Glossy Covers: Michelle Bridges for The Weekly

Glossy Covers: Michelle Bridges, weight-loss evangelist, for The Weekly

In the same way beauty bossypants Zoe Foster has encouraged me to take care of my skin, just the sight of Michelle Bridges, 40, makes me suck in my stomach. Some women, I think, are put on this earth to whip us into condition, to help us channel our "inner mongrel" (what Foster calls her "inner ratbag"), as Bridges' own trainer would have it, and get on with the show.

It was with some trepidation, given my current lax state of winter activity and the fact that I willingly gave my treadmill away a while ago (begone, evil torture table!), that I glanced at her airbrushed visage and pried open the August edition of The Australian Women's Weekly... and landed on the Food & Home section opener with its generous slice of sticky date pudding.

And here's the conundrum for women: while our gentle, nurturing, nesting selves just want to make our sticky date pudding, eat it and buy the bigger jeans, our military-like, fear-the-fat, selves are sitting there saying, 'Hey, sister, don't get too carried away – you'll be paying for that later.' Party pooper.

But wherever you sit on the exercise spectrum – recovering addict, dedicated gym goer, casual partaker, expert at avoidance – you can't help but admire Bridges. The lady's got some fight. And she's making a genuine difference in people's lives. She's responsible for the loss of 50,000 odd kilograms from waistlines across the country. "A year ago, I couldn't run 200 metres, now I can do 14 kilometres," says Lisa, 36, one of Bridges' disciples."I've just accepted a new job in Sydney, which the old me would never have applied for, much less move interstate to take."

The Bridges cover story, by Bryce Corbett, begins in the most unholy of places: "It's a wintry morning at an inner-city gym and Michelle Bridges, the nation's self-appointed saviour in the fight against fat, is being put through her paces." Bridges has a trainer, works hard for that buff physique (ab-crunches, push-ups, plunges, planks, oh my!) and has made it her mission to curb the nation's obesity epidemic. 

The Oprah of exercise, Bridges believes it's up to each individual to write the narrative of their own life. Her late teens were marred by a sexual assault experience, though she doesn't dwell on it. She fought off her attacker and took him to court: he did a year in goal. She will also not be defined by her parents' divorce, which she says affected her estranged sister more, nor the bullying she received as a result of changing schools. That bred a fighting spirit.

She conducted her first fitness class aged 14 and had an epiphany. "Just before I turned 30, I did a course and we were told to sit down and work out what were our rackets, what was holding us back from developing as a person," she says. "I wracked my brain and I couldn't come up with anything, until it occurred to me I had spent my whole life not needing anyone. I had made myself so self-sufficient, I didn't know how to make myself vulnerable enough to let someone in."

But then she met Bill, her now-husband, which softened her in some ways. "It was a getting of wisdom. I was ready for peace in my life," she says. 

Her TV fame was not easily won but part of a strategy. After a stint working for Fairfax as an advertising sales executive (which taught her how to present and pitch) she stalked Kerri-Anne Kennerly. "I put together a pitch to appear on her show and chased her around the gym thrusting it under her nose." She wrote articles for fitness magazines and never got paid, just to get her message out, says Bill, who has many nice things to say about his wife.

"Being popular is good, being a celebrity is something, I suppose, but being influential – changing people's lives – it carries a responsibility and that's something else again," he tells Corbett. "People meet Michelle in the street and throw their arms around her and burst into tears. This is such an emotional thing. This is about how people think about themselves. It's a gift you can give people and you don't want to walk away from it – it's extraordinary." 

Bridges' star is shining brightly at a time when the nation is a bit confused about food consumption and moving around and, like Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, she is helping to address this issue on a grand social scale with her roadshows and living-room presence on The Biggest Loser. Kudos. But this whole weight-loss culture thing?

Maybe we didn't all grow up schooled in basic health and nutrition, or even know how or when to start when we wake up one morning and can't see our toes. We all need guidance and information about how to best do life. But perhaps we aren't all meant to be buff, nor spend hours on end in a gym trying to get thin. Surely there's room for more rotund Winnie the Poohs and wiry Rabbits, drowsy Eeyores, little Piglets and energetic Tiggers, too?

It pains me when I hear women talking about tummy-tucks and food guilt and how frustrating it is to be unable to shift the baby kilos, and also to reflect on how much unnecessary time and energy I expended on the torture machine. But from where I sit, and I do a lot of that at the moment, there are seasons for rapid-fire activity and slower ones for licking our sticky-date fingers.

Girl With a Satchel


meg said...

i love this, erica! i think the message is that health and peace with yourself is the most important thing. for some people that will mean devotion to exercise. for me, it's enjoying the occasional jog in the sunshine and learning to not equate the size of my thighs with my self-worth.