THEINSIDER.COMLately I've been batting around the idea of training for a triathlon next summer, a thought that's both terrifying and exhilarating. As if it hadn't been on my mind enough, everywhere I looked last week were headlines about Jennifer Lopez's first triathlon in Malibu on September 14.
My friends and I started emailing back and forth, psyching each other up: "If J. Lo can do it, so can we! Yes, she has a trainer and doesn't sit at a desk all day like we do…but she also just had twins!" We read her training blog and the reports of how fans cheered her on at the starting line. I had a vague sense of dejà vu, remembering similar conversations about Katie Holmes after she ran the New York City Marathon.
So I had to laugh—and feel a little bit better about my behavior—when I read a Time magazine story suggesting that celeb worship might actually be good for our health and self-esteem. According to recent research, people who form nonreciprocal bonds with famous "crushes" can assimilate some of that crush's characteristics into their own personalities and essentially feel better about themselves.
Which got me thinking: Could a positive side effect of our preoccupation with famous people be an inspiration to get in shape? Of course there are plenty of stars out there leading extremely un-healthy lifestyles, and much of Hollywood still glamorizes unrealistic standards of beauty and body image. But I'm increasingly seeing celebs being recognized for athletic accomplishments and healthy choices on blogs like That's Fit—"We Love to Gawk at Fit Celebs" is a regular column—and People's BodyWatch.
Fitness, like almost any topic, seems to appeal to a whole new audience when celebrities are involved. A good friend of mine, for example, didn't bat an eyelash (except for the occasional "you're crazy" comment) when I trained for and ran 13 straight miles in May. But last month when she read about Jennifer Love Hewitt's goal to complete a marathon, she suddenly felt motivated to get to the gym.
So what's the appeal? And is it good for us? To better understand this phenomenon, I spoke with People.com senior editor Serena Kappes, who compiles the images and info each week for the popular BodyWatch galleries.
"People love to get tips from celebrities; they want to look like them and follow the same routines as them," Kappes told me. "The fact that they're working to get in shape just like regular people is inspirational to readers. And it's fun to see them in their workout gear, leaving the gym in sweats with their hair in a ponytail—it makes them more relatable. We say, ‘Hey, I can do that, too; I have a connection with that person.'"
So maybe our fitness role models don't need to be people we work out with on a regular basis—or even people we know—as long as we're choosing wisely the people we're looking up to. What fit celebrities do you admire? And what have you learned from them?