“Casey Donovan’s proudest moment”. That was the headline on the front page of a recent tabloid magazine cover. It wasn’t a story about how she won Australian Idol back in 2004, or her critically acclaimed role in the 2010 production of The Sapphires, or about her triple platinum album For You, or about her song-turned-online community “Big, Beautiful and Sexy”.
It was about her recent weight loss. “How I lost 36kg and five dress sizes. No surgery,” the cover read.
The 29-year-old Sydney singer says she “feels bloody amazing”, that “life is looking up”. Casey has every reason to be proud of what she’s achieved, and the hard work she has put into improving her health.
But Untrapped.com.au clinical psychologist Louise Adams says we should also be careful when reading stories like this. That we need to be conscious of how the media, and our culture as a whole, tends to conflate how many kilograms a person has lost or the number of dress sizes they’ve dropped with their happiness and emotional well being.
“A focus on weight loss is really unhealthy. As a culture, it’s just consistently selling us a message that we’ve got to pursue being thinner in order to feel OK about ourselves. What I try and do is not focus on weight loss at all, but on healthy behaviours,” she told Mamamia.
“If you’re treating your body well, it doesn’t matter what you weigh… But I guess that would make for a pretty boring [magazine] cover. I mean, ‘She looks exactly the same, but she’s feeling great’ – no one cares, right?”
And so cover after cover, story after story, status update after status update, we are sold the ‘health’ message in terms of numbers. This is because, Adams argued, we love nothing more than the drama of a total body transformation, a then-and-now, that promise that this person’s problems have dissolved along with their thighs and their stomach and their bum.
“What these articles are saying is that because [a woman] has lost weight she’s happier,” Adams said. “In some ways it can be true,” she added, but part of the reason for that happiness may be because, “people treat you differently when you lose weight.”
As Casey Donovan told the tabloid, “Everyone has noticed the weight loss and everyone has been really nice about it.”