Catty Comments About Celebrities with a Few Extra Pounds: A Closer Look at the Outrage
February 2, 2009
Obsession with women’s bodies is a perpetual topic in the news media. In recent months, female celebs with a few extra pounds have been viciously criticized for straying from Hollywood’s strict standards of thinness.
Or at least that’s the story.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent piece by Sheila Marikar of ABC News:
It’s been a bad week for high-waist jeans, leopard print belts and one Jessica Simpson. After Simpson performed at a Florida country radio station’s chilli cook-off Sunday clad in the aforementioned outfit and coming off a bit more curvy than usual, critics pulled out their claws to slam the once svelte singer-actress for her new, larger figure. "Clearly since we saw her last, she slayed that dragon named dignity and just spooned frosting into her mouth full-time," wrote the blog "What Would Tyler Durden Do?" "Honest to God, her appearance couldn’t have been any more shocking unless she had grown glow-in-the-dark tentacles."... Simpson shot back at her critics by strutting on stage in skin-tight leather pants and telling fans not to "focus on so many things that are completely pointless.Thank you for your support," she added at the end of her set.
Women in Hollywood are also stepping up to the star’s defense."It’s just ridiculous—another woman being body-bashed for the quote-unquote infraction of looking normal," plus-size supermodel Emme told ABCNews.com. "It’s just very mean-spirited. Even if she does have a toosh, God bless her, she has more to hold on to. "Let’s just hope that her self-esteem is as intact as possible.” Simpson’s younger sister, Ashlee, rebuked "body-bashers" on her blog Tuesday, writing, "I find it completely embarrassing and belittling to all women to read about a woman’s weight or figure as a headline." Reality TV star Kim Kardashian also countered the masses, praising the 28-year-old Simpson’s shape.
And Simpson is not the only one; in an Aug. 18, 2008 piece, Marikar reported:
Eight months ago, when bloggers railed on paparazzi shots of her fleshy frame in a skimpy swimsuit, Jennifer Love Hewitt posted a call to arms on her Web site: "What I should be doing is celebrating some of the best days of my life and my engagement to the man of my dreams, instead of having to deal with photographers taking invasive pictures from bad angles. & Like all women out there should, I love my body," wrote Hewitt, who shimmied around in her skivvies as a star of Hanes’ ad campaign. The blog followed a series of particularly nasty headlines, including TMZ.com’s notorious "We know what you ate this summer, Love—everything!" The Web site later apologized, and Hewitt used the jibes to inspire women to embrace their bodies, whatever the size. "To all girls with butts, boobs, hips and a waist, put on a bikini—put it on and stay strong," she wrote.
A contributor to the prominent feminist blog Feministe joined in, writing, “Hewitt had the audacity to appear in public in a bikini while also in possession of a body that hadn’t been dieted and exercised down to nothing or airbrushed to smooth perfection….. And I’m *very* pleased that she recognizes that fat-shaming is designed to keep women in line — and not just the woman who’s the target of the shaming. It sends a message to other women that unless they conform, they’re next.”
At first glance it all sounds very righteous, all very girl-power, anti-media image. Of course women should be at a healthy weight.
But hold on here. There’s a little issue that everyone seems to have missed: The snide, “fat-shaming” comments about Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jessica Simpson didn’t come from anyone important or notable. In a rush to express their indignant outrage, they have mistaken some anonymous gossip blogger for the voice of the country. It’s like confusing the catty office gossiper with Walter Cronkite, or the National Enquirer with The New York Times . The snippy, attention-seeking bloggers who criticize celebs for a few extra pounds do not represent the news media, nor the American public as a whole. No one took a poll of Americans and found that most think that these women were fat. Why does anyone care about one gossip blogger’s opinon?
What Hewitt, Simpson, and their high-profile defenders don’t seem to understand is that by responding to any and every snide comment about their weight—from any source, no matter how insignificant—is that it just creates the controversy the catty bloggers crave.
They also don’t understand that, outside of the paparazzi-infested Hollywood bubble (the so-called “thirty-mile zone” from which TMZ gets its name), most of us don’t care. Most Americans are busy worrying about their own lives and issues and couldn’t care less if Jessica Simpson put on a few pounds, or Hewitt looks good in a bikini. The feminist writer, though well-intentioned, is wrong: the comments about Hewitt do not send "a message to other women that unless they conform, they’re next.” Other women—by which she means ordinary, non-celebrity females—are not going to be the target of some obnoxious, know-nothing blogger seeking publicity.
Part of the reason this gets the publicity it does is because it’s a chance for female C-list celebs to get their own name in the press, complaining about treatment of their sisters. Nobody cares what Kim Kardashian, Emme, or Ashlee Simpson think about issues of the day, or Jessica Simpson’s self-esteem—unless they can have their publicists call a press conference and issue a press release complaining about the culture of thinness in Hollywood. This is a tempest in a teapot, and is embarrassing for all involved, including the thin-skinned celebs and their publicity-seeking defenders.
The topic of thinness in media images is a valid issue and worthy of discussion, but the celebs and their defenders are tilting at windmills, busy and noisily defending women’s body shapes against people who are only out to provoke. By taking the bait and responding, the Feministe writer and others just give the critics what they want.
When someone of some intelligence, credibility, or stature starts complaining about a few extra pounds on female celebrities, call me. Until then, perhaps the best advice is, “Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I learned that in the third grade, perhaps one of the star’s handlers might pass along the message.
#1 marcomn (Guest) on Monday February 02, 2009 at 2:21pm
.... I’ve actually seen people being beat up because of their weight AND lack of it. In a democratic country, of course. But who cares for those laws written somewhere, some human rights treaties ...
#2 Nicole (Guest) on Monday February 02, 2009 at 4:23pm
I’m not so sure I agree with you here. Lots of people, women especially, love to gab over the celeb gossip and “fat pictures” that you see in the celeb tabloids. With all of the important, serious things going on in the world, it has some sort of escapist appeal. Or so I’m told. But the image that women have to be super-thin and big chested is all over the media, not just in the tabloids. So it IS good to see some celebs defend their not-so-perfect bodies and remind women, especially young girls, that it’s okay to NOT look like those airbrushed models in the glossy magazines. If responding to some two-bit gossip blogger is one way of doing it, then so be it.
Just the opinion of a girl with a butt
#3 Benjamin Radford on Tuesday February 03, 2009 at 2:04pm
Nicole—I see your point, but it’s interesting how you mentioned the celeb “fat” pictures in the tabloids, but then talked about how the media says women have to be so thin… Every few months magazines like the Star and Lifestyle and tabloid papers love to run front-page stories like “Celebs without makeup!” or “Best and worst beach bodies!”
So obviously not all images of celebs (especially female ones) are airbrushed and perfect-looking, in fact many popular magazines go out of their way to show that these stars *aren’t* perfect or super-thin!
#4 San Diego Personal Injury Lawyers (Guest) on Wednesday February 04, 2009 at 5:39am
Thanks for the great article, do you have any additional resources you can point us to to learn more?
#5 Benjamin Radford on Wednesday February 04, 2009 at 9:38am
The main article on this topic I’ve done was “Deconstructing Barbie and Bridget Jones” published in the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, Vol. 5 No. 1, 2007. I adapted some of the material for an article on Skepchick.org (at http://www.skepchick.org/3.15.06/selfesteem.html), as well as in several articles for LiveScience.com (for example http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/051230_barbie.html). That’s a good starting place, and I’m happy to answer any questions if I can be of help.
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#9 Acai (Guest) on Saturday February 14, 2009 at 4:07pm
I think some of these tabloids talk about Jessica and others weight gain just for the attention they get for it. Unfortunately during the process it’s sending the wrong signal to our children and youth. - Acai