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Unit 47 – Real Life & Celebs

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 7 minutes 30 seconds

The passage below is an adaptation of an article by journalist, Julian Norman, published in The Guardian in June 2012.

Seaweed. Marmite. No, egg whites. Or maybe grilled chicken. Actually, hang on, try a handful of unsalted nuts. No bread though. Bread is poison.

The craving ravings of pregnancy? The menu requirements of a capricious Islington four-year-old? No, it’s the food recommendations of the last month from Closer magazine, which urge us to step away from the carbs and into a happy bubble of seaweed-eating. A New You in which it’s possible to leave behind your sad, lonely bread habit and step into a revitalised Beach Body, achieved through the medium of wakame salads and yoga. I discovered this while on a bus one rainy Thursday afternoon. My inclination to get off and walk was minimal and some kind fellow-traveller had left a copy of the magazine behind. I opened it, and began flicking through. I had no idea who the featured celebrities were, so it was rather like reading someone’s banal telephone conversation. Almost all of the stories could be boiled down to 140 characters, so I began to tweet it with the hashtag #Closer. Kerry is a size 10–12 and so she had weight loss surgery. Now she’s “ecstatic with her new body” was a typical tweet. Taken together, they are a fabulous collection of absurdism.

There is a serious point in among the whimsy, though: stories are not actually about the celebrities. They can be categorised into roughly three groups: bodies, food and relationships. In bodies, we learn that the ideal size to be is an 8. Women who fall below that size are said to be “gaunt”, and are usually mourning the end of a relationship. A 10 is acceptable but usually prefaced with the word “curvy”. Women who are over that size will be dieting, and we will get a run-down of their meal plans, or indeed whether they’re eating at all. If they are over a size 12, then their “pals” are quoted, gleefully telling of how the woman in question cries every night over her size, or is disgusted with herself.

Bodies intersect neatly with food. Carbohydrates are generally considered a bad thing, and menu recommendations inevitably focus on grilled fish or chicken with vegetables or salad. Then there will be one food item which creeps in several times per issue, being hyped either by celebrities or by the magazine itself, the magic weight loss food which will attain you that desirable size 8 figure. It was seaweed in the first issue, Marmite in the next.

More worrying are the constant articles on “baby weight” – the obsession with the perfect and desirable body extends to pregnancy, and I’ve learned through reading these that there is such a thing as a maternity monokini, and also that people plan a birth outfit. Once they’ve “flaunted” the bump (there’s a lot of flaunting in these mags), given birth while wearing that fabulous birth outfit, they must lose the baby weight. We’re told approvingly that one woman was back to a size 6 two weeks after the birth. Women who don’t lose the weight quickly will “admit” to losing it slowly, and again these horrible “pals” will be quoted saying that the woman in question is distraught by the weight and hint darkly at depression. With friends like that, eh?

Finally, we learn that babies are the pinnacle of any relationship. As soon as a woman celebrity gets a boyfriend, these “pals” are back to tell us that she’s desperate for a baby and feeling broody. She’ll almost certainly be “keen for marriage”, while her new amour is permitted, even encouraged, to relinquish the single childfree life. If a relationship breaks down, it’s somehow a failure on the part of the woman. The sentences “If she loses her looks she could lose everything” and “I have to look as glam as possible because there’s a new man in my life” are typical.

Celebrity news can be entertaining; I’m not scoffing at the lowbrow here and arguing that women should stick to reading Greek mythology in the original, but perhaps it’s time to consider quite how much Marmite and seaweed we can swallow along with the casually oppressive messages about our bodies, our relationships, and ultimately ourselves.

1. ‘Capricious’ (line 3) is closest in meaning to which of the following?

  • A      Picky
  • B      Fickle
  • C      Allergy-prone
  • D      Posh

2. What is the implication of the author’s use of inverted commas around the word “pals”?

  • A      They do not actually exist
  • B      They are not very loyal friends
  • C      The quotes may have been sourced from the subject’s jealous ex-lovers
  • D      It’s a slang word indicative of the type of language used in these types of magazines

3. From the author’s description, how is marriage portrayed in Closer magazine?

  • A      As a signal of achievement
  • B      As a prerequisite of having children
  • C      As a moral obligation of loving couples
  • D      As a social stigma to avoid at all costs

4. What do the magazines described by the journalist suggest about relationships?

  • A      Their stability is heavily linked to the appearance of the female partner
  • B      They are luxuries reserved for the rich and famous
  • C      They should take precedence over women’s careers
  • D      The couple should share an interest in having babies

5. Which of the following statements would author, Julian Norman, likely agree with?

  • A      Eating bread leads to gaining weight and consequent loneliness
  • B      Bodies, food and relationships are what life is all about
  • C      Greek mythology is more interesting than celebrity gossip
  • D      A woman’s value is not tied to her dress size

Highlight the text below to reveal the answers:

Q1: B
If you had never heard the word capricious you might reasonably guess any of A, B, C or D to be correct based on the info provided in the passage. From it’s dictionary definition, however, capricious is closest in meaning to fickle, whimsical or flighty – inconsistent.

Q2: B
Inverted commas around a word indicate that the intent of its meaning is atypical. ”…again these horrible “pals” will be quoted saying that the woman in question is distraught by the weight and hint darkly at depression. With friends like that, eh?” – The author alludes to the common saying ‘with friends like that, who needs enemies?’ implying that these friends (who do exist) are bad ones. From this we can infer that the message of the inverted commas is closest to answer B. ‘Jealous ex-lovers’ is overly precise and we don’t have specific evidence for it, and D is both vague and inaccurate.

Q3: A
Being in a relationship is presented as the fundamental goal of living for female readers of Closer. “If she loses her looks she could lose everything.” Marriage is a formalisation of this state of being, and is presented as desirable. Looking unattractive while pregnant is definitely a Closer-taboo, there is no implicit social stigma attached to having babies – it is actually presented as desirable in the right circumstances. Marriage and pregnancy are mentioned in close proximity, but one is not explicitly described as a prerequisite for the other (something you need to have in order to facilitate the next thing). Moral obligations don’t really come into it at all.

Q4: A
Second last paragraph: “If a relationship breaks down, it’s somehow a failure on the part of the woman.” The sentences “If she loses her looks she could lose everything” and “I have to look as glam as possible because there’s a new man in my life” reinforce this notion

Q5: D
To answer this question requires an overall general understanding of the passage and the author’s attitude towards the messaging in Closer magazine. In the final paragraph she describes the messaging as “casually oppressive”. D is the opposite of the ideas that Closer is propagating. A & B are ideas Closer is promoting and which the author sarcastically attacks throughout.