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Fat? You've got be kidding.
It was supposed to be the comeback of the year, an over-hyped, eagerly anticipated revival of a stalled career. But, after Britney Spears performed her new single "Gimme More" at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards, she left shocked viewers asking for less.

Clad in a black sequined bikini and knee-high stiletto boots, the 25-year-old pop star wobbled around dazed, confused and poorly rehearsed. Critics universally panned the performance, but in a society that worships skin & bones, the most scathing comments were aimed at her weight.

Terms such as "fat," "bulging," "pudgy" and "flabby" peppered most of the post-show analysis about Spears, with many naysayers faulting her for donning an outfit they thought she wasn't fit to wear. Actually, it would be nice to know what kind of shape some of these critics are in. It's almost certain that more than a few are sporting their share of flab.

And for those who consider Spears to be overweight, a glimpse around some of the shopping malls and local cineplexes might clarify what "fat" actually is. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 60 percent of Americans need to drop major poundage; no doubt many are the same ones lobbing barbs at Spears.

But all the tongue wagging over her alleged weight gain is yet another disturbing example of the constant scrutiny women are under in a culture obsessed with thin celebrities.

Even hollow-eyed, emaciated starlets such as Nicole Richie, Victoria Beckham and Keira Knightley are subjected to endless speculation about their weight, or lack thereof. And when Mary-Kate Olsen copped to anorexia and "American Idol" contestant Katharine McPhee revealed she was bulimic, both made headlines.

Supermodel Tyra Banks, who built a career in an industry that promotes a phony image of perfection, found herself subjected to some of the very standards she helped perpetuate. After photos of an Australian beach-romping Banks surfaced earlier this year on the Internet, she was forced to fend off vicious attacks about her fuller physique.

Unfortunately, impressionable teens and young girls heavily bombarded by pop culture images of waifs with protruding clavicles, are desperate to be skinny because that's what they perceive as sexy and desirable.

It's no wonder that in the quest for the "perfect" body, so many women have a skewed view of what's normal and are plagued by eating disorders. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders, seven million women are affected by an eating disorder, most by the time they're 20.

And the prevailing double standard -- in which a man's weight is rarely the subject of ridicule -- doesn't help. Had the lovable yet portly, Jack Black given a lackluster VMA opening, it's almost certain no one would've thought of calling him fat. Even comedian Jay Leno -- a man of sizable girth -- felt comfortable heaping fat jokes on Spears, knowing he himself would suffer no such scrutiny.

While the pressure to be thin is overwhelming for many women, it's refreshing to see that not all of them have succumbed to it. Confident celebrities such as America Ferrera, Queen Latifah, Kate Winslet and J-Lo are just a few of the beauties who proudly embrace their curves. And Beyonce loves hers so much that she often boasts about them and sings about voluptuous women in her song "Bootylicious."

In the end, Spears failed to live up to impossible expectations. Her erratic behavior and reckless lifestyle have long been fodder for gossip and now it's uncertain whether she can recover from a disastrous MTV opening. But one thing is clear: she deserves to be judged by her performance and not because she no longer sports the body of a 12-year-old boy.

Beverly Hunt is a news researcher for BayAreaNewsGroup. Reach her at bhunt@bayareanewsgroup.com.