By Jeannine Stein

Los Angeles Times

(MCT)

ROLE MODELS BY VIRTUE OF STARDOM

Celebrities who speak out about their weight are de facto role models, whether they embrace that responsibility or not.

Oprah Winfrey has spawned a mini-industry on her diet ups and downs. That, say health experts, can be a good thing and a bad thing for both themselves and for us — good if the celeb takes the weight off sensibly and keeps it off, bad if she yo-yos and relies on crash diets to slim down.

Performer Carnie Wilson never envisioned her new show "Unstapled" on the Game Show Network as primarily about weight loss. But shedding pounds is clearly a focus, and she's come to embrace the role model mantle.

The producers "wanted me to get on the scale every day, and I didn't want to," says Wilson, who also hosts "The Newlywed Game" on the network. "I don't want to be known as the weight loss girl — that's not who I am. I'm also a singer, actress, mother and author."

Yet she may be forever known as the weight loss girl. Her Wikipedia entry even has a section titled "weight problems."

Wilson doesn't apologize for the weight loss ups and downs.

"When I did a talk show in 1995, the audience members would say, 'You go, girl. You're overweight, but you're great.' I thought, I'm representing people who are struggling with something and they don't let it hold them back. I've always been proud of who I am, whether I'm 300 pounds or 200 or 140."

Whether celebs are happily hefty or fighting their fat, the debate about their influence may, at the end of the day, be moot.

Jim Ackerman, senior vice president of original programming and development at VH1 and executive producer of "Fit Club," makes no pretense that the show's raison d'etre is entertainment. The celebrities get out of it what they want — a new body or a refashioned career.

"I suspect most people don't watch the show to truly become informed about how to lose weight," Ackerman says, "although we try to be progressive and show different ways to work out."

His suspicions are probably correct. Some viewers may glean inspiration, but many tune in as voyeurs. "When I first started watching these weight loss shows, I took something from them," says Samm Hill, a Los Angeles-based actor, writer and director and admitted reality show devotee. "But lately it's been more for the train wreck. You know most of these people are going to yo-yo."

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IN A HARSH SPOTLIGHT

Life in a fishbowl naturally comes with fishbowl moments. For celebrities who battle weight problems, those moments can be painfully embarrassing — or divinely cathartic:

In an interview with the L.A. Times' Chris Lee in 2008, Kevin Smith fessed up to this scenario: "I broke a toilet. That's how heavy I am. I can't take all the credit — that was an old toilet and a very waterlogged wall — but my size took that toilet down. I cannot cognitively reframe it and be like, 'It wasn't me — it was the toilet.' It was definitely me. And that's a wake-up call!"

In 2009, the National Enquirer declared that, because of Kirstie Alley's unhealthful ways, the actress had only four years to live: "Locked in a deadly cycle of binge eating and yo-yo dieting, the former 'Fat Actress' star has shaved years off her life span, according to doctors who have reviewed her medical history." In January of this year, the Enquirer reported that she'd allegedly blown her diet at a "decadent" birthday dinner at Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills, indulging in dumplings and chocolate cake.

Then there are the ongoing assessments:

Several celebs who lost weight on "Celebrity Fit Club" regained it after filming stopped, including writer and comedian Bruce Vilanch, Chaz Bono and actress Kelly LeBrock. Actress Maureen McCormick dropped 34 pounds when she was on "Fit Club" in 1997 but gained it all back. She was featured on "Access Hollywood" in 2009 trying again to diet her way back to slimness.