Commentary: Demi Moore reconsidered

By CATHERINE SEIPP  |  July 25, 2003 at 4:41 PM
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LOS ANGELES, July 25 (UPI) -- Every Demi Moore vehicle is less a movie than a signal for another media feeding frenzy. So, after a six-year hiatus, here she is again this summer: Drinking vodka and Red Bull! Studying the Kabbalah! Upstaging the "Charlie's Angels" stars at their own premiere! Buying $4,000 diamond-studded collars for her two little dogs! Grimly not getting the joke on David Letterman!

After seeing Moore's bikini-clad, super-fit middle-aged body in the new "Charlie's Angels" sequel - plus reading the assorted return-of-Demi magazine cover stories clogging the newsstands right now (favorite bit: "She stretches a languorous leg and points a killer Jimmy Choo toward the table edge," reports the July Vogue; Hey, watch it! You could put out an eye with that thing) - I had a little epiphany:

Just as the financial gulf between the haves and have-nots has widened drastically in recent years - CEOS now make 241 times the average worker salary, whereas 20 years ago it was only 45 times as much - so too has the physical beauty gulf.

Actors were always leaner and lovelier than the rest of us, of course, but in the old days the average person was reasonably fit and presentable, while the string bikinis of Bond beauties and beach blanket movie starlets at least made faint indentations in their flesh, which hadn't yet been stomach-crunched and liposuctioned free of every last microgram of body fat.

Take a look at the slim but slightly rounded bellies of the old TV "Charlie's Angels" and you'll see.

Even men weren't expected to be particularly ripped when they took their shirts off onscreen. The most muscular male movie star of yore I can think of is William Holden in "Bridge on the River Kwai," and Demi Moore in "G.I. Jane" just might have beat him in a push-up contest.

Now you could bounce quarters off the preternaturally taut bellies of Demi Moore and Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu in the new "Charlie's Angels." Demi Moore's stomach, in fact, is now flatter than her 15-year-old daughter's - a rather creepy fact on display at the "Charlie's Angels" premiere, which the 40-year-old Moore famously attended with her three girls, ex-husband Bruce Willis, and 25-year-old date Ashton Kutcher.

Compared to the other Angels, Drew Barrymore - who has a perfectly cute, if slightly boxy, figure - is deemed too dumpy for the regulation tiny belly shirts and at one point even wears a muumuu.

But Drew is positively skinny compared to the average American, who now is not only overweight but quite possibly (just over a 30 percent likelihood) obese.

The media is constantly accused of damaging women's self-esteem with its elevation to icon status of rare wonders like Demi Moore's abs, and to a certain extent the accusers have a point.

Because few mortals, after all, have the benefit of personal trainers and personal low-fat gourmet chefs and personal airbrushers. But that's just a red herring.

More insidious is the current media trend (this is becoming common on TV) of showing fabulously fit fictional characters with the piggishly undisciplined habits of ordinary Americans.

You can't drown your sorrows in cheesecake, as Grace regularly does on "Will & Grace," and look like Debra Messing, any more than you could smoke like Bette Davis in "Now, Voyager" and remain carefree of emphysema.

But more insiduous than all that is the way magazines and newspapers coddle the head-in-the-sand delusions of their overweight audience's vanity, even in their serious reporting.

Take Lifetime magazine. I happen to admire this new joint publishing venture between Lifetime TV and Hearst, because it's such a brilliantly obvious and perfectly realized idea - the headlines presell the show, as they say in the TV movie trade; now the cable network can presell the magazine.

It's synergy, repurposing, the media circle of life ... all wrapped up in a big, pink, faintly hysterical Lifetime bow.

But I did not admire the current (July/August) issue's "The Skinny on Fat, 2003," by Leslie Bennetts, which argues against dieting even while admitting that less than 4 percent of American women are anorexic and most are overweight. (Or obese, as Bennetts is, judging from her picture.)

"All Leslie Bennetts is saying is give curves a chance," the contributor's note pleads disingeneously. Curves? Give diabetes and high blood pressure a chance is more like it.

I don't mean to be harsh, although I do think your right to overeat ends where my airplane seat begins. But such pandering helps no one and violates journalism's first allegiance: to the truth.

Even the New York Times did this (more subtly) in its Women's Health special section a few Sundays ago. The hard statistics about the obesity epidemic - and the rareness of anorexia - were dutifully trotted out even as the writers pussyfooted around them.

"How to Talk to Teenage Girls About Weight? Very Carefully," was the headline on one piece, by Erica Goode, which recommended that "if a child is significantly overweight, a parent might suggest having a glass of low-fat milk or bottled water with dinner rather than a soda."

MIGHT suggest? Only if a child is SIGNIFICANTLY overweight? How about keeping sugary drinks out of the fridge as a matter of course?

Another piece in that Times special section, by Mary Duenwald, smartly informed readers that, frequently forwarded e-mails to the contrary, Marilyn Monroe may indeed have been a size 14, but sizes were different in the '50s. (A 14 then equals an 8, or even a 6, now.)

But Duenwald allowed Susie Orbach, author of the book "Fat Is a Feminist Issue," to get away with saying, "We're still not fully recognizing that the body-image problem is a public health emergency" without calling her on it - when obviously it's the shape of contemporary bodies, not their image, that's the public health emergency.

Meanwhile, is it really good for society when Demi Moore is 241 times better looking than the rest of us? I'd say 45 times better looking is plenty.

You can tell by the set of her jaw she's not going to take a cut in her physical capital, so maybe it's time to ignore those patronizing just-relax media messages and begin increasing our own.

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