After years of yo-yo dieting to look good for her judging duties on the Emmy-winning reality food competition “Top Chef,” Padma Lakshmi is refusing to obsess about her weight anymore.
The former model is opening up about her decision not to diet, saying she is deeply concerned about the negative influence it has on her daughter. In a compelling column penned for The Hollywood Reporter, the TV host reveals how her post-season slim-down routine has impacted her 7-year-old, who is a lot more important to her than squeezing into a size 0 dress for the Emmys.
“I find myself in the unique position of eating for a living while still being expected to look a certain way — let’s call it red-carpet ready,” Lakshmi explains. “While I can clearly point to the many ways our society constantly reinforces this pressure, the truth is, my own vanity also plays a big role. I want to look good, to be fit and to fit into those fancy couture dresses.”
The 46-year-old has one of those jobs most can only dream of: She gets paid to eat delicious food. Unfortunately, consuming copious amounts of calories (a whopping 5,000 to 8,000 per day) in a six-week period of time translates to a “10 to 17” pounds of weight gain per season. It doesn’t help that the show wraps shooting 12 weeks before her big red-carpet event of the year — the Emmys.
“It’s always a nail-biting extravaganza at fittings, praying that a few pretty dresses that came down the runway on a teenage model who is a size 0 will miraculously fit my 40-something body,” Lakshmi says.
Lakshmi’s ritual has always been to follow a strict diet and work out for two hours per day in order to slim down for the big event. “It’s like a poem: no meat, no wheat, no cheese, no fried foods or sweets. And, of course, no alcohol.”
The process usually works out great for Lakshmi, but this year her daughter Krishna has started picking up on what she hears her mother say.
“She’s noticed, and suddenly she’s told me and others in our circle, ‘I don’t want to eat because I’m watching my figure,’ or ‘I weigh too much.’ Her comments stopped me dead in my tracks,” she continued. “Her words scared me. Language matters. We send signals to our daughters every day. And I am her first touchstone of femininity.”
Lakshmi realizes she’s not the only one sending her daughter these messages, but feels that as Krishna’s mother it’s her responsibility to make sure she has a healthy self-image. “I don’t want her to ever be ashamed of her body. I want her to cultivate her mind. I always say, ‘Beauty is skin-deep, but dumb and dull are to the bone.’” Preach on, Padma.
While her daughter may seem a bit young to start struggling with body-image issues, a recent survey conducted by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) found they actually start much younger.
“By the age of 3 or 4, some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds (and even hold strong views) about how bodies should look,” said one of PACEY’s advisers, Jacqueline Harding.
Almost 25 percent of child care professionals reported seeing 3- to 4-year-olds who were displeased with their bodies, and 50 percent for those in the 6- to 10-year-old age range. Almost one-third heard a child between 3 and 10 call themselves “fat,” and nearly 20 percent claimed to see a kid refuse food because they were afraid of gaining weight.
Even worse? “There is also research evidence to suggest that some 4-year-olds are aware of strategies as to how to lose weight,” Harding said.
In order to set a good example for her daughter — as well as for women everywhere — Lakshmi is ditching her diet and relieving herself of the pressure of squeezing into that size 0 Emmy gown.
“Every message I telegraph about food and our bodies is important. So this year I’ve decided my weight will not be my focus. If I need a bigger dress, so be it,” she says. “That one day — or any day — on the red carpet isn’t nearly as important as making sure my daughter doesn’t measure her worth by her dress size.”
No matter what the size of the Emmy gown Lakshmi traipses down the red carpet wearing this year, she’s going to look good — but feel even better. Nothing tops being a role model.
What Do YOU Think?
Is Padma Lakshmi right to stop dieting around her daughter? How young do you think children pick up on body-image issues? What are the best ways to promote healthy self-esteem to kids?