CHRISTINA AGUILERA GROWS UP
Long ago Christina Aguilera had decided that she was a morning person. Waking up, finding the sun shining, thinking of the things she was going to do in the day ahead and then doing them -- she glowed at the very thought of it all. Work could often be arduous if she was on tour or recording an album: the punishing schedule would scarcely leave her time to sleep, go to the bathroom, or linger over a meal. But at least she'd be singing, using the voice that had entranced her family, neighbours, her school, the New Mickey Mouse Club, and ultimately the whole world since she was six years old.
Over the years she'd watched the voice grow in strength and range until now, on a good day, on certain top notes, it had enough force to shatter light bulbs. Could that voice be coming out of the petite body God and adolescence had given her, the waist slim, the limbs equally slender, the breasts still no bigger than lemons? It seemed a miracle. She'd been told that it was.
For herself she knew at least that she was someone very lucky. How many other people only just into their twenties had enough Grammy Awards on the mantelpiece to use them as plates at a pizza party? Lying in bed now, her favourite Little Mermaid figurine glinting on the bedside table, the fun of that giggly, happy party came into her mind. She should have another one, soon, she decided. This time with even more pizzas, even more toppings. And maybe fifty different kinds of milkshake. She closed her eyes briefly, recalling with pleasure how full she felt at the end of that day.
That reminded her. Breakfast! She was dying to try a brand-new cereal line -- the sugar-coated pieces were shaped like pop stars' heads, and she'd bought a packet of Elvis Presley. Eating Elvis, she decided, was probably going to be the day's highlight. But maturity told her that pleasure tasted even sweeter if it was approached through a little delay and anticipation.
So first she tripped off to the bathroom. The water jets cascaded down, the fog of moisture almost obliterating the Donald Duck shower tiles that Christina was beginning to wonder if she shouldn't replace. As usual she started singing: “Bop, bop, lollipop,” she crooned. It was a song from her new album, just recorded: even after all the gruelling days nailing the takes in the studio, she could still sing for pleasure. She was that kind of girl.
“I'm gonna lick my lolliop!” She was onto the second verse now, soaping herself in her customary fashion, over the shoulders, down the arms, across the breasts, gently, gently. “I'm gonna lick -- ”
Suddenly the song and her soaping stopped. She had reached her stomach. It felt, she thought, a little different -- slightly softer than usual. She parked the soap in the soapdish and with both hands free began touching her body around her belly-button. No, it wasn't her imagination. Her belly was definitely softer.
“That's curious,” she said. Picking up the soap, she continued her journey downwards, soaping up more slowly as before. Over her thighs, she thought she felt a little more “give” in them than before; not quite so hard to the touch. “Odd,” she murmured. Pocketing the thought just for the moment, she continued her ablutions. The song came rushing back into her throat. The water played over her body, washing away the suds. Tossing her head, she moved on to her hair and the shampoo. Christina loved to be clean.
The shower over, she began to towel herself dry, usually something she did without thinking. But today, like the soaping, she approached the process more deliberately, testing her body, its texture and contours, with each pat and rub. The more she probed with her towel, the more she sensed there was a little more flesh than usual to move about. “Have I put on a little weight?” she wondered. She didn't know whether this was good or bad; all she knew was that when she touched her body, especially round her middle, she was experiencing something new.
To dry her legs properly she needed to balance herself on the bathroom stool. With an outstretched hand she felt the circumference of one her thighs. Definitely a little bigger, she decided. It was then, sitting down, that she noticed her stomach -- always so trim and flat before, but now with sufficient flesh to form itself into a roll across the waist. There was enough fat for her to squeeze. She squeezed it. She prodded it with a finger. On her face was an expression of awe and wonder, as though she were looking at the eighth wonder of the world. “My God,” she cried, “where did this little stomach come from?”
It didn't stop her enjoying her day. Elvis, she found, was delicious.
The next few weeks passed in a blur. This was the calm before the storm, which would hit with tropical force when the promotion for her new album, “Christina: It's Your Planet”, began. Then she'd be working round the clock. For the moment she told everyone she was “chilling out”: Christina-speak for lounging around at home in her favourite attire -- t-shirt and men's briefs -- watching afternoon soaps, with a little something, maybe McNuggets, by her side. At other times she went shopping, or painted her fingernails green. Some work crept in here and there -- schedules to OK, songs to try out for future use, like “Leelah, Have Some Tequila.” The song wasn't in her usual style; learning it was difficult. But there was nothing like a fast food fix to soothe and replenish. For a while, as the days went on, she continued to notice the little swell on her stomach, but the novelty eventually wore off and it largely passed from her mind. If she thought of it at all, it was as a new fact of life, nothing to bother about, even a vague source of delight. Kind of cute, wasn't it, her tummy?
But nothing lasts forever. The lull stopped. The storm arrived, the first sign being an abrupt summons to the rehearsal and recording of a TV spot. Her entourage came bright and early in a white stretch limo to whisk her off, along with the clothes she wanted to wear - cream patent leather trousers (always her “lucky” pants), a black belt with studs, a pink crop-top. Sweeping along the backstage corridor, she greeted her music director with a kiss and a hug. “You're looking radiant!” he said, hands round her waist. “Ready for work?”
“Mm,” he said to himself as they went their ways, “I think Christina's gained a little weight!”
First things first. Alone in her dressing room, Christina fetched out her favourite Barney dinosaur and propped it up at the foot of the mirror -- the purple soft toy travelled everywhere with her, offering emotional support. Then she turned to her performance clothes. She eased herself into her patent leather pants, not worn for months. Before they had always buttoned at the top with ease; now, she discovered, the recent softening of her waist had made that close to impossible. She prodded the fat on her tummy, hanging slightly over the waistband. “Oops!” she said.
She reached immediately for her mobile phone, in the shape of a Coke bottle, and called for Donna -- stylist, seamstress, all-round aide de camp. Within twenty seconds, Donna was at her employer's side. “Hiya, Christina,” she said, “how you doing?”
Suddenly, the surreptitious pleasure Christina had felt sensing her body soften and grow vanished. She felt embarrassed. Vagueness, she decided, was the best policy. “There seems to be a problem with these pants! And they used to be such a good fit.” She stood looking down at the problem area, thumbs tucked into the pants' waistband.
Donna immediately noticed the layer of fat on her stomach and the hint of love handles aorund the sides. She had a reputation for calling a spade a spade, but the mother instinct kicked in, and she decided not to be brutal. “Maybe they've shrunk, honey. Or it could be that you've put on a few pounds. It happens.”
“Actually,” said Christina, deciding to risk it, “I have noticed I'm a little bit rounder down there. But I'm eating the same as usual. It's odd!”
Donna smiled sympathetically, and took a closer look at the songbird. It wasn't just her waist, she now realised. Christina had also filled out a little in her face; and did her upper arms have that well-rounded look before? She thought not. But she kept her observations to herself. “Well, let's see if we can make an adjustment.”
“Thanks, Donna. You know these are my lucky pants!” As Christina bent to pull them down over her thighs, her midriff flesh started to bulge. “My, my,” Donna thought, “little Christina is putting on weight!” Something, she decided, would have to be said, and said out loud. She ventured forth. “It could be your metabolism. It always slows down with age.”
“Metabolism? What does that mean?”
Donna was mystified. Shouldn't her biology teacher have told her this? Or her mother? Doesn't this girl know anything? “It affects the rate at which you burn up calories. When you get older the rate slows down.” Looking at her figure again, she estimated that Christina had probably gained about ten pounds.
Christina looked baffled. Grasping this was almost as difficult as learning “Leelah, Have Some Tequila”. “You mean,” she said, glancing down at her tummy, “if I just keep on eating the amount I normally eat I will now keep putting on weight?”
“Well, not necessarily, but there could be a tendency.”
“And there's nothing I could do about it?” Her eyes were widening at the thought. She felt like an astronaut taking the first steps on the moon. This was a whole new world. No-one had told her about this. Barney certainly hadn't. “Wow!” she said. She had brief visions of her body expanding before her eyes, popping the buttons off blouses. “And it's natural? A natural process?”
“Entirely natural. God's gift to women.” Donna smiled -- she was a woman of some substance herself -- and busied herself inspecting the pants' seams, trying to estimate how much extra material she could find. “You like carrying a few more pounds, then?”
By now Christina's embarrassment was tapering off. She felt Donna was a friend. “Well, it still feels a bit strange, or it did. I've always been so slim. But it's OK, isn't it? It makes me more of a woman -- doesn't it?” She looked at Donna with spaniel eyes, begging for approval.
Donna nodded. “It certainly does.” After looking at her figure again, and then at the seams, she sighed. “Honey,” she said, “you don't have any other lucky pants, do you?”
The storm continued. After the album came Christina's new single, “Jack, the Toast Is Burning!” and, right alongside, the new music video: one followed the other as night follows day. At times like these she felt like a puppet, performing to order, singing, dancing, posing for publicity shots, always some new demand on her energy and time. At the end of each day she'd be exhilarated but drained, and ready for all the delights her fridge could offer. And then, immediately after, bed: every drop of sleep was needed to fuel her up for the next 24 hours.
Donna's needle and thread had worked what wonders they could, but by now the cream pants were unofficially retired, replaced in Christina's affections by a new purchase in midnight blue, scattered with sequins. These lucky pants were a size larger. The fit was snug, snugger than she had been accustomed to, but there was a certain thrill, she found, in moving about in tight clothes.
Accustomed by now to her softened tummy, she scarcely noticed as it grew softer still, building into a sweet swathe of fat filling out her midriff. Unconsciously, she'd fallen into the habit of wearing pants low on the hips to allow her belly more freedom to move. There were other new habits, all signs of someone carrying more weight than before. Her stomach became a magnet, drawing her hands constantly towards it. Sometimes they patted it, sometimes they traced the outline as she concluded a meal or finished putting on her clothes; sometimes they fingered it absently as she tugged down a t-shirt. Was she reassuring herself that the tummy was still there? Was she hoping she'd find it bigger, or smaller? Christina was the last person to know, yet by feeling her stomach she seemed reassured of something.
Word by now was leaking out that Christina was no longer quite the stick insect of the past. Comments about her extra pounds appeared on website chatrooms and shrines, tummy sightings tabulated. Remarks were couched with some surprise and an occasional juvenile burst of scorn, but the general mood was calm acceptance that here was someone adjusted enough to let her appetite and body take her wherever they chose. And besides, didn't each pound make her more beautiful?
If only Christina's video director Herk Herkowitz thought that way. Christina liked performing for the camera. There was no stage fright to worry about; so long as she had the choreography memorised, she could sink herself into doing what she liked best, gyrating, pouting, acting cute, acting sexy, and setting the mike on fire with her voice. She'd come to the session wearing her new lucky pants and a skimpy top coloured like blueberry yogurt. Rehearsing and recording had taken a morning's work. Now, for her it was time for lunch; for award-winning Herk Herkowitz, the first chance to check the results.
Pretty good, he thought as the images sped by. Pretty damn good, in fact. But then something bothered him. He pressed the pause button and peered. “What the hell is that?” he cried. “Jeez!” The small audience of assistants and Christina's manager, Mitch Mitchelson, produced a sound like the rustling of leaves.
“I think it's Christina's stomach, Herk,” the first assistant ventured.
“I know it's that, but where did it come from? She's bulging, for Christ's sake.” The freeze frame had caught a midriff close-up, the bared fat clearly hanging over her pants in a roll, the belly-button sunk an inch inside soft, golden flesh. “What's she been doing this year, camping out at Wendy's?”
Mitch felt he had to mount a defence. “It's just puppy fat, Herk. Don't worry about it.”
“That's not puppy fat! That's fat fat. There's a difference.” He pressed the pause button again and the video resumed. Christina gyrated: “Toast, the toast, get the toast!” The backing group jiggled from side to side. Christina, caught half in profile, began leaning forward. “There it is again! Jesus. I thought she looked rounder when she got here for rehearsal, but I never thought it would show like that. Look, the fat's bouncing! She's really putting on weight!”
Once again Mitch went up to bat. “It's an age thing, Herk. Metabolism. Don't be hard on the girl.”
“I wouldn't have shot so many damn close-ups if I'd known they would come out like this. Mitch, you've got to have a word with her. I'm not sure if I can let this go.” The video was running on. “And my love's a-burning too,” Christina sang.
“And hey,” said Herk, “look, there's a double chin!”
“OK, OK, I'll have a word. Maybe she could curb her appetite a bit.”
“Yeah,” Herk sneered, “have a word right now, before she eats lunch.”
It was too late. Christina had ordered. She'd passed on the catered lunch -- she always did. Lentil soup, spinach ravioli and roasted vegetables just didn't cut it for her. When Mitch entered her inner sanctum at the studio, her special menu was spread out before her. Triple burger with cheese. French fries. And an extra large vanilla milkshake. Mitch's eyes widened.
Christina beamed. She liked Mitch. “Hi, how's the video looking? Thought it went well.” She took a big bite of her burger.
Mitch seemed uneasy. “It looks great. We're very happy with it.”
“That's good!” She scooped up some chips. “Excuse me for eating, I'm really hungry.”
“The thing is, though, Christina, I don't like to say this, but -- ”. He started to shift uneasily in his shoes. “I don't know if you realise, but you've gained a bit of weight, and in some shots the director thinks it doesn't look very good.”
Christina felt herself colouring. No-one had told her she'd put on weight to her face before, and she found it embarrassing. She bristled in self-defence. “I can't suddenly get thinner for a retake, Mitch. I know I've gained a little this year, but it's my metabolism. I can't do anything about it. It's just my body growing older.”
Mitch's eyes roamed over the feast before her, and began to take in the extra weight in Christina's face, her breasts' new tendency to loom large, and the tummy fat spilling out over pants which -- he noticed with a shudder -- had the top button undone. “Sure. I know. But it might help, Christina, if you didn't eat so much fast food.”
A chip with ketchup was poised to enter her mouth. “But I've always eaten fast food. It's my favourite cuisine!”
“I know. But it's starting to make you chubby. You have to think of your fans! That's all I'll say for now.” He edged towards the door to leave, hoping he hadn't been too blunt. He cleared his throat and waved a hand: “Well, enjoy your meal!”
Alone, Christine finished the burger, chewing more slowly than before. She felt disoriented. Asking her to cut down on fast food, she felt, was like asking her to stop breathing air. And he'd said she was chubby. “Am I chubby?” she thought as she sucked on the milkshake straw. “Am I really chubby?”
Putting the milkshake down, she took both hands to her midriff and began to squeeze it, feeling the fat, soft and yielding, between her fingers. Then she ran a hand over the curve of her stomach towards her right hip where the bulge of a love handle lay in wait just above the hip bone. She took the other hand and ran towards her left hip. There was another love handle there. Before, she'd thought of the weight she'd put on as a natural phenomenon, something that made her look more womanly, more sexy. The fact that it might ever be seen as just fat, and something bothersome, hadn't occurred to her.
There was a full-length mirror in the dressing-room, a little cracked at the top corner -- the result, people said, of a missile thrown by Mariah Carey during the airing of artistic differences. Christina took a good look at herself. Having her pants undone didn't look good, she spotted that; so she breathed in and fixed the top button. The pants felt tight, but she reasoned this was only to be expected, as she'd just eaten. Above the pants she pressed into her midriff fat. Not too much, was there?
Then she turned herself to the side to check her profile. She knew her lower belly curved out now, but she found that appealing. Grown people have curves, don't they? And she had a curve! She was less convinced by the way the pants visibly dug into her flesh at the top. Maybe she'd put on more weight than she'd thought. Wasn't this metabolism thing something!
Then she turned to her chest. Another curve there, under her pink top. Her breasts, obviously, had grown bigger. They had a bounce they'd never had before; her bras always felt tight, and there was flesh oozing out around the straps. “No longer a little girl, am I?” she murmured with pride as she hefted them gently in each hand. She took a deep breath, thrusting them even further outwards, feeling the strain on her brassiere even more. “Maybe it's time for a bigger cup size.”
All in all, Christina thought she looked pretty good. Rounder, definitely, and much softer in the middle. But did this make her chubby? Was that what she was? And what was the difference between being chubby and being fat?
As she swept the debris from her meal into the wastebin, she decided she'd look up “chubby” in the dictionary the moment she got home.
And then love struck. His name was Miguel. He was one of the dancers, a Latino, fiery black eyes. First, at rehearsals, their glances met. Then their hands. “I'm not just star-worshipping here,” he'd said, shyly, “but I really think you're beautiful.” “You're not so bad yourself, either,” she'd replied.
They went out on dates. Struck by romance, Christina found it easy to forget the unease she felt when she'd read her dictionary definition of “fat” -- “Well-fed, plump, corpulent; thick, substantial; greasy, oily.” She realised she was gaining more weight; joint meals with Miguel were contributing to that. But any worries were soothed by the fact that, chubby or not, she seemed to have found a genuine friend, someone who loved her for herself, not for her fame.
He never rushed her, but bided his time. Patience was rewarded. “Oh don't go,” Christina said one night as the Bugs Bunny clock on the mantelpiece struck twelve. “Stop over, won't you? I have a spare toothbrush.” Miguel got her drift, and soon Christina was standing by the bedroom door, mock-coquettish, hand on hip, naked as the day she was born. “Well,” she said, “what are you waiting for?”
He was taken aback. For one thing, he'd never expected such an open invitation to share her bed. For another, seen naked she was much fleshier than expected, with a definite tummy and upper arms you could almost call plump. Working with the dance routines over the past year he'd already realised, as others had, that she'd been gaining weight; not this amount, though. Obviously her clothes hid some secrets. She looked lovely, anyway, he knew that.
In bed, they nestled in each others' arms, then both began taking their fingers for a walk over each others' body. After pausing to admire his shoulders, Christina's fingers wandered down his left arm, feeling the sinews of his biceps and skating gently round the outline of a circular tattoo. She moved her head a little nearer and peered. “What's this tattoo? It looks like -- who's that “Star Trek” guy? William Shatner?” She looked incredulous. “Why on earth do you have a tattoo of William Shatner's face?”
Miguel let out an exasperated sigh. “I know it looks like William Shatner. It's just not a very good tattoo. It's supposed to be a sunflower. I wish I could get rid of the damn thing.” He sounded decidedly cross.
“Well that's alright,” Christina said, kindly. “The biceps are very nice”. And her fingers walked on, down to his midriff, taut and muscled, and the special territory beyond.
Miguel's fingers made slower progress, surprised and entranced by her body's contours. Everywhere, he found, was soft to the touch. Every bone and limb, every nook and cranny, had its coating of fat, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. He noticed the little double chin as her face lay against the pillow; he saw how the fat on her midriff creased into little rolls on her side as she lay at an angle, and mounted up into a heap in the middle, with her belly-button sunk deep inside, resplendent.
Here, Christina felt his fingers lingering. She felt an apology was in order. “I've been putting on some weight, I'm afraid.” She felt like a little girl, caught licking the cat's cream.
“That's fine by me. I suppose some of this” -- he tweaked her midriff reverently -- “is our meals together.”
“I suppose so. But it's really my metabolism.”
“You don't mind?”
“I'm a Latino. We don't like skinny women.”
“Well, that's fortunate,” Christina said, smiling broadly. And then, together, they entered heaven.
Afterwards, a pang of hunger struck. “Come on, Shatner,” she said, grinning, slipping on a flimsy nightgown and leading him by the arm out of the bed, into the kitchen. He was too exhilarated to take offence. Without waiting to find the light switch Christina opened the fridge and began rummaging. “Now which would be the wickedest ice cream? Something with chocolate and nuts, yes?” In the kitchen's gloom, the light from inside the fridge blazed out like something celestial, caressing Christina's body.
Watching from the kitchen table, Miguel thought she could have been a statue of an angel, something beautiful in marble by Michelangelo. He looked in awe at her sizeable hips and her stomach, sculpted in light, its bulge heightened as she leaned forward to fetch out the ice cream. “Wow,” he thought to himself, “you have been gaining!”
“Let's leave the fridge open, shall we?” she said, pot of Ben and Jerry's finest in her hand. “The light's kind of cute.”
They sat at the table, the pot between them. “Let's eat it slowly, and really savour it,” Christina said. “Don't you just love licking the spoon clean?”
Miguel mumbled his assent, for his mind and eyes were mostly elsewhere, principally on the midriff roll now circling her waist, cushioned between her breasts and the looming stomach below. And this was the body of a pop star some fans once thought looked anorexic? He could see how radiance, happiness and beauty positively bounced off her rounded body; even so, he knew how the world went, and felt concern for her. “Christina,” he said a little hesitantly, “has your manager or anyone said anything to you about dieting?”
The spoon was half-way to Christina's mouth. “Sometimes. Well, quite a lot, recently. Don't eat so much fast food, he says. Eat salads. I tell him there's salad things in burgers -- the lettuce and stuff. Anyway, I need my energy. I can't help my metabolism. I'm a growing girl. Why, do you think I've put on too much?”
He felt uneasy. What should he say? Speaking for himself, the answer was no: the extra pounds made her much more luscious to the eye. But he didn't hold the whip hand in her life. In the music business fashion and conformity ruled. Pop stars were not supposed to have love handles and a gut. “Absolutely not. But you should be prepared for others who don't like you fatter, and put pressure on you to be thin. You need to defend yourself.”
She put the spoon down on the table, alarm etched deep into her face. “If I'm fatter,” she said, “doesn't that mean I'm already fat, and have got even bigger? Am I actually fat?”
“No, no. Scratch fatter. It was the wrong word. Rounder, a bit rounder.” He put his hand gently on hers. “I'm sorry. It's a sensitive subject, isn't it?”
“It's a new experience for me, putting on weight. It's like adolescence all over again, I guess, as though you're growing another body. It's a two-way thing: you like it and you're embarrassed by it. The number of clothes I can't fit into, Miguel, I tell you: I've got two wardrobes full. That's what happens if you put on twenty-five pounds.”
His heart skipped a beat. “Twenty-five pounds?”
“Aha. It's OK, I'll sort it out somehow. Come on,” she said, leading him again by the arm, “let's get some sleep.”
In bed again, they embraced briefly. Passing over Shatner, she looked into his eyes. They were kind eyes, she thought; he was a good man. They said their good nights, and she lay for a while pondering, sensing the roundness of her body in her mind, the breasts full, the stomach full. She felt the fat cushioning and protecting her. These pounds, she thought, were no longer “extra” pounds, something added; they were what she was, the sum total. They were making her a complete woman, gently rounded, and sometimes not so gently, all the way from tip to toe. On the whole it felt good, very good. But, but -- this bulk on her stomach, this heaviness there! Maybe, she thought, it wasn't such a good idea to have that midnight ice cream.
“Christina,” Mitch said, “everyone in this room loves you.”
Somehow this wasn't reassuring. She hadn't exactly been hauled into this meeting with her manager by the scruff of her neck, but still -- to be told that you had to be there, that this was really important, a personal matter: it didn't bode well. And the faces, the row of male faces: Mitch looking flustered and embarrassed; his sidekick Fritz, always a weasel; Morton Feinstein, the new A & R man at Warner Records, phoney smile pasted onto a glower, with two acolytes on either side who wouldn't have been out of place working the guillotine at the French Revolution. Sniffles the office cat looked friendly and comfortable, but that was about it.
Mitch continued. “God put you on this earth to sing. You're a wonderful person. An amazing talent. The album's a mega hit. Sales of 'Toast' are going great. And” -- he looked at her blonde hair dangling like unstrained spaghetti, the pink plastic PVC top cut away in the centre to reveal half her breasts and most of her midriff, the football boots, the purple pants tenuously laced up over her tummy, flesh on the verge of tumbling out -- “you have a really terrific fashion sense. But -- ”
“You mean there's a but?”
“Yes, Christina, there's a but. It's your weight.” He glanced round at the others, seeking support. They nodded faintly: he was her agent -- for the moment this was his show. “I have to be personal here. You've gained, er, you've gained quite a few pounds this year -- I know it's your metabolism, you keep telling me that, but whatever the reason we all think you've now put on too much. It's diet time now, Christina. It just has to be.”
So that was what this meeting was about. She wasn't entirely surprised. There'd been a recent spate of taunting stories and photos in the tabloid press, with headlines like “When Are Those Pants Going to Split?” or “Chubby or Fat -- You Decide.” It was crunch time, obviously.
“But I have to eat,” she said plaintively.
“Of course you do. We're not suggesting --“
“Stop pussy-footing around, Mitch.” The voice was loud but bereft of rise and fall; the voice of a robot, or Henry Kissinger. It was Morton Feinstein, A & R man. “Look at her for God's sake. She's a balloon. She doesn't need to eat. In six months she's personally consumed the entire year's foodstock of --” he waved a hand briefly, his mind skating over an atlas -- “Bolivia!”
Christina chewed this over. “Is Bolivia,” she said, “a big country or a small country?”
Mitch sighed and tried another tack. “The thing is, Christina, you're starting to lose out on work. I've been angling to get you a 'Vogue' cover, but the magazine just pulled out. “Her current figure does not fit with our requirements,” they said. Now for a magazine like that to ditch someone as big a star” -- he regretted saying big -- “as super-nova a star as you, well, it's telling us something.”
The robot switched on. “Christina, face it, you've got fat. And pop stars aren't fat. It's very simple.”
So it was official now? This was being fat? At that moment she felt every inch and ounce of her stomach pressing against her trousers. The fat word needled. Still, she brushed it aside; she wasn't going to take this lying down. “It's not simple at all. It's a natural thing for people to change, isn't it? Music, fashion, they all change. People grow and change all the time. Your hair grows. Sometimes you have it long, sometimes you have it short. Obviously I've been putting on weight, but it's -- it's” -- she searched for the right phrase -- “it's part of my personal development, as a woman, and” -- she said this triumphantly -- “as an artist! So there.” If she hadn't been 21, she might have stuck her tongue out at them.
The robot, she could see, was gearing up for another blast. But the door burst open instead, and Christina's stylist Donna swept in, bearing papers, a determined look on her face. “I know I'm uninvited, but I couldn't let them do this to you, girl. Before you bozos say another word --“
Flames were leaping out of Mitch's eyes. “Donna, your job is on the line here --“
“-- look at these papers. Print-outs from website chatrooms. Facts and figures. People love the curvy Christina. It proves she's human, she's a woman, not the manufactured Barbie doll we all thought.” She shot her a glance. “Sorry, honey.” Christina tried to smile.
Feinstein pressed the sneer button. “A few fans don't make any difference. And who are you anyway?”
“I'm this fine lady's stylist. I attend to Ms Aguilera's wardrobe needs.” She caught sight of the tummy and the breasts ready to leap out of the PVC: Christina, she realised, had gained more weight than she thought. “Thirty million, fifty million hits a day. Latin-America has gone up in smoke over the new Christina. 95% of Bolivia's male population -- “
Christina pricked up her ears. “Bolivia? They don't mind that I've eaten their foodstock?”
Donna hurled the print-outs onto the table. The hatchet men blinked. “Here,” she thundered, “read and digest. Let me quote some. “I never knew Christina was beautiful until she started getting a tummy. She looks fantastic fatter…..She's now the eighth wonder of the world….I can't wait until she gets a double-chin….I'm rushing out to buy her new video for my 34 brothers.” We're talking sales here, fellows, dollars and cents, extra money in your pockets. You can understand that, can't you?”
Christina hesitated, but, speaking quietly, decided to risk it. “Do they say anything about my personal development as an artist?”
“They say lots. “Now that she's chubby she's planet's greatest entertainer….Number one, numero uno….She's scaling peaks I didn't even know existed”. Listen up, suits, if you make her lose weight you're the planet's greatest idiots.”
Christina sank back into bliss. “Wow! I'm scaling peaks that didn't even exist!” Her fighting spirit returned: she could see the way forward. “See here, gentlemen,” she said, rapping a hand on the table. “If you order me to diet, I'm telling you I will change record companies. I will change my manager, and make money for someone else. This --” -- she stood up, thrusting out her chest, placing both hands on her well-padded hips -- “is Christina Aguilera. This is how she is. She is chubby, OK?” She turned to Donna for confirmation.
Donna nodded. “Fat, even.”
Wincing slightly, Christina ploughed on. “She is even fat. She has a tummy. Like most women if you take a look. She likes to eat. And that is that. Meeting's adjourned.” She sat down, victorious.
Across the table, silence. You could hear an ego drop. In the corner of the office, Sniffles adjusted her position on a cushion, then started licking a paw. Mitch began shuffling the print-outs nervously. The words came quietly, mouse-like: “It was only a suggestion, Christina, nothing more.” He looked at Feinstein, hoping for back-up. But the robot had switched himself off.
It was late morning. The verandah doors were open. Sun and fresh air poured into Christina's lounge. Christina and Miguel, both in their underwear, had adopted one of their favourite positions: side by side on the sofa, feet up on the coffee table, a daytime soap playing on the TV, tabloid magazines strewn around, a jumbo bucket of popcorn at their feet. That day there was nothing much Christina had to attend to. The weight gain interviews arranged by Mitch had all passed successfully -- “fat and proud of it” was the slant -- and now she could sit back to reap the rewards.
Miguel placed a hand on her hips. “They're getting really curvy, aren't they?”
“Late developers, I guess.” She giggled, and produced her double chin -- almost a permanent feature now. She turned her attention to the TV. “Is that one Ivanna, the one with the twin sister who's suffering from amnesia after skiing into a moose? I find these things very hard to follow.”
“I don't know,” said Miguel. He began to turn the pages of a supermarket scandal sheet.
“Or is it the sex-change one?”
“Don't fret, Christina, it doesn't matter.” He read on in silence for a few seconds. “Hey, listen to this. Get this!”
“What?” She sounded excited.
“It says here Britney Spears has broken up with her boyfriend and has now put on twenty pounds!”
Christina, forty pounds heavier, shook her head and tut-tutted. “That Britney!” she said, patting her tummy with a smile. “Always the copycat.”
Copyright, Swordfish, 2002.