What Katharine McPhee Foster would tell her younger self: 'Don't go on that diet'

It Figures is Yahoo Life's body image series that delves into the journeys of influential and inspiring personalities as they explore what body confidence, body neutrality and self-love means to them.
Katharine McPhee Foster may still be in the midst of maternity after giving birth to her first child in February 2021. But as a mother raising first-time son Rennie with husband David Foster, one thing Katharine is clear about is instilling positive body image in her child.
The 38-year-old tells Yahoo Life that she has struggled with eating disorders and body image in the past, stemming from the images perpetuated by the media as a young girl. Even before stepping into the limelight herself, she recalls idolizing women who fit the extremely narrow standards of beauty of the time.
"When I was a teenager, I had pictures of models on my wall and they were all very skinny," she says. "There were no other examples of women with fuller figures."
Katharine notes that there seems to be a “much better balance” today, with more representation and inclusion of greats across the industry. However, by the time she rose to fame in the early 2000s, the conversation about women's bodies was a toxic one that she was inevitably drawn into.
When she auditioned for American Idol in 2005, Katharine was 21 and had struggled with eating disorders since she was 13. According to an interview she did with ABC News in 2006, her bulimia was "really out of control." which led her to an intense in-patient program, which she finished before the show's semifinals.
During recovery, Katharine focused on intuitive eating, which is about "listening to your body, not outside influences, to determine what to put into your body," according to Lauren Smolar, vice president of mission for National Eating Disorders Association. "It's something that the eating disorder recovery community tends to support," Smolar tells Yahoo Life.
As Katharine lost weight as a result, her body quickly became tabloid fodder.
"There's a lot of emphasis on how you look and how my body is changing. I think there was a whole story about, 'Wow, she lost weight. She used to be a size, whatever. Now she's a size 6'," recalls Katharine.
While her participation in the show gave her a purpose separate from her looks, the singer claims that she's most comfortable in a certain size. "I'd be lying if I said my standard probably wasn't influenced by how we grew up, which was just seeing super, super skinny [models]," she notes.
Even after having a baby, Katharine says, "I feel so lucky. Like I had a baby and my body just dropped to that weight and I was so thankful because I really like having that weight for my personal preference."
The pressure to return to a child's previous height or weight after carrying a child is very controversial, as postpartum mothers in particular have been in the spotlight to address the unrealistic expectations of their bodies after childbirth. Smolar notes that while many mothers face similar stresses, not all of those standards can be met "in a healthy way, or at all."
“There are many people who struggle with the fact that sometimes their bodies never look the same as they did before their children were born. And that's also normal and healthy,” explains Smolar. "We need to better accept the fact that pregnancy can really change a person's body forever, and that's not a bad thing."
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