Weight is a dirty, six-letter word in Hollywood. We all know it, whether we're basking in the rays alongside hot celebs in Los Angeles, or getting our fix through online blogs and the gossip rags that litter grocery store checkouts. Skin folds are flab and fetuses, cellulite is more deadly than disease, and if you can't drop the "extra" weight on your own, there are photo manipulators who will happily do it for you. I could spend at least five thousand words just detailing the fat/thin debates that have raged on in the media world over the last few years. It's been going on forever, and really, it's nothing new.
But there is a new dynamic of extremes circling in Hollywood these days. First, there's a new definition of what's thin, or egads "normal," and on the flip side, what constitutes fat. Bony isn't just for actresses -- it's become the new "real" ideal. However, there's also the appearance of Oscar-nominated talent like Gabourey Sidibe, who has sent Hollywood into a tornado of weighty arguments.
We're running on half a century of thinspiration, sparked by the Thin Craze of the '60s, when the curvy pin-up was traded for Twiggy. Rather than take her as a natural body shape, over the years her frame became the natural body shape, which has even lead to Twiggy herself to comment, stating just the other day: "the agencies make the girls try to be too thin. And there's no doubt that there are some models who are too thin." But as any media nut knows -- modeling is the least of our problems.
While more adult actresses like Kate Winslet have to fight back against Photoshopping curves, thinspiration is running rampant in the younger demographics. The thin actors of the 1990s show Beverly Hills 90210 now look downright portly in comparison to their modern successors. Prom Night star Jessica Stroup quickly morphed from thin and attractive horror actress to skeletal TV star in just a year or two. The actress and her female co-stars are, in fact, so skinny that People even did a side-by-side comparing the girls to the "curvy" actresses on Gossip Girl.
When very thin girls are compared to scarily thin girls and the thin girls are called "curvy," where does that leave reality? The Girl Scouts recently conducted a survey of 1,000 girls and found that one out of three have starved themselves while attempting to lose weight. And before you blow that off as nothing new, consider the return of Sweet Valley High. When news hit in 2008 that Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield were returning to the shelves, Random House sent out a letter to journalists, proudly exclaiming that while in 1983 the twins were "a perfect size 6," now they are "a perfect size 4." Can we expect another return in the 2030's with the twins as a "perfect size 2"? Followed by size zero? One can only hope that Diablo Cody plans to do something about it with her big-screen adaptation, otherwise all of her commentary on binging and purging in Jennifer's Body will be pointless.
Now, enter Gabourey Sidibe. When news about Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire first began to pour in, I don't think anyone thought of a Hollywood future for the young unknown. Fast-forward a year and she's an Oscar-nominated actress. MSNBC recently wondered if her size will "weigh down her acting career." The piece kicked off with the controversy surrounding Howard Stern and his comments about the actress' size, how "she's never going to be in another movie." Yes, he was technically wrong since she's already scored another feature film role and a supporting role in Showtime's upcoming series The Big C. But let's not kid ourselves: Her career will, without a doubt, be a challenge. (Just look at Nikki Blonsky.)
In five years, if Ms. Sidibe is still pulling in the roles and maintains notable success, I'll be quite happy for her (exuberant if that success involves roles that aren't firmly in token land), and curious as to how that could help change Hollywood's view of weight. But right now, she's riding the success of her first film and Oscar notoriety. She's far from a secure Hollywood career, and could easily fall into the Sidney Poitier trap if she continues to find roles. He won his Oscar for Lilies of the Field in 1963, as the Civil Rights movement was slowly pushing forward, but the win didn't make way for a myriad of roles for black actors. Poitier remained the go-to guy in a cinematic world written by white men, playing the untouchable black man too perfect to be real (which earned him a lot of biting critique).
First, Sidibe has to fight against the fat curse -- not the health concerns raised by her size, but her uncompromising attitude towards her weight (she doesn't seem to have the "Sidibe lost 50 pounds! Buy our mag to see how she did it!" mindset that other bigger celebs have), and what Hollywood bigwigs think of weight. Take this topless actress shot by photographer Jordan Matter (fourth picture from the left). The subject is a beautiful and thin actress -- 5'2" and 125 pounds -- who recalled how she met with a casting director in LA. The woman told her: "You need to lose 20 or gain 30 because where you are right now, I can't do anything with you." When asked for elaboration, the casting director said: "Your face says ingenue, but it wouldn't quite work, and I can't send you out for fat best friend because you're not exactly fat."
We've got a long way to go before Hollywood and audiences accept any sort of weight on an actress that goes beyond curves that elicit sexual desires. We're in a world where beautiful women like Uma Thurman, Winona Ryder, Kate Beckinsale, and Carla Gugino fight to play Kevin James' wife. (An actor whose love interests have been Leah Remini, Amber Valletta, and Jayma Mays.) There's only so far the "Julia Roberts married Lyle Lovett" excuse can be thrown around, or the fact that Kevin Smith married Jennifer Schwalbach. It's true, even for James in his real life, but it's not all-encompassing.
Alec Baldwin might joke about how he'd flatten Renee Zellweger if he had to do a love scene with her, but the comedy world loves putting its wider men with tiny, sexy women. It's a dream that rests solely in the hands of men -- each of his dreams and fantasies will be realized on-screen if he hangs out in Hollywood enough. Vice versa? That might make the world stop spinning. Heck, women can't even get matches made by the "same level of hotness." Fat -- it must be minimal and in the right place so that it plucks at a man's sex drive and never dares turn him off. Female beer guts simply don't get the ladies love.
So, what will the future be? A world of over-eaters loathing themselves and stars starving themselves as barely-there actresses pray silently that their larger co-stars don't smother them with their 2, 3, or 4-times-her-size bodies? Where's the limit? There's only so skinny a woman can get, so where is the breaking point and what happens in Hollywood when it does?