Archive for December 27, 2012

Extreme Weight Loss for Roles is not “Required” and not Praiseworthy

This cross-post was originally written by Robin Hitchcock for Bitch Flicks.


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.”

“Required”? Really?

This makes two gigantic assumptions: 1) That physical frailty is necessary to properly play the character Fantine.

Patti LuPone as Fantine, 1985 London production


Sierra Boggess as Fantine, current West End production


Randy Graff as Fantine, 1987 Broadway production


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.

Skinny Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger


Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Yeah, nope.

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.

Robin Hitchcock (no relation to the Master of Suspense) is a Bitch Flicks weekly contributor. In May 2012, she reluctantly left her home of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to move to Cape Town, South Africa with her husband. Robin is a Contributing Editor, a weekly guide of things to do in Cape Town. You can also find her writing at the mostly-dormant feminist pop-culture blog The Double R Diner and her personal blog

In honor of Christmas, give yourself a little gift and then give me one too (one that costs nothing)

Today is Christmas, and that means a time of giving for many of us. In honor of the Christmas tradition of giving, I’d like to ask you to give one gift to yourself and then give one gift to me.

1) First the gift for you—it’s just one little thing. (Okay, it’s a big thing, but it only takes a tiny little effort and a strong will.) I’d like you to look in the mirror and appreciate something—at least one thing if not more—about the way you look. Go on. You can do it. I’ll wait here until you come back.

2) And after you’re finished with that, I’d also like you to give me one thing for Christmas—I want a photo of you. A photo of you in which you think you look good but also look real. And by real I mean not photoshopped and not overly made up. Just the real you—”warts” and all. I need these photos for my New Year’s blog post, and you can email them to me at molly at iwillnotdiet dot com with the words “Happy New Year” in the subject line. You can learn more about what I’m going to do with these photos in my post called “The Real You Project.”

Thanks in advance for your gift, and have a wonderful holiday season!


We’re only human: something I need to remind myself from time to time

Last week I wrote about Danish tennis star Carolyn Wozniacki playing a prank on Serena Williams by stuffing towels in her bra and pants to emulate Williams’ famous curves. I called Wozniacki’s behavior potentially racist and fattist, and I stand by those assertions.

But I do want to say something else too.

Today—to my great surprise—I ran into Wozniacki at the Ballenisles Country Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Ballenisles is home to both of the Williams’ sisters as well as to Wozniacki and her boyfriend, pro golfer Rory McIlroy. It was a fluke that my husband and I were even there, and we were shocked when our lovely host pointed out Wozniacki strolling through the patio restaurant where we were eating lunch, apparently on her way to the court to practice.

Later, our host asked if we wanted to watch Wozniacki play for a few minutes, and we immediately agreed since we are both avid tennis fans and mediocre tennis players.

Watching Wozniacki hit the ball with such force from only about twenty feet away can only be described as awesome, but seeing her up close and in person didn’t make me think about her talent as much as it made me think about the fact that she is, like us, only human.

Yes, Wozniacki’s impression of Williams was idiotic and offensive, as I said last week, but maybe her motives weren’t as malevolent as they seemed. And maybe I need to remember when I go after people for their bad behavior that they are still human.

Mean people suck… but Serena Williams will always have the last laugh

There are days when I feel like we’re on all the same team—working together to fight the notion that being thin is the only way a person can be considered beautiful.

And then there are days when I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.

I had one of those days recently.

It happened because of an article I read about a Danish tennis player named Caroline Wozniacki who decided to “dress up” like Serena Williams during an exhibition in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in some kind of strange and misguided attempt to either prank or make fun of Williams, a champion many times over.

This is how Wozniacki appeared on court last week…

You can see clearly that Wozniacki has not only stuffed her bra, frat boy-style, with towels but also stuffed her backside to emulate Williams’ famous curves.

But instead of looking funny, she just looks reminiscent of the kind of mean girls who stalk the halls of most American high schools and junior highs. In other works, she looks like an immature idiot.

I can’t help but wonder what motivated Wozniacki to try to pull off this ridiculous stunt. Was it simply jealousy and resentment? After all, Williams is one of the most successful tennis players in the history of the sport and can, as Whoopi Goldberg said on The View, “‘beat all’ of them ‘with her eyes closed.'”

Or was it out of some racist and fattist desire to make herself feel better since she is both blonde and thin? To me, it seems like she’s trying to send the message that being black and curvy is something to be ashamed of and something to be ridiculed. As Michael Arceneaux of Ebony magazine says, Serena is “likened to a primate for no other reason other than she’s a Black woman with a stunningly chiseled body in a world where the average star is blonde and lithe. There is nothing funny about such a person who meets the desired ‘standard’ for tennis player aesthetics mocking Williams’ curves.”

Thankfully, Williams didn’t take the bait. I say thankfully because such a juvenile demonstration doesn’t deserve a response from someone as accomplished as Williams.

And why would Williams bother to respond? She doesn’t have to. Her record is response enough. Because Serena Williams, winner of numerous Grand Slam titles and a millionaire many times over, will always have the last laugh when it comes to someone like Wozniacki.

The best show you’re not watching

In my Thanksgiving post, “Thanks to all the real girls,” I talked about the fact that The Mindy Project is another example of how the way women look in the media is finally starting to change.

And tonight’s episode of The Mindy Project reminded me yet again how much good work is being done on this one tiny little sitcom.

Tonight Mindy found out—during the office Christmas party no less—that her boyfriend, Jeff, has had another girlfriend the entire time they’ve been dating, making her the detestable other woman.

Not long after she found out, her boyfriend’s first girlfriend (played with appropriate outrage by Ellie Kemper of The Office) showed up at Mindy’s apartment demanding to know what was going on. It didn’t take long for things to devolve from there, and, though the ensuing fight between the two women relied too much on cliches, what was notable was that when Kemper’s character called Kaling’s character “chubby,” Mindy didn’t flinch or act offended. Instead she responded immediately by insisting, “I’m not chubby. I’m average.” And then adding, “This is how the anorexia culture begins.”

It was a shocking moment. A shocking and wonderful moment.

Here was a woman on television—a woman in her prime, no less—with an average body defending her right to be average and not be judged for it. Have we ever seen that before? Have we ever seen a character on television or in a film saying, “I’m average and that’s okay”?

I really don’t think so.

And at the same time, she was making a really important point by adding that calling an average woman “chubby” is the kind of thing that makes people in our society so obsessed with thinness.

Yes, tonight, on American television, Mindy Kaling defended her—and by extension our—right to have an average body, AND she also offered valid argument about why it’s wrong to call people fat.

I think I am in love with The Mindy Project.

So, tell me again, why aren’t you watching this show?

The Mindy Project airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. EST on Fox. 

To Run or Not to Run

A friend of mine recently posted a Today Health article with the sensational headline “Running Farther, Faster, Longer Can Kill You” on the Facebook wall of one his runner friends.

Almost immediately he got a response that said: “Rebuttal article: “The Too-Much-Running Myth Rises Again.” This one was from Runner’s World.

I was curious, so I read both articles, and here’s what gets me: though these articles appeared to be at odds wtih each other, they both offered the same advice.

That advice?

Exercise regularly, but don’t run more than an hour a day.

This reminded me, yet again, of the importance of moderation.

The Today Health article argued that running more than an hour a day—like running a marathon—puts too much strain on your heart, and that people who run more than an hour a day regularly don’t give their hearts enough time to recover, causing some runners to suffer heart damage and have “the exact same risk as the couch potatoes.” They added that “running too far, too fast, and for too many years may speed life’s progress towards the finish line of life.”

Runners World took issue with Today Health‘s assertion that excessive running led to early death and then told everyone it was perfectly fine to run up to an hour a day.

Let me repeat: both articles advocated running up to an hour a day.

As Today Health puts it, “A routine of moderate physical activity will add life to your years, as well as years to your life.”

And Runners World says, “if you’re running more than an hour a day, you’re doing it for reasons other than optimizing health…if you exercise for an hour a day, you’re likely to live longer than if you exercise less than an hour a day.”

What’s also notable is that Runners World didn’t say anything about the safety of running more than an hour.

And that’s probably because taking anything to the extreme—whether it be running or eating—is bad for us.

I know a lot of people who are what I like to call “race junkies.” They love to train for and run a big race—be it a triathalon, marathon, or half-marathon—but once the big day is over, their exercise routine falls to the wayside, no longer as important as work or anything else in their lives.

This always infuriates me because it feels sometimes like these race junkies get all the credit, all the glory. They run a marathon, and everyone acts like they are amazing, showering them with accolades and praise when they post their race photo on Facebook.

But it’s really not nearly as healthy—or as admirable—to run one big race every few years as it is to “run” the small races every day: the short jog on the hotel treadmill, the long walk around the neighborhood, the weight-lifting session in the garage, the aerobics class at the gym. The Wall Street Journal claims that there is no “mortality benefit for those who ran faster than 8 miles per hour, while those who ran slower reaped significant mortality benefits.”

That means if we all participated in these kinds of manageable workouts every day, we’d all be a lot healthier, which is ultimately what I think both Today Health and Runners World were saying when they sent the message that one hour of running a day is plenty.

Let’s not forget what we’ve all heard before: the race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running.


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