Hollywood Peer Pressure
Trigger warning: Discussion of weight loss and asshole commenters.
Note: Although there are male actors who feel the pressure to be thin, muscular and attractive, they are often given more leeway than female actresses, hence why I am going to be focusing this article on women in Hollywood.
It’s no big secret that to succeed in the world of Hollywood you’d have to have perfect looks, including perfect hair, teeth, skin, and, of course, a perfect body. We are constantly bombarded with pictures of handsome male actors wearing sharp suits and beautiful actresses wearing elegant, figure-hugging gowns on the red carpet. Each woman wears a dress that reveals their slim figures and tantalizing low cuts showing off their cleavage and other assets. Magazines, tabloids, and blogs blather incessantly and obsessively these women’s choice of attire, among other things, so of course when a woman of size makes it into the Hollywood circle there is much discussion about her and most particularly about her weight.
I’m not surprised that many of them decide to lose weight, even despite saying that they already love their bodies the way that they are. The comedienne Mo’Nique has said that she was happy with her plus-sized body, encouraged other fat women to feel proud of themselves, and wrote a book entitled Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World. She then went on and lost 80 pounds and is now encouraging weight loss and healthism.
Raven-Symoné (who played Olivia on “The Cosby Show” and had her own show, “That’s So Raven on the Disney Channel) is another actress who succumbed to the pressures of the weight-loss allure. During her tenure at Disney, she was overweight and stated many times that she was “proud” of her body, that she was “happy” with herself and that she wanted to be a role model for young girls who have an unfavorable outlook on their own bodies. Indeed, this is why I liked her; however, after the show was eventually cancelled, she then lost weight which made her appear hypocritical and, thus, “selling out.”
When both of these women lost their weight, they were highly praised. Tabloids and celebrity blogs gushed over their new bodies and posted their before and after pictures. These celebrities who have lost weight are celebrated in the media and they appear on talk shows discussing their weight loss and how much happier they are now. Oftentimes, plus-sized actresses are approached by weight loss companies such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig to use their programs and become their spokesperson.
After Jessica Simpson gained weight during her pregnancy, she was approached by Weight Watchers after giving birth and joined their program. She got a $4 million contract. Celebrities are seen as commodities, their appearance molded for consumption by the general public. If a celebrity deviates from the ideal, then she is mercilessly hounded by the media and the online world alike until she subjugates and loses weight.
So what happens when a celebrity decides to against the grain and not want to lose weight? Well then she is often faced with ridicule, mocked for her appearance, and derided for her decision to not alter her appearance for public approval. Her weight is always the subject of contention on discussion boards and the comment section of websites (which you should never, never read) along with the usual healthism and concern trolling.
For example, Gabourey Sidibe, a large, black actress who known for her breakout, Oscar-nominated role in Precious and her much discussed-appearance in the TV show “American Horror Story: The Coven.” Her IMDB page is a great example of how people focus entirely on her weight, overshadowing discussion of her talent to the point of obsession. Such comments as “she is very unhealthy,” “she is going to die in her 30’s,” and other such hand-wringing dominate her message board. Gabourey, however, has stated that she does not plan on losing weight even though she does feel the pressure to do so:
People see me as a confident person but I get shaken a lot, especially being in this business. A few weeks ago I was on vacation and I went into a CVS [a pharmacy chain of shops in the US] and as I’m paying I see a picture of myself on the cover of a magazine and they’re guesstimating what my weight is? The headline was “Gabourey Sidibe 250 pounds.”
The fact that Gabourey doesn’t have plans to lose weight is seen as immoral and scandalous in the eyes of the public.
Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy have also come out and said they don’t wish to lose weight; in fact, they both made a pact not to lose weight and to love themselves the way they are. While they were praised by the media, ordinary people simultaneously reacted as if their deal was scandalous, wrong, immoral, etc. The same kind of hand wringing that accompanies such actresses is on display in the comment sections of these articles with such comments as:
“While it takes guts to not cave into thin/looks obsessed Hollywood it is extremely unhealthy to carry around that much extra weight. The health risks are real, and just as dangerous as drug and alcohol binging are.”
—Comment from Daily Mail
“Fat people just like other addicts are afraid of the truth. Your gluttony is killing you. The people you live with are paying for your gluttony. If not directly indirectly with higher insurance premiums and higher hospital costs. The warm and fuzzy idea that we accept fat as a lifestyle rather than an addiction it is false. We can love the person but not love their addiction.”
— Comment from Daily Mail
“Neither one is trying to lose weight? If Melissa wants to be around for her children, she may want to rethink that. She’s not just “heavy”, or slightly “overweight”, or “curvy”, she is obese. I truly like her, but in her path to prove she doesn’t need to be thin, she’s only hurting herself and her children.”
— Comment from Radar
Many comments follow as they agree with each other, creating an echo chamber of healthism, fat shaming and concern trolling.
These three actresses are being praised by the media for going against the grain of thin-centric Hollywood, but there are usually undertones of disapproval in some articles. This is because in the larger society, being fat people are seen as immoral, out of control, selfish and so on and so forth, and many people hold views that fat people are gluttonous, lazy, stupid and filthy. There is also an underlying belief that fat people must feel bad all day, every day, and that they should hide themselves from public view until they conform to the unrealistic ideals of beauty; in other words, to become a size that is deemed “acceptable.” Sidibe, Wilson and McCarthy create a jarring paradox that one can be fat, happy and successful, and that not all fat people live in the shadows, being shunned.
Some express the hope that these three women will cave in to the pressures of Hollywood and lose weight, which in a way, would actually be sad as there are many women who look to them and feel joy that there is someone on TV or in movies who looks like them and are relatable. There are young, fat girls who may be getting bullied at school for their weight and look upon these actresses as role models to feel better about themselves. When plus-sized actresses do lose weight, many feel crushed that the person who looks like them no longer does and that these actresses’ weight loss reinforce the belief that Hollywood cannot allow representation of strong, fat women in the media.
This is why we should continue to fight for better representation in the media and promote body diversity in our entertainment, such as non-stereotypical roles in our TV shows, movies, and books. It is important to remember that young girls look to celebrities as role models and having more visible fat women would reassure them that it is OK to have a fat body and to love themselves the way they are; that each person’s body is different and that there is beauty in each and every one of them.