We often fall in love with singers and actors before they’re super famous, when many of them still look more like the rest of us (think Chris Pratt on Parks and Rec). Then, once they hit it big, they invariably get totally ripped or drop half their body weight. Just imagine if girl-next-door-shaped Amy Schumer suddenly showed up on a red carpet wearing a size zero gown. Or Lena Dunham got six-pack abs. Wouldn’t some part of you die a little?
This fame-leads-to-weight-loss phenomenon used to really piss me off. Sell outs! I’d think. Don’t they know we need to see normal-size people in media? Don’t they know how much good they could do for society by bucking the system? Those of us who are passionate about reducing weight stigma can feel even more depressed when celebs—especially obese ones—change shape. There are so infinitesimally few fat people on TV and movie screens already that each one we “lose” can feel like a step backward. “It's totally selling out, but mostly to yourself,” Monica, a friend in a “fat-friendly” Facebook group I belong to, said when I asked how people there felt about heavy celebrities dropping pounds. “The way I see it, not trying to be smaller is its own kind of activism.”
Some activists in the body-positivity movement believe that anyone who intentionally loses weight is contributing to the oppression of fat people. (By upholding the prevailing idea that thinner is “better,” I suppose.) Much respect to all body-positive warriors, but I do disagree on this point. There are plenty of reasons other than body shame, fat hate, or societal pressure why someone may choose to engage in some type of weight management. And I believe we can fight weight shaming without passing judgment on other people's choices.
Take Melissa McCarthy, for instance. No one knows for sure how or why she recently lost weight, because she’s not talking specifics—in fact, she tells reporters when they ask that she finds the topic dull and sexist. “I have [lost weight], but I'll be back again. I'll be up, I'll be down, probably for the rest of my life. The thing is, if that is the most interesting thing about me, I need to go have a lavender farm in Minnesota and give this up," she told People. “There are so many more intriguing things about women than their butt or their this or their that. It can't be the first question every time, or a question at all."
I’m with you, Melissa. It shouldn’t be a question at all. “We have no idea what's going on in [celebs’] personal lives and to make assumptions is unfair,” says Chelsea Clark, another social media friend of mine. “To assume they're ‘selling out’ is dismissive and insensitive. And honestly, it's none of our business to speculate.” It's so true—but we make them our business, don't we? Entire businesses stake their existence on the fact that people will click on anything that says, “post-baby body” or “flat belly.” It’s gross.
Size diversity is part of who humans are, and it should be reflected in the media we consume.
Maybe even me writing about this is making other people’s bodies my business in a way that they should not be—I don’t know. But here’s one thing I do: We need to see more people of medium and larger sizes in mass media. Two-thirds of Americans are in the “overweight” or “obese” body mass index categories, but we can count the number of famous actresses bigger than a size 8 on one hand. Size diversity is part of who humans are, and it should be reflected in the media we consume.
What I’d like to see, more than a media dissection of each pound celebrities lose or gain and how they did it, is more curvy news anchors, a wave of excellently average-to-fat actresses, a big ol’ shark on Shark Tank, and some size 12+ contestants on The Bachelor (can you even imagine?). A girl can dream.
Sunny Sea Gold is Greatist's body image columnist and the author of Food: The Good Girl's Drug—How to Stop Using Food to Control Your Feelings (Berkley Books, 2011). The views expressed herein are hers. A health journalist by trade and training and a mom of two little girls, she's also an advocate and educator focused on reducing the rates childhood obesity and eating disorders by building Body-Positive Families. Reach out to her @sunnyseagold.