Kale and dust. Hummus and radishes. Two squares of dried oatmeal paste a day.
If you recognize any of these phrases, then you’ve probably been hit by the Anne Hathaway starvation-diet-for-her-craft marketing blitz.
In the unlikely event that you haven’t heard about this already, I’ll catch you up: Anne Hathaway, slim to begin with and already leaned down to catsuit size for The Dark Knight Rises, lost 25 pounds to more realistically inhabit the role of starving-and-dying-of-tuberculosis Fantine in the upcoming movie musical Les Misérables. Actors forcing dramatic body weight changes for roles is nothing new and nothing unique (see the similar-yet-tellingly-different coverage of Matthew McConaughey’s weight loss to play an AIDS sufferer in The Dallas Buyers Club), but Hathaway’s weight loss has become The Story of the production of Les Mis: a subject of endless discussion on celebrity gossip sites, the talk show circuit, and the cover story in the December issue of Vogue magazine.
Why is a skinny person getting skinnier garnering so much media fascination? Are hummus and radishes so much more fascinating than Les Mis director Tom Hooper’s decision to have the actors sing live for the cameras? And even if we insist on reducing an actress to her physical appearance, couldn’t we just talk some more about Anne Hathaway chopping off all her hair?
When discussing her weight loss with Entertainment Tonight‘s Mark Steins, Hathaway says, “It’s what is required. It doesn’t matter if it’s hard.”
This makes two gigantic assumptions: 1) That physical frailty is necessary to properly play the character Fantine.
An assumption I think it is fair to reject: these women are slender, but not emaciated, and they are able to play the character convincingly.
But let’s give Hathaway the benefit of the doubt and say the intimacy of a filmed adaptation requires more stringent realism when it comes to Fantine’s body size. This still assumes that the actor actually losing weight is the only way to portray her extreme physical condition.
So let’s be clear: Anne Hathaway’s extreme weight loss for Les Mis was in no way required. But while it is artistically a wash; as a career choice, it was clearly a good move. The film benefits from all this attention, and Hathaway enjoys the “she so devoted to her craft” kudos that often translate into statuettes.
But it is bad for women, and bad for our culture. More diet talk, more body talk, perpetuation of the myth that weight loss is a noble pursuit and merely a matter of dedication. Voluntary adoption of disordered eating is not praiseworthy. These types of body transformations are not artistically necessary, and certainly not “required.” So let’s hope actors stop endangering their health for roles. We can suspend our disbelief over a few dozen pounds.