The glamour trap

Pam
Pam Frampton
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Warning: gossip magazines can be hazardous to your health

"You are beautiful no matter what they say.

Words can't bring you down."

- From "Beautiful"

by Christina Aguilera

"You are beautiful no matter what they say.

Words can't bring you down."

- From "Beautiful"

by Christina Aguilera

In case you haven't been spending enough time in the supermarket checkout lately, you might not have noticed that the hot new Hollywood accessory is a baby.

That's right, a baby.

A fresh-faced, cuddly soft, trendily dressed, pudgy little baby.

Bling-bedazzled lapdogs toted about in oversize designer bags have been usurped by gurgling infants.

But before you rush out and get one for yourself - preferably with a little help from an actor or photogenic star athlete - you have to be prepared to do your part to pull the whole thing off.

You see, you can't just give birth and ease back into your Gucci shoes and Dior couture.

You can't say, slouch around in sweats and baggy tees for the first few weeks post-birth. No, you have to get that post-pregnancy body bikini ready ASAP - with help from your personal trainer, of course.

And don't worry about the baby - the nanny will look after the little blighter while you make yourself presentable again.

You can't expect your man to want to look at you with stretch marks and cellulite and a sagging belly now, can you?

If all of this sounds completely ludicrous and extremely shallow, welcome to the world of gossip magazines, where a woman is supposed to go from sporting a baby bump to a barely-there bathing suit in record time.

And if you think the rack of glossy magazines in the grocery store represents harmless entertainment, think again.

Those magazines have taken a decidedly nasty turn.

Shiny hair, sparkling teeth

When I was a teenager, they were about glamour, pure and simple. They pushed the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and everyone who made an appearance did so in all their glorious, airbrushed perfection.

Then the magazines got a little grittier, favouring paparazzi shots of celebs going about their day-to-day lives. Look! It's Madonna without makeup. She looks ancient! And there's Kevin Bacon, schlepping around town like he's just been dumpster-diving. Look at Charlie Sheen waving his fist at a photographer outside a nightclub - his eyes are all glassy-looking and his hair is wild.

But the magazines have pushed the nasty up another notch.

Now it's shots of some poor celebrity walking on the beach with close-up shots of her sagging bum or botched boob job.

Look - Kirstie Alley's even fatter! Jennifer Love Hewitt is frolicking in the waves with her imperfect body on display. Angelina Jolie has the hands of a crone! Are those liver spots?

And the men aren't immune, either, though they tend to be scrutinized less - for now.

A magazine I flipped through recently showed a shirtless photograph of British singer Seal and lamented that he was sporting "moobs" (short for "man boobs"). The magazine suggested he's let himself go and chided him for not being as rigorous in his post-baby workouts as his super-model wife, Heidi Klum.

It sounds like fair play at first blush - women's flaws have been pointed out in print and photos for years - but the effects of such messages are insidious, no matter what the gender of the victim. They hurt boys as well as girls, men as well as women.

Check out the photos that accompany this column. Can you imagine that a daily dose of one can lead to the other?

According to a recent study out of two universities in the U.K., the answer is yes.

An unhealthy diet

In Bristol, England, roughly 10 days ago, a conference titled Appearance Matters was held to discuss current research into such issues as body image, the media and identity.

Two academics - Dr. James White of Cardiff University and Dr. Emma Halliwell of the University of the West of England - outlined a study they conducted which found that "teenagers who read gossip magazines are more likely to engage in eating disorder behaviours."

They tracked roughly 550 children aged 11 to 16 from South Wales over six months. The kids were asked to record changes in eating behaviours, such as bingeing and purging, and were asked about their diet of glamour magazines and music videos, reality shows and soaps.

What they found was that reading gossip magazines seemed to put teens and pre-teens at higher risk of feeling greater pressure to lose weight.

As White noted on the University of the West of England's website, "This study suggests that there should be a greater awareness of the potential impact that exposure to the kind of images of celebrities and models in gossip magazines can have on adolescents' eating habits."

Young, impressionable people are constantly being bombarded with the message "be thin, be successful, be desirable."

And while some kids are self-confident enough to see past that harmful mantra, there are others who are more vulnerable.

As parents, we can't shelter our kids from every image of too-thin fashion models or unrealistically buff bodies, but we can certainly skip the magazine rack at the supermarket and drugstore and stop bringing that message home.

Pam Frampton, The Telegram's story editor, welcomes comments by e-mail: pframpton@thetelegram.com. Pam writes a food blog at wininganddiningwithpam.blogspot.com

Organizations: Gucci, ASAP, University of the West of England Cardiff University

Geographic location: Hollywood, Bristol, England South Wales

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