Hollywood has notoriously been a cruel mistress when it comes to women and their weight, giving only the slimmest (sorry) of margins between the Lara Flynn Boyles and the Christina Hendrickses. Either way, if you're a woman in the entertainment industry, you're wrong. I think Britney Spears squawks it best in her seminal classic, Piece of Me: "I'm Mrs. she's too big, now she's too thin."
But hark! In Female Stars Step Off the Scale, Alessandra Stanley's New York Times piece about leading ladies loving their lard, she celebrates the fact that there are more "larger" women in prominent roles. It's a lovely sentiment, if a little misguided. She writes:
And that is what's so seditious about comedians like Ms. Dunham and Ms. Kaling: Their weight is no big deal. They can be a little defensive when people ask about their extra few pounds, but they don't let it deter or define them. To prepare for a blind date Mindy changes her outfit, not her dress size. Ms. Dunham has Hannah prance around her apartment in her underwear, unself-conscious.
The thing is, just like most women in popular media, even the "fat" ones, Kaling and Dunham are not actually fat. If Mindy Kaling came to a party at my house, I'm pretty sure she'd be the skinniest person there. (Also, I'd probably try to steal anything that wasn't nailed to her body as I'm sure her clothes are sick.) Same with Lena Dunham. That said, I also think that their "not Hollywood skinny" bodies do generate quite a few mentions on their respective shows. Which is a bummer because if their shows took place in reality, nobody would say jack about their totally socially acceptable weights.
Stanley mentions that in The Mindy Project's pilot, a doctor who's obviously going to be a future love interest for Kaling's character, advises her to lose 15 pounds. First, how are they gonna make that bro a love interest after he says that shit to her? That is not the reality I live in — if a dude said that to me, I'd go home and cry and cry and then plot revenge, long-game style. I'm talking about haunting his future grandchildren, screwing with their SAT scores so they can't even get into their backup schools. But maybe that's how a real fat person feels, not someone who plays fat on TV when it's good for laughs?
Stanley also points out on that Girls, Dunham's character Hannah says she's got more important things to do than lose weight. However, in a later episode, her boyfriend correctly calls her out for weight obsession, and she basically says that it's a big deal to her and something she's struggled with her whole life. Really? Can we please just have a few female characters who don't have to be defined by their weight struggles. How great would it be if Hannah was just her "normal" sized self and didn't even mention it — that would fucking rule.
I wonder if the decision to focus on their characters' weights were decisions that Kaling and Dunham made, or if was it pushed by the networks? Whatever it is, it bums me out.
Of these ladies, Stanley writes:
They don't go on diets or have liposuction to fit into red-carpet outfits; they let out a seam. (Ms. Dunham actually did one better: in a skit for the Emmy Awards last month, she posed unclothed on top of a toilet seat, eating an entire cake.)
I can't be the only one who doesn't think it's the fucking bravest thing in the world when size 6-8 women pose naked with a cake or show some skin. It's cool they do it, but they didn't wrestle an alligator to become president, or whatever else should get someone into the news 24-7. And maybe they're defensive when questioned about their weight not because they're "packing a few extra pounds," but because they have more interesting things to talk about. You know, like being women who have their own TV shows? Kaling and Dunham are huge successes no matter what their weight, and that's the point — weight doesn't have to be a deal for them.
But what about Rebel Wilson, currently featured in teen a capella comedy Pitch Perfect and bad-girls-wedding-movie The Bachelorette? Or Donna, played by comedian Retta, the funniest thing in Parks and Recreation? Sadly, those two are consistently and totally defined by their weight. Their problem is different than Dunham and Kaling, though, because both Wilson and Retta are actually fat. And I don't mean that in a bad way, I mean it just as a descriptor, nothing more. They're both also funny and pretty, too.
Stanley writes, "A lot of rules are being broken in romantic comedy," referencing Wilson getting the handsome groom in The Bachelorette. Dude, one limited release comedy does not equal a broken rule; it's just that we haven't seen that since Hairspray. And, as Lindy points out, it's still all about her weight.
Part of normalizing diversity in entertainment is getting people of all shapes, sizes, and colors on the screen and letting them just be people. The more variety that naturally exists, and doesn't need to be constantly commented upon — whether fat, skinny, whatever — the closer we'll get to a world where women of all sizes can play any role. And maybe young girls watching this stuff — no matter pear-shaped, egg-shaped, or bagel-shaped (?) — will give themselves permission to follow whatever dream they have (which, let's be honest, is probably to become an actress).
The funny thing is, I bet all these actresses would be totally into that, too.
In an interview with Bill Simmons earlier this year, Simmons, an unabashed fan, asked Lena Dunham if she felt "brave" for showing off her body. "Why do people get praised for that," he wondered, "you created an honest character, it almost feels insulting." You could FEEL Dunham's relief at the question. "They assume because I don't have a model body type that every time I take my clothes off it's a battle with myself," she said, "And a lot of things are a battle with myself, but for some reason getting naked is not one of them... And so I think you're really right, that it's sort of like, there's something really condescending about...I mean, I think it's brave to do things that scare you. And this isn't the thing that scares me." And until we stop freaking out about Dunham's totally normal thighs, her getting naked isn't going to be a liberating thing, either.