image obsessed culture

In a climate in which the media are often blamed for eating disorders (see the report above) launching a magazine such as Celebrity Bodies is surely asking for trouble. This glossy production, with 94 pages on the diet secrets of the stars, hit the news stands in Britain earlier this month amid an inevitable furore. The tabloids rushed to condemn the title, and the usual suspects were rounded up to explain why articles on how to get an “A-list body” like that of Friends star Jennifer Aniston were irresponsible publishing.

Celebrity Bodies, whose slogan is “You can get one too,” has a picture of singer Geri Halliwell on the cover with the words: “The truth behind this body.” Beneath there is a line claiming to show readers how to “get Courteney Cox's arms, Liz Hurley's stomach, Posh's legs . . .” There are also the words “101 star shortcuts to a gorgeous new you” surrounded by pictures of four celebrities, including current star of My Fair Lady Martine McCutcheon. In all, Celebrity Bodies seems to promise the kind of miraculous transformation that Professor Higgins would be proud of, all for £1.65. This is My Fair Lady for star-obsessed serial dieters.

What were the magazine's creators thinking of, riding into a media storm like this? Did they not have a thought for what effect the magazine might have on those already struggling to lose a few pounds, let alone look like Geri Halliwell or Jennifer Aniston?

“Actually, we're winking at the audience and just having a laugh,” said Celebrity Bodies publisher, Andrew Sumner. In no way did the magazine encourage people to feel they had to look like Geri or Jennifer, he said. “The tone isn't ‘Come on, go out and do it,’ it's ‘Come on, do me a favour,’ ” he added.

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Sumner, who used to publish Therapy Weekly, a weekly title aimed at physiotherapists, and who worked in healthcare publishing for 10 years before moving to publish Slimming, said the diets given in Celebrity Bodies were prepared by Sarah Schenker of the British Nutrition Foundation. “We looked at the diets that the celebrities have, and then we provide a nutritionally responsible alternative to that diet,” he said.

The magazine's target audience is women aged 25 to 35. Sumner said, “It's not aimed at a teenage audience, but at people who have an informed take on the world and who are also interested in the celebrity market.” He added, “It is inspirational fun with diet and fitness. What we are doing is by no means promoting an anorexic image of women.”

He said that although Celebrity Bodies dealt with weight loss, diet and fitness, serious issues that were of relevance to everybody, it dealt with them in an accessible and entertaining way. In a sense, he sees Celebrity Bodies as sending up the image-obsessed world the magazine has been accused of pandering to. Anyone who actually read the magazine would see that that was what it was all about, even the tabloids, he felt.

Articles from BMJ : British Medical Journal are provided here courtesy of BMJ Group
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