Going To Extremes

(Send to us by Monique)

As stars downsize to meet Hollywood's new ideal, they may be risking their health--and setting dangerous standards for their followers New mom Beckham, a.k.a. Posh Spice, told The Mirror that "it's irresponsible to say I'm dieting and anorexic. After a baby,you are dashing about all day.I never have a chance to sit down." October 18,1999 -- In her transformation from aspiring actress to Posh Spice in the mid-1990s, Victoria Beckham was a head-turner, known for her curvaceous good looks and designer frocks. But at a London Fashion Week party thrown by jewelry designer Jade Jagger (daughter of Mick) Sept. 20, eyes turned to Beckham for a different reason. Dressed in a silver chain-mail halter top and tight black trousers, Beckham's jutting ribs and collarbones shocked her fellow guests. "She definitely looks like she's had a dramatic weight loss," says Carmel Allen, health and beauty director at British Vogue, "and that is rather worrying."

It wasn't the first time Beckham's weight had been a source of concern. During her pregnancy with son Brooklyn, born in March, Beckham, now 25, reportedly gained a mere 14 lbs. Then reports circulated that she dieted to fit into an 18-inch corset for her lavish July 4 wedding to the baby's father, British soccer star David Beckham, 24. Victoria says that her waiflike appearance is actually the result of nursing her baby, a low-fat diet and "200 sit-ups before bed." But some observers think other factors may be at work. "The more famous you become, the more you're seen, and one becomes terribly self-critical," says Vogue's Allen. "You try to mold yourself into something that you're not."

"If I were unhealthy, I wouldn't be able to do what I am doing," says the Ally McBeal star. Beckham is hardly alone. From backlot soundstages to sitcom sets, many of Hollywood's most celebrated actresses have become sisters in pencil-slim arms, battling to stay competitive in an industry where thin is always in. Although Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart has drawn the most attention for her swizzle-stick figure, others-from The Practice's Lara Flynn Boyle and All My Children's Kelly Ripa to Friends' Courteney Cox Arquette and Party of Five's Paula Devicq-are also toeing the super-skinny line.

But have some of these stars gone too far, choosing frailty and fame rather than risk being criticized for having curves? (Witness the drubbing that Alicia Silverstone received for adding a few pounds before filming 1997's Batman & Robin). "They look too thin. And unhealthy," says Dr. David Herzog, director of Harvard University's eating-disorders center. With poor nutrition, "they may run the risk of infertility or of osteoporosis, which could put them at risk for fractures. And if you look at the activities that these women are involved in," he adds, referring to the stars' long work days and arduous visits to the gym, "it's unbelievable what they're taking on. Even at a healthy weight it's extraordinary. Underweight, it scares the hell out of you."