Earlier this year I ordered country music star Carrie Underwood’s book ‘Find Your Path’, which was marketed as a wellness and lifestyle guide. On the cover she is standing in a meadow, smiling in the sunshine, holding a flower, wearing white and looking like an angel come to inspire us all to live a happier and healthier life.
Inside we have more pretty pictures of her beautiful husband and children. So far, so aspirational.
However when I read the introduction sentence, the alarm bells started ringing immediately. She begins this book with the admission:
‘Sometimes I go a whole day without sitting down once.’
Okay, that doesn’t sound good to me. Not good at all.
The advice only gets more concerning from this point onwards. ‘Find Your Path’ reads like a brutal lesson in how the music industry (or fame itself) sends people to extreme perfectionism just in order to survive.
Firstly I’d like to start with what’s good about the book: Carrie’s childhood story about growing up as an animal lover and becoming vegetarian is heartwarming and inspiring, especially living in such a meat-obsessed place as the South. Some of the veggie recipes in here sound fine. I love how she talks about writing her journal to help with her stress. Encouraging people to exercise is a good thing in itself – if it’s done in a moderate and sustainable way. I know she genuinely thinks she’s helping people get healthy.
The horror begins when Carrie recounts her time on American Idol. She writes about how during the filming she was having a good time, eating well and enjoying all the free perks. Then she makes the mistake of going online to read Idol message boards, where everyone is posting hateful comments about the contestants and their looks.
Carrie reads a comment which says ‘Carrie’s getting fat’ and takes it to heart. She then describes how she became obsessed with calorie counting, going as low as eating 800 calories a day and losing a lot of weight. It’s textbook eating disorder behaviour and even Carrie recognises it to be so. She couldn’t maintain such a regime and obviously doesn’t advocate anyone eats this way.
Sadly though her self-awareness ends at this point. The rest of the book is a detailed and devastating description of how she replaced her calorie restriction with excessive exercise instead.
Carrie writes about using heart monitors to tell her how many calories she burns during workouts and admits ‘my day won’t go well if I don’t exercise’. The book has example workouts, most of which look extreme and well beyond the average athlete.
Some of the comments about exercise weaved throughout this book are frankly alarming. Here are some to give you an idea:
‘I’ll take things up and down the stairs way more often than I have to, just for the exercise.’
‘I will just jog everywhere I go in the house. Jog to put away laundry. Jog around the kitchen while you’re making dinner. Jog into the bathroom to grab a sweater. Jog over to your phone when you get a text.’
‘If nothing else you can always jog in circles or do lunges around the play area while you keep your eye on your kids.’
‘Drink lots of water so you have to get up and walk to the bathroom a lot. When you’re in the bathroom, do some stretches.’
‘Is it fun getting up early and working out after I spent the night before doing a show then dealing with a young child waking up at 3am? No. But did it make me perform better? Absolutely.’
Talking about her pregnancy she writes: ‘I had various physical reasons that made working out more difficult. But I always did my best to keep at it!’
‘I write down every single thing I eat, and every bit of exercise I do.’
‘Sometimes I want to eat something ‘bad’. But knowing I have to write it down stops me.’
Read them again and try not to scream. None of this is normal or aspirational. Some of it sounds painful and possibly pathological.
The saddest thing about this book is the picture of Carrie on Idol. She looks happy, healthy, normal, thriving.
Carrie is one of the most talented vocalists in the music industry. These fucking idiots writing comments on a message board did not deserve her time or sweat. Reading this book was exhausting in itself, so god knows how tiring it must be to actually live this life. When she sings ‘sometimes I need a smoke break’ she obviously means it.
Women in the entertainment industry should not have to be flawless in order to step on stage and be celebrated.
Neither though, should they be encouraged to sell unsustainable and unrealistic lifestyles to their fans.
Fans too have a responsibility here too. We need to recognise that throwaway comments on social media are often read by the artists themselves and can have a long lasting impact. I debated writing this post for that reason, but I think it’s important to point out how problematic this kind of content is and why selling a book like this to impressionable fans is wrong.
We must stop putting women on pedestals and labelling them as ‘goals’, especially when we know how extreme the lifestyle choices are in order to sustain them.
Finding your own path sometimes means knowing when not to follow others. Carrie deserves so much credit for her consistency and commitment in her career, but I hope she can slow down long enough to be more kind to herself on the road ahead.
Information & help for those concerned about exercise bulimia can be found at the following links: