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Aside

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 writer’s placement 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. Based on the information provided in the passage we can infer that marriage is portrayed by Closer magazine as:

  • A      a signal of achievement
  • B      a prerequisite of having children
  • C      a moral obligation of loving couples
  • D      a social stigma

 

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 presented in the passage is an example of subtext?

  • A      Gourmet food
  • B      Bodies, food and relationships
  • C      Maternity Monokinis
  • D      Greek mythology

 
 

  • Answers:
    Q1: B
    If you had never heard the word capricious you might understandably infer 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
    ” 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?”
    Here the writer is alluding to a common saying ‘with friends like that, who needs enemies?’ which one would generally use to refer to friends who are very bad. From this we can infer that the intention of the inverted commas was answer B.

    Q3: A
    At no point in the passage are we given any information which would suggest that B, C or D are correct. Looking unattractive while pregnant is definitely a Closer-taboo, although there appears to be no implicit social stigma attached to having babies specifically.
    Women are encouraged, once in a relationship, to relinquish their single life (2nd last paragraph). Being in a relationship is presented as the fundamental goal of living. Marriage is a solidification of this state of being, and would most likely be considered an achievement by the good people of Closer magazine depicted above.

    Q4: A
    Everything we need to answer this question is provided in the 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” are typical.

    Q5: B
    Closer’s celebrity stories are not actually about the celebrities, they are about bodies, food and relationships. (paragraph 3) They appear to be talking about celebrities, but the messages they communicate in the process, the subtext, the story behind the story, is about bodies, food and relationships.

    Gamsat Sample Questions

    June 30, 2012

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