Beyond Thin
Leading ladies get translucent

How does she do it? It was the question on everyone's lips as actress Helen Hunt took her final bow on opening night of the new Broadway play "Life is Cruel."

See also...
... by Jenn Shreve
... in the Dirt section
... from January 19, 2000

The query was not how the Oscar winner pulled off such a stunning, believable performance as a poor, blind single mother living in rural Alabama who is saved by an alcoholic, deformed but good-hearted casino owner -- but how she managed to shed 50 additional pounds for the role. Hunt is now so slender that stage lights shine right through her.

"Hunt's performance was brilliant," explained New York Slimes theater critic Ima Fake. "But it was the ethereal, ghost-like quality of her body that really brought the role home for me. Hunt is 78 pounds of pure beauty."

Indeed! The new look for Hollywood's leading ladies is no longer wafer thin but translucent! Helen Hunt, Calista Flockhart, Jennifer Aniston, Winona Ryder, even the once-buxom Christina Ricci have all achieved the new minimalist look. On runways, stages, and screens big and small women are saying, "Bye-bye opaque. Hello crystalline!"

So how do they do it? It isn't easy. But for women determined enough to follow in their glamorous footsteps, a new spate of diets and treatments are leading the way.

Bid adieu to The Zone and Dr. Atkins' high-protein, low carbohydrate plans. The mental images we have of famous stars porking down on hot dogs and baked brie in the name of looking better than the rest of us are, thankfully, gone forever. "Eating lots of protein is great if you want to look like -- God forbid -- Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 or a mid-'90s Madonna. But for the new millennium, you really want to avoid any food that will give you muscle tone or any kind of bulk," explains Vogue fashion editor Margo Starve. The message? Muscles are fine for Alpha Males like Brad "Fight Club" Pitt, but not for the weaker sex, so to speak.

Enter Elimins! This diet has become so popular among movie stars, it's been dubbed the "Hollywood Diet." Developed by former optometrist Dr. Kelly Shannen, Elimins is a low-protein, low-carb, low-calcium, low-starch (celery is out!) and low-sugar (hooray! no grapefruit!) plan. What does that leave? Well, delicious diet sodas, for one! And Dr. Shannen's very own water and powdered supplement shakes, which come in three water flavors: Britta, Evian, and Mountain Spring!

Hunt, Ryder, and Aniston all swear by Elimins, which has found an unlikely supporter in vice presidential advisor Naomi Wolf. "I know I've spoken out about diets in the past. But I've recently been hired to change my mind. I now feel that Elimins is a slap in the face to the corrupt beauty industry, which only wants women to buy more and more products," says the former Rhodes scholar and author of the popular feminist book The Beauty Myth. Because women following Elimins eat less, says Wolf, they buy less. "Hence, they aren't out there supporting patriarchal grocery stores with all their tacky women's magazines, many of which publish my articles in an act of charming self-repudiation."

Also attracting attention is the No-Cal diet -- as in "No Calcium." Perfect for women who've already achieved the ideal skin-and-bones figure, No-Cal helps women whittle down the bones themselves.

Calista Flockhart, who has set off a new fashion craze by wearing paperweights to keep herself from blowing away, is rumored to be a huge proponent of No-Cal. When asked about it, however, the sylph-like star of Ally McBeal whispered weakly that talking about her weight made her extremely weak, tired, and nauseous. She then vomited up the water shake and six cups of coffee she had for breakfast. "I have the flu," she stated, smiling sweetly, before slipping out of consciousness.

Of course, these popular regimens are not without their critics. Oprah Winfrey has tried both diets. She successfully shrank down to a solid though hardly impressive size 3 before blimping out again. She has since declared all diets "unhealthy and mentally abusive" and scratched all weight-loss titles from her ever-popular book club. She is expected to change her mind in a few weeks.

Also critical has been consumer advocate Ralph Nader. "These diets and methods are not safe and their popularity is based on lies," said Nader, who is somewhat skinny himself. "Women are out destroying their health in order to look like celebrities. What they don't realize is that these famous women have entire teams of people who keep them translucent. I don't care what they say, no single diet is going to achieve this emaciated look."

Alas, it's true. Elimins goes a long way, but for stars like Hunt it's a combination of personal trainers, surgery and many kilos of cocaine (don't worry, no calories!) that tends to finish off that tedious thing we call flesh.

Hunt, for one, makes no bones about her incorporeal look. "Acting, and in many ways being a public figure, is about control -- control over how you look, what you say, who you are to the world. If I demonstrate that I can't control what my body looks like, what does that say about me as an actress, an artist? I lost weight so I could convincingly portray a hollow shell of a woman. If people find that beautiful and want to imitate it, who am I to judge?"

Jenn Shreve is a freelance writer in San Francisco and a media columnist for