The war against ‘sizeist’ Hollywood. Are you in, or out?
It seems to be an accepted truth that on the doors of Hollywood it reads: “if your size isn’t down (and we’re talking way, WAY down) you’re not coming in!” And this, my friends, is a problem. Hollywood have been notorious in setting the trend and telling its hard-working actors how they should and shouldn’t look, from the days where curves were the word to the recent fad of size zero slimming.
In Hollywood, it appears that ‘talent’ and ‘size’ are becoming increasingly interchangeable, whether it’s roles being handed out because the actor is fat or vice versa. Recognise any of these stereotypes?
The ‘I’m fat, therefore I’m funny’ Actor
Where weighing around 15st could prove to be career suicide for a female actor, for a male actor it most likely means that he shall be cast as the lead in comedy films or as the ‘funny, fat one’ until he is old enough to then be type-cast as fat, old dad/granddad like John Goodman. Examples? Seth Rogan, probably one of the most famous overweight male actors in Hollywood today, has The 40 Year Old Virgin, You, Me and Dupree, Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Zack and Miri Make a Porno and Paul all credited to his comedy film repertoire. Jack Black, another Hollywood heavyweight, is sitting pretty at the top with films like Shallow Hal, School of Rock, Nacho Libre, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, Kung Fu Panda, Tropic Thunder and Year One.
Also climbing the ladder of top Hollywood comedy fat guys are Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover), Kevin James (Zookeeper), and Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz), who earlier this year coincidentally expressed to the BBC a desire to be considered for roles that take him out of his comedy comfort zone. He said: “I’ve always been funny as a kid, so it’s not a challenge to me to be funny. It’s the other stuff that’s difficult, so I like to challenge myself.” However he is not blind to the reality of his situation being an overweight actor as he further said: “I’m waiting for a Winston Churchill or a Henry VIII – I think you have to go with the physicality of your actor.”
How exactly did it come to be that fat is related to funny? Why is a stranger’s baby hanging off the front of a fat man funnier than if the man was slim? Hollywood has, by typecasting these actors, created a perception in our minds that tell us that fat is funny and that fat can make us laugh. But hey, at least they can still get the lead.
The ‘I’m fat, therefore you can trust me’ Actor
Now it’s no secret that female actors in Hollywood have a much tougher time than male actors, they are always being criticised to being too skinny or too fat. It appears that very few of them get it right according to the prying eyes of the media. However, like male actors, they are still type-cast based on their size. Queen Latifah is a prime example. Being a bigger woman she is very frequently cast as someone you can confide in, someone who is nurturing or motherly because that’s the kind of character the world associates with her size.
She played a couples’ therapist in What Happens In Vegas, mother of two Motormouth Maybelle in Hairspray and Matron Mama Morton in Chicago. Admittedly, each of these characters have a flair and attitude, something that Latifah brings well to the table. But let’s face it she will not frequently be cast as the leading female in a romance, or an action, or any decent film for that matter. The people who will are skinny minnies like Jessica Alba and, oh, for argument’s sake let’s say Megan Fox, who despite having just a sliver of Latifah’s acting ability, will still be cast in most films as the leading lady because they look good in a swimsuit.
The argument of talent outweighing size has been one that is widely spread through the entertainment industry. CNN Entertainment ran a piece centred around the Academy award nominated, overweight actress Gabourey Sidibe (Precious). Not even a full week after she had been nominated for the best actress Oscar had passed before the future of her career was being questionned. it was thought to be unclear as to whether or not the film industry could go against the norm and cast a young woman who is not only African-American, but also larger than the ‘Hollywood standard’ (i.e. size zero) in a non-niche role, like the romantic lead in a major film.
Jeffrey Wells, a columnist who now blogs about the industry on HollywoodElsewhere.com, said that “Gabby is a lovely person and a fine actress, but the hard fact is that she’s way, way too fat,” adding that the actress will suffer from health problems as well as limited career opportunities if she doesn’t lose weight. But why should she need to lose weight to gain roles? This warped sense of what it is to be attractive and beautiful, and possibly even talented, is reducing skilled actors such as Queen Latifah, Gabourey Sidibe and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) to live in the land of the supporting actress; and worse yet, securing them roles in the form of “down-market moms and hard-luck girls working at Wal-Mart.”
The Silver Lining
For a while now the strong powerhouse females that regularly grace our screens have been fighting back at the unreasonable, unhealthy demands of Hollywood producers. They have lashed out to the press about the ridiculous ideals expected of them by Hollywood big-wigs.
The Devil Wears Prada star Anne Hathaway slammed Hollywood executives for encouraging the size zero culture, protesting against actresses slimming down for roles. The 24-year-old curvaceous actress has turned down parts in the past because of directors putting pressure on her to lose weight. She said, “It’s completely understandable as a teenager to fret about your body. It’s scary because you don’t know how it’s going to wind up. But I’m not a teenager anymore; my body’s chosen its shape. I’d rather be strong than skinny for most roles. I’m not a size zero, and I’ve had directors say to me, ‘You’re the best actress for the role, but you’ve put on weight recently.’ If people can’t understand you’ve put on five pounds, I don’t want to deal with them.”
Oscar winner Meryl Streep shares her Devil Wears Prada co-star’s views and feels that the pressure to be thin is more than overwhelming. She said, “Who doesn’t feel the pressure in this business? You can’t be in it as a woman and not be mowed down by these things. You can either submit – or just get made and defy it. I don’t work out. I am fatter than any movie star you have ever met. But, you know, I don’t care!” Good on you Meryl!
Now British beauty Kate Winslet has been among the many who have been openly slated for their figures, and she was even faced with being at the centre of an airbrushing scandal when she appeared on the cover of GQ magazine, as she was made to look a lot slender than she was in reality. From this Winslet has been the most outspoken of all the Hollywood stars when it comes to body image. The Titanic star said women are bombarded with images of the perfect figure in magazines and said it was unhealthy to try and attain that look. She said, “More than ever now, I believe it’s so important to look as real and true to life as possible, because nobody’s perfect. I seem to be on a mission, but I don’t want the next generation, your daughters and mine, growing up thinking that you have to be thin to look beautiful in certain clothes. It seems to me that Hollywood is breeding a whole new generation of anorexics. I look at people and I want to say ‘Look, it’s alright you can eat something’.”
There’s no denying that the ‘size zero’ culture has taken over the entertainment industry, and there is now an increasingly huge amount of pressure on female stars to conform to Hollywood’s ideal body shape. Movies and magazines are telling us what we should think is attractive and what is not. But the problem is, much like fashion trends, the ‘most attractive shape’ is changing all the time too – skinny was not attractive years ago and now it is. In a world where ‘beauty’ is a concept that is ever changing and ‘talent’ arguably is not – isn’t it rather foolish for Hollywood, and for its audiences, to get confused between the two?