Does Obsession With Perfect Bodies Hurt Women?

Debate over weight rages on web as bloggers mock photo of Pierce Brosnan's wife.

February 11, 2009, 8:08 PM

Jan. 29, 2008— -- Celebrity bloggers are having a field day over paparazzi photos of Keely Shaye Smith, former 007 actor Pierce Brosnan's wife, on the beach in Hawaii, daring to show her quite ample bikini-clad body.

"Double Oh No," exclaimed the Web site, which posted the photos, taken last week during a Brosnan family outing. Commenters on the site -- one of many who posted and liberally commented on the photos -- referred to her as an "obese beached whale."

Smith, 43, a plus-size former soap opera star, may look more like James Bond's secretary Moneypenny, a down-to-earth real woman, than Pussy Galore, Bond's iconic 36-24-36 playmate.

Like many ordinary women, Smith may be beautiful but definitely not a size 2.

Snide remarks on the blogosphere demonstrate that weight is one of the last arenas where one can be politically incorrect without repercussions.

And, say psychologists, such comments destroy the self-confidence of everyday women and only feed the frenzy to be thin.

"I think it's great that she is proud of her body," said S. Tia Brown, senior editor for InTouch Weekly. "To be in a photo in a bikini in your 40s and not be petite, speaks to her confidence. It takes even more courage because her husband is considered a sex symbol."

In 2006, Smith had been featured in Vogue magazine's annual "shape" issue, telling readers she was proud of her Rubenesque figure.

Her husband, who played James Bond and has been called "the sexiest man alive," said he thought his wife was "stunning."

"I love my wife's curves," Brosnan told Vogue.

"I never shy away from color or my curves," the beautiful, but zaftig Smith told the magazine. "I like to play up my neckline and shoulders. If a jacket is pulling in the bust, I might just move the button an inch. But I never hide in baggy clothing."

Smith spent one season as Valerie Freeman on television's "General Hospital" in 1989. In the 1990s, she served as a correspondent on "Unsolved Mysteries." An avid gardener, she wrote a two-volume set on horticulture in 2000. The couple has been active in environmental causes.

Brosnan had no comment on the reaction to the photo, but in the past has been quoted as saying, "I found a great woman in Keely. Not if I searched a million times over would I find one as good."

"We've had a discussion about it [the photo], but we are not engaging," said his spokeswoman, Jennifer Allen of PMK/HBH.

Irish-born Brosnan made his name in 1982 as the dashing detective in television's "Remington Steele." He was anointed the new James Bond in 1994 and played the womanizing role in four films: "Golden Eye," "Tomorrow Never Dies," "The World Is Not Enough" and "Die Another Day."

Brosnan married Smith in 2001 after his first wife, Australian actress Cassandra Harris, died of ovarian cancer. They have two children of their own -- ages 6 and 11 -- and three children from Brosnan's first marriage.

Vogue spokesman Patrick O'Connell told that readers reacted positively when Smith was featured in its "shape" issue, which is devoted to women "outside of the traditional size."

"She's a lovely woman, and we were thrilled to have her in the issue," O'Connell said. He noted that Jennifer Hudson, the heavy star of "Dream Girls," appeared on their "power" issue recently.

Sometimes reader reaction is "heated," O'Connell said. "But on occasion they write and say, 'It's great to see my size.' Shape is always a hot topic for women whether in fashion or in Hollywood. No matter what shape you find yourself in, it's always a lightning rod."

But cultural observers and psychologists say snide comments on the unbrushed photos of Smith in Hawaii reflect society's unwillingness to accept larger women.

"We live in a hypocritical society where the media tsks-tsks about stars with eating disorders, but then attacks someone plus-size as 'a whale,'" said Michael Musto, who writes a gossip and celebrity column for the Village Voice. "Whatever advances the plus-size has made are generally half-hearted and very transitory. "

Some stars like actress Kate Winslet, who championed the larger girl a decade ago in "Titanic," have now dieted away to more svelte figures. Even full-bodied "Cheers" actress Kirstie Ally went on a diet.

Only a few years ago, the fashion industry lambasted models like Kate Moss for looking anorexic, but today the runway still showcases skin and bones.

Indeed, 33-year-old French model Johanna Dray, like Smith, is beautiful but voluptuous.

"The fashion industry is still really snobby," Dray told the San Francisco Chronicle. "There are only a handful of designers who have used big women for their shows. It's still pretty closed."

In Europe, the industry has taken voluntary initiatives to bar super-thin girls. Madrid's major fashion show applies weight limits, and Milan requires models to carry medical certificates. Similar efforts are under way in London and in France to promote a healthier look.

But waiflike models still dominate the fashion magazines, and fat women are still objects of ridicule, according to Musto.

"Vogue put Jennifer Hudson on the cover and then went right back to promoting stick-figure type women," he said. "Sadly, females have it way worse than males. An Alec Baldwin who's let himself go a bit is still considered a serious leading man, but if, say, Sally Field had gained serious poundage, she'd be out of work.

"The term 'fat and beautiful' has become a complete myth when it comes to the media's reactions to anyone who unapologetically flaunts some real, fleshy curves," he said.

A few bloggers have even jumped to Smith's defense.

Women who blog on had positive things to say about Smith: "She is a marvelous style icon for full-figured women, as someone who is both genuinely plus, and shapely and beautiful. That combination is rarely seen in the media."

But America's obsession with weight goes well beyond magazine covers. The deification of the perfect body hurts ordinary women and especially children, said psychologists.

Jenn Berman, Hollywood psychologist and author of "The A to Z Guide to Raising Confident Kids," said the rise in eating disorders among children at "younger and younger ages" puts pressure on young women to be unnaturally thin. "Women come in all shapes and sizes," she said.

"Unfortunately, the quickest way to insult a woman is to call her fat, and lot of people are jealous of a woman married to a celebrity and make the assumption her life must be easy and they are quick to be critical," said Berman.

"Being overweight is still an area where it is considered somehow acceptable to discriminate and be cool," she said. "If you commented about the color of a person's skin or the ethnicity of someone, people would be outraged."

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