Monday, November 22, 2010

a thin line

While I won't challenge the evidence that actresses in Hollywood seem to be incredibly thinner than the rest of us, I am always a little amazed at the periodic outcry and finger-pointing that seems to single out a few particular actresses as "having a problem" or taking it too far."  Basically someone is calling someone else their idea of ugly based on how that person looks, and that is messed up and juvenile and unnecessary. What are we people? Stupid Marie Claire editors? I'd like to think we're better than that.

I'm not sure we can ever get over our size-obsession. It's hardly anything new. And in the age we live in, with the abundance of food (even in a recession) on most people's plates, it is extremely easy to go up on the scale, and as everyone who has ever tried knows, not so easy to go back down. So anyone who stays thin, or gets thinner, has appeared to win the "genetic lottery." And that creates resentment. Being thin in this country is connected to concepts of beauty, definitely, but also to ideas about health. The prevalent idea is that to be thin guarantees good health. Even if we know that's simplistic and not true, it's an idea that seems firmly ingrained in most American minds.
If we were living in ancient Rome or Greece, I would be considered sickly and unattractive. The times dictate that thin is better for some strange reason, which I think is foolish.—Gwyneth Paltrow
So why does the media keep telling us that "too thin" is a recent epidemic in Hollywood? Why are actresses like Angelina Jolie and all the other skinny gals (Keira Knightly, eg.) excoriated regularly? Why do we look to Hollywood as the gauge for a woman's size? Why not to the world of sports? Folks would rather criticize Venus Williams on her fashion sense than hold her as a model of physical health and beauty.

Case in point, Angelina Jolie. When she's not being internet-bashed for her relationship with Brad Pitt, or number of children, critics can always start pointing out her skinny arms. Jolie is skinny, maybe skinnier than a few years back. But there could be reasons for that beyond the only reason anyone thinks anyone should ever lose weight—to look better, i.e. thinner than the next guy. Angelina lost her mother recently. She's a UNHCR goodwill ambassador for children and refugees worldwide. I know that if I was traveling to Darfur, Pakistan, Cambodia and other places where children and adults are literally starving, I would not want to go home and stuff my face. But is she really so startlingly thinner these days?

She is very slender in this picture, taken when she was a young starlet

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie (Photo credit: Wikipedia).
Angelina's lost any baby fat she may have had in the top photo, but I'd say that she has always been a skinny chick. What's really scary is how the publicity machine thinks that even this skinny chick isn't skinny enough and Photoshops her to within an inch of her life to make her even more skinny.
How can women be as thin as we are? We have personal trainers to work us out. We have specially prepared meals.—Sarah Michelle Gellar 
"Thin is in" is hardly a new concept, especially in the film industry. Some of the most famous faces (and bodies) of Old Hollywood aren't painfully thin, but boy are they skinny—all the better to show off those clingy bias-cut gowns, which would show off the tiniest bulge or curve.

Claudette Colbert, in Cleopatra

Universal style icon Audrey Hepburn, screen test from Roman Holiday

Barbara Stanwyck publicity photo

Fabulous actresses come in all shapes and sizes, just like fabulous people. The cult of skinny in show biz is nothing new. Every decade over the past 80 years Hollywood has promoted skinny, beautiful icons to an adoring public:

30s - Marlene Dietrich, Claudette Colbert
40s - Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis
50s - Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly
60s - Julie Christie, Jane Fonda
70s - Diana Ross, Faye Dunaway (70s t.v. actresses are all pretty thin, too)
80s - Michelle Pfeiffer, Daryl Hannah
90s - Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts
00s - Angelina Jolie, Keira Knightley
I was a scapegoat. The media had to put responsibility on somebody, and I was chosen. They felt free to say that because someone was thin they were anorexic, which is ridiculous.—Kate Moss
I'm not defending Hollywood's or any of our culture's insistence that actresses and women be and stay skinny. We all know how Judy Garland was tortured by pressures to lose weight.
From the time I was thirteen, there was a constant struggle between MGM and me—whether or not to eat, how much to eat, what to eat. I remember this more vividly than anything else about my childhood.—Judy Garland
I'd just like us all to stop commenting and snarking that Angelina should eat a burger. Or that Jessica Simpson should stop eating them. Let's all lighten up—figuratively speaking.
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