This month in Redbook, “The Office” star Jenna Fischer talked about weight fluctuations in Hollywood. She said, “In a normal job, if you gain or lose a few pounds, it’s no big deal. But in my business you have to tell someone so that the next time you go to a fitting, the clothes are the right size. It’s really embarrassing to have to say to your manager, ‘I’m now a 6 pant instead of a 4.’ E-mails go out, and they cc the agents … This is why actresses obsess about their weight. It’s not a private affair.”
Fischer is understating the problem. For a celebrity in the midst of the glamorous award season, with starlets in Versace flaunting their svelte silhouettes down the red carpet, it is not just embarrassing to gain weight in Hollywood. It can make you tabloid fodder and it can even lose you your job.
Fischer is wrong about another thing: weight is a public issue for the rest of us too, whether we like it or not.
Mae West, the 1940s icon, famously said, “The curve is more powerful than the sword.” Measuring 38-24-38, the five-foot-one starlet championed a different era in Hollywood. There are very few examples of fat, successful women in Hollywood. “Curvy,” yes. Actually overweight, no. Every woman on Forbes’s “Top Earning Actresses” list — Angelia Jolie, Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker — is desperately thin, and earns in the $20 million-dollar range for it.
Why is the list so homogenously thin? As Tina Fey wrote in this week’s New Yorker: “The definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to f–k her anymore.”
But the deeper problem is that celebrity standards apply to us plebs, too. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology last year found that women who weighed 25 pounds less than the group norm (their sample was more than 12,000 people) earned an average of $15,572 more. But women who weighed 25 pounds more than norm made $13,847 less than their average counterparts. Weight gain did not have the same effects for men in the study.
$13,847 is not chump change. Beyond money, there is the obvious point: thin people are treated better.
Thinness is a standard in American beauty. Apparently, it translates to success and happiness. We buy Cosmopolitan, Glamour and Self because they tell us how to attain the ”better” versions of ourselves: 10 pounds thinner, ”healthier,” sexier naked, younger-looking. And while saturating us with headlines like “A Beach-Ready Body” and “Look Great Naked,” these magazines also say, “You are perfect just the way you are!” “Stop stressing about what men think of your body!” “You are beautiful!”
In other words, the celebrity-industrial complex tells us to worry about our weight, but don’t worry about it too much ’cause nobody likes women who fret. After all, Beyoncé said in an interview that true beauty is from within! Look at Christina Hendricks, who is “curvy and proud.” She has big boobs! Should we talk about the obesity-class problem in this country? Actually, let’s talk about Cameron Diaz’s bikini body instead.
I went to an all-girls high school in London. Girls were skinny, and if they weren’t, they wanted to be. Eating disorders were common, but parents generally saw them as “just a stage,” or even a rite of passage.
My best friend started to lose a lot of weight junior year of high school. At first, it was just a diet to “be more healthy,” and people would say to her, “Alex, you look AMAZING!”
Her diet quickly consumed every aspect of her life. She would run for two hours in the morning and would come into school with a tray of perfectly decorated cupcakes. She would press them on people, saying, “I had like 15 of them last night. Oh, and like, FIVE servings of lasagna. I just couldn’t stop.” Everyone saw through the lie. Girls laughed about it.
Do I think that Alex’s eating disorder (which she’s gotten over, thankfully) can be blamed on Women’s Fitness headlines like “Feel sexier on Valentine’s Day” and “Fight Winter Weight Gains?” Not completely. It would make her struggle seem frivolous.
Fat, no matter who you are, is a feminist issue. Celebrities are paid to be thin, but the truth is, we are, too. But until we demand more realistic standards for our bodies from Hollywood and the media, our society won’t change.
Kathryn Olivarius is a senior in Branford College.