The Problem with Hollywood’s Version of Body Acceptance

There has been a lot of talk among celebrities about body acceptance in the past five years or so. The famous Kate Moss quip “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is so 90’s. The 2000’s are all about loving the body you have, as long as it looks a certain way. In Hollywood terms it seems that there are only two acceptable sizes: thin and fit or full figured and curvy.

Thin and fit has long been the accepted size for the female body, especially in the media, but lately there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance of “full figured” or “plus sized women” in Hollywood. Actresses like Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson boldly and proudly claim their body sizes. They proclaim that they are not ashamed of their size and they shouldn’t be. The media cannot ignore their successes, however, the stories of their successes always seem to center around how they are successful in spite of their weight. A magazine cover featuring Melissa McCarthy says “How I Did it My Way”. Another proclaims “Hilarious, Happy, and 100% Herself”. Though these headlines seem pretty positive the implications are that Melissa McCarthy is the exception to the rule. That she has somehow reached a level of body acceptance that has allowed her to transcend the “rules” of Hollywood and be successful regardless of her size. Like it’s some sort of puzzling conundrum that a woman of her size has managed to be successful. It’s a huge step forward for the media to recognize amazing talent like McCarthy, but it’s sad that the attention still centers around her size rather than her talent.

Another troubling aspect of Hollywood’s “full figured acceptance” movement is the fact that plus sized actresses seem to be relegated to the role of “the funny one”. Perhaps this reflects reality in some sad way. I can’t tell you how many times when out with male friends I have heard the demeaning comment “Oh she must be the funny one”. They are always talking about the single plus sized woman in a group of thinner women. The thought process behind this comment is that since the woman’s body is not winning her any points her personality must compensate. This deeply embedded thinking has pervaded the media in that plus sized actresses like Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy are the queens of comedy. While these women do have a talent for being funny that I would never want to discount, the portrayal of plus sized women as “the funny ones” makes them court jesters who garner laughs at their expense rather than because of their talents. Full figured actresses who star in dramatic roles rarely gain as much positive attention. The obvious example is Gabourey Sidibe who faced brutal criticism from the media about her size after her starring role in “Precious”.

It seems that Hollywood’s version of plus sized body acceptance is woefully limited in scope. The only plus sized women allowed to love their bodies publicly are “the funny ones” because their personalities redeem their size. Beyond that, their success is portrayed as a mysterious phenomenon and a rebellion to acceptable norms. Any way you look at it, size is still a central part of the conversation around these women. That’s not really body acceptance at all. It’s just admitting that they can’t hide these beautiful talented women or fit them in to their boxes.

The problems with Hollywood’s version of body acceptance don’t stop with their portrayal of full figured women. The more glaring problem with Hollywood’s so called body acceptance is that there are still many bodies that are not accepted, namely the ones that actually represent normal sized women. Actresses like Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer, and Lena Dunham have brought to the forefront the struggle of actually being a normal sized woman in Hollywood. These women are not as thin as Hollywood would like them to be, but they are not big enough to fall in to the category of “plus sized and proud”. The best quote I have ever heard about this conundrum of the normal sized actress is from Mindy Kaling: “Since I am not model-skinny, but also not super-fat and fabulously owning my hugeness, I fall into that nebulous, “Normal American Woman Size” that legions of fashion stylists detest. For the record, I’m a size 8 (this week, anyway). Many stylists hate that size because, I think, to them, I lack the self-discipline to be an aesthetic, or the sassy, confidence to be a total fatty hedonist. They’re like ‘Pick a lane.’” (http://www.crushable.com/2014/05/06/entertainment/mindy-kaling-body-image-weight-quotes/#ixzz3nyx7bHbl).

This quote demonstrates Hollywood’s commitment to body acceptance for only certain kinds of bodies. Actresses must fit one mold or the other or they are likely to be at the worst shamed and at the best ignored.

I identify strongly with Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer because I exist in that middle area and there is no allowable body acceptance for that body size. The mainstream media says that I am not full figured enough to be happy, but I’m also not thin enough to be happy. If I just worked harder I could be thin, or if I just let myself go I could be fat. The truth for me is that I have tried to work harder and be thin and I developed an eating disorder. I have also let myself go and been fat, but that wasn’t healthy either. My healthiest self exists somewhere in the middle, just above a “normal weight”, but far below “obese”. My healthy self exists without a perfectly flat stomach, without a thigh gap, and with some wiggle on my arms. In fact, my healthy self looks a lot like Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, who are all fat shamed on a regular basis by the Internet and the mainstream media.

Though this paints a relatively bleak picture I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that all of these actresses, of all different sizes are going out of their way to make themselves heard. Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson are proudly letting the world know that they are happy with their bodies and that they won’t allow anyone to take that happiness. Mindy Kaling is speaking out about the problems with the way women’s bodies are talked about in Hollywood. Lena Dunham has become, in her own words, “the voice of a generation” speaking for weird, intelligent, beautiful women who don’t need to be liked to like themselves. Amy Schumer has related the clear message that her body has nothing to do with her success in the world. At the heart of all of these women’s word is very powerful feminism. They are all proclaiming that their power is not related to whether or not their bodies are accepted by the world at large and that is an undeniably powerful message. I just want the rest of the media to catch up.

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