Fat Actors vs Skinny Actresses

by Melissa Silverstein on April 20, 2009

in Sexism

The NY Times had a piece this weekend that echoes my piece in the Guardian last Friday — the double standard for female vs. male actors regarding weight.

It’s pretty simple:  Guys can be fat, women cannot.

Here’s what I wrote in The Guardian:

Here we find ourselves in a familiar place of berating a female actor for her skinniness, but isn’t that very skinniness what we demand of them? I challenge you to think of the last Hollywood film where the women looked normal. I guess a better question would be – do we even know what normal looks like any more? Judging by Hollywood standards, I don’t. Thinness is what is expected and demanded of our actors – except when they get too thin, because then they get blasted like Johansson and, recently, Keira Knightley and Jennifer Connelly.

Read the full piece here: Scarlett Johansson takes on Hollywood

From the NY Times:

Based on a close look at trailers, still photos and somrussellcrowee films already released, at least a dozen male stars in some of the year’s most prominent movies have been adding on the pounds of late.

Hollywood’s women may have weight issues of their own. But it is somehow less noticeable, possibly because actresses who expand do not often get roles to showcase that growth.

It’s less noticeable not only because heavier actresses have less opportunities, it’s less noticeable because all women have less opportunities.

I love this analysis of why we are accepting of heavier male actors:

The change in smoking habits may have something to do with it. Possibly, too, the audience has grown more tolerant of weightier men on screen as the society at large has become heavier.

Why has the audience grown more tolerant of fatter actors but not fatter actresses.  Both women and men in the culture have gotten fatter.  According to CNN this morning which did a story on the new airline policy on making heavier people purchase a second seat men have gained 25 pounds over the two decades and women have gained 24 pounds.

rachel-mcadamsWhile the Times talks about the acceptance of the growing male waistline the story pretty much ignores the double standard for women.  More from my Guardian piece:

For another example of the double standard, look at Russell Crowe in the excellent State of Play, which opens this week in the US. The man is not thin, in fact he’s quite portly, yet no one talks about his weight as a career hindrance or a monumental issue. I guarantee that if the genders were reversed and Rachel McAdams’s character was the lead, there would be no way that she would have been cast looking the way that Crowe does.

I say it again, guys can be fat and women cannot.

What’s the Skinny on the Heftier Stars? (NY Times)

Scarlett Johansson takes on Hollywood (The Guardian)


{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! April 20, 2009 at 7:15 AM

Hear, hear. What such utter bullshit. Why is Seth Rogen, a fat ugly guy, always getting big roles and always landing beautiful GFs, but a fat “ugly” actress cannot get a big role and land good-looking boyfriends?

I hate Hollywood so much.

imtiaz April 20, 2009 at 8:30 AM

yes it’s true,it’s more painful to watch a fat actress than a fat actor.www.rainyhollywood.com

Soirore April 20, 2009 at 9:24 AM

I always find it odd how stories like this claim that “the audience” thinks this or that when we have little choice but to accept the bodies that are presented to us. If we complain that there are too many underweight actresses on screen we are told that this is what men find attractive. If men say they don’t find it attractive they are told that they aren’t the norm.

If it really were a case of characters on screen representing the changing physicalities of the audience then there would be far more characters with disabilities, more characters of colour and of varying ages and sizes. I am suprised when I see how few characters wear glasses on screen.

FilthyGrandeur April 20, 2009 at 10:22 AM

excellent post.
in response to the first commenter though, i think we need to redefine our ideas of beauty and attractiveness. though russel crowe has gained a few, he’s certainly not ugly. and some people would disagree that seth rogen is ugly–some people find him attractive. just because someone (man or woman) is fat, that doesn’t make them ugly. beauty comes in all sizes.

Lee April 20, 2009 at 11:09 AM

I despise Seth Rogen and the type of films he’s in.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! April 20, 2009 at 11:45 AM

Filthy, I’m sorry but I do think Seth Rogen is ugly and I don’t find him attractive at all. For once it would be nice to see an overweight actress with a good-looking guy who has an amazing body and a beautiful face.

I don’t care about what “beauty” means. I would like to see “ugly” actresses get more attention onscreen. It’s not fair that most male actors are butt-ugly and are allowed to get acting roles, while butt-ugly females don’t get any attention, period.

Allison April 20, 2009 at 6:41 PM

It seems the media and Hollywood like to make women feel bad about their bodies. Not too long ago, US Weekly had a cover story about Candace Cameron. For the “before” picture of Cameron, the magazine actually used a picture of her on Full House when she was a little girl! Give me a break. Inside the magazine was a more recent “before” picture of Cameron from when she was around 20. Funny thing is, she didn’t look fat at all. She looked normal. The magazine noted how the actress felt “fat” at 132 lbs. Seriously! It also said she had “weight problems” when she as pregnant. Um, aren’t you supposed to gain weight when you’re pregnant? Also, the now svelte Cameron said a female director told her to suck it in. The whole article made me sick!

M April 20, 2009 at 9:49 PM

Another similar phenomenon:

Men on TV often let go a little once they’ve got a good gig, while the women get tinier and tinier.

Carla April 21, 2009 at 10:42 AM

I can relate to this article as I know from my own personal experience just how hard it is to lose weight. I wrote a book called “Alone in the Storm” which is about an overweight woman who is unhappy with her life and she struggles to lose weight. After a series of events in her life, she comes to realize some important lessons, including one of the most important lessons of all; in order to be loved in life, you have to first love yourself.

Carla Cunningham, Leeds

Published Author of Alone in the Storm (I am on Fbook)


d April 21, 2009 at 1:02 PM

I am all over the place on this one. While I don’t know if I agree with the examples perse, I think the over-arching point is dead on. As Melissa said, “It’s less noticeable not only because heavier actresses have less opportunities, it’s less noticeable because all women have less opportunities.”

That’s what stood out to me because Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington are considered some of the top actors working these days(I happen to think they are very good as well). Maybe they get afforded a little more room than other actors. Would someone lower on the totem pole be able to chunk on the weight perpetually? Someone who hasn’t used it as comic relief like Seth Rogan – for example Josh Duhamel or Brenden Frasier? I don’t think so. But Russell and Denzel get way more roles than Emma (Thomspon) or Kathy (Bates), who I think would be their counterparts in terms of acting chops.

Again, this points out to me the weirdness that goes on when people are going to see films. I think a lot of guys don’t mind the weight, but a lot of women do. I remember hearing a little brouha about Denzel when he was in Inside Man. But if they are still catering to guys, then they’ll show that in film. When I tried to think about average-sized women I couldn’t think of any in film, but I could think of quite a few on tv, which of course, is considered more of a women’s medium. I know women shrank in the past on tv, do they still? Maybe I’m just not watching those shows. Even the cheerleader on Heroes looks like a healthy weight.

It’s funny too because I thought about another comic book adaptation Scarlett did a while back: Ghost World. I loved that film. And she was good in it; but I also liked Thora Birch; I mean it was really her movie – although that didn’t stop them from putting Scarlett first on the poster. And I really liked Thora in American Beauty! But somehow, Thora’s been working but seeming not in the limelight, while Scarlett has blown up. Perhaps she has a better agent? More winnable personality? But I just can’t shake the feeling that somehow it was because Scarlet played the cuter, thinner one and resembles more closely what society sees as beautiful. I could be wrong.

The reason why I guess I am a bit on the fence is that it just seems natural to work out for a comic action film. Ideally the actors are doing a lot of their own stunts. Robert Downey had to endure a pretty intense workout (as did Christian Bale, Tobey Maguire, etc…), so I would expect Scarlet to do that and lose a lot of weight. I can see why she would be annoyed.

Sounds to me (and again, this is just based on what I am reading here) that she may have lost weight without gaining muscle. Jennifer Garner is a good example. In Daredevil she buffed up. In Elektra she wanted a more lithe look. The problem was she’s already thin, so she ended up looking like a waif! As opposed to in Daredevil she looked pretty ominous in her outfit with her sais.

I REALLY HOPE she looks more like Linda Hamilton, or even Halle Berry (who looked noticeably more buffed than usual in Catwoman). It’s funny, we know that women are discriminated because of their weight. So when I read the post my first thought was “Scarlett is doing Black Widow? Oh no.” Without some muscle gain she is going to look pretty puny compared to Robert and Mickey – which will be another possible female hero down the drain. I hope she proves me wrong, and does a great job, and looks like she can kick a little but. But if all these rumors are flying about her weight loss, and she already looks quite petite, it gives me pause.

Oh, and here’s something we women can stop doing: how about not reading those magazines!?! Every time I hear about some scandal that US Weekly, or People, or some other celebrity gossip mag is stirring up, I just wonder who is reading it. If it didn’t sell issues, this wouldn’t be an issue at all, would it? I know we have to do so much more, but that could be a step.

And by no means do I want to put the editorial staff out of a job. Maybe they could instead print news news. :D

Thanks as always for highlighting stuff that I would have otherwise missed Melissa. And thanks for the comments all.

Liz April 24, 2009 at 10:36 AM

Thanks, Mel, great article/discussion.

Obviously since Hollywood is still run by insecure, white men, this double standard will continue. As stated, since we women are basically being FORCED out of the movie theatre and home to our TV’s, I’m increasingly not missing movies and enjoying reading, TV, the outdoors, music, etc.

I agree with the Seth Rogan comments, by the way. Why is he famous? Why is he in movies? According to what I’ve read, it’s because he’s friends with Judd Apatow. Great decision making, Hollywood. What-EVER.

Having said all of this, I need to acknowledge the fact that genetically, men just ARE more visually stimulated when it comes to sex; women are less so. SO — we will TO A POINT tolerate a slightly pudgy and slightly older Russell Crowe…TO A POINT.

Speaking for MYSELF, what I WILL NOT TOLERATE and will not pay to see (are you listening, Hollywood?!?!?) is overweight, craggly OLD MEN with HELLOW TEETH (sorry Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro) have sex on screen with gorgeous, young, fit, sexy, smart, attractive young women 30 years their junior.


Bianca Reagan April 25, 2009 at 9:45 PM

What y’all said. I am indignant.

Pat May 1, 2009 at 9:33 PM

Show business is a business. It’s all about box office returns. If movies about overweight, middle-aged women made millions, Hollywood would be making movies like this in droves. But the most movie goers these days are teenage boys, who don’t care if the male lead is fat but do want the female characters to look like fantasy babes. Especially in a time when movie attendance is in decline, moguls aren’t going to make movies that don’t make a profit just to make the few people who do see them feel better about themselves.

Crimson Wife May 2, 2009 at 4:51 AM

“men have gained 25 pounds over the two decades and women have gained 24 pounds.”

Except that women are on average quite a bit shorter than men. I’m 5’2″ and my DH is 5’9″. He would be significantly better able to hide 25 extra pounds.

Chris May 2, 2009 at 10:34 PM

“genetically, men just ARE more visually stimulated when it comes to sex; women are less so.”

Uh, where are you getting this from? Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus?

Kristin June 12, 2009 at 12:41 PM

Great article!

It always amazes me when I see headlines about some actress'”hot new body” and how she went from a size (US) 4 to a size 2. Seriously? Explain to me how a size 4 could be considered fat?
Over the years I’ve also noticed the lack of talent in some of these skinny actresses and it drives me insane. I cringe every time they speak. I agree with your statement that women have less opportunities, and many of the opportunities that we do have are given to skinny pretty girls who can’t act to save their lives just so little boys will go see a movie. It makes me laugh when they complain that they aren’t taken seriously as actresses. Gee, maybe if you took an acting class or ten! No wonder the movie industry is losing money.

That was my rant for the day.

jazzy88 July 14, 2009 at 9:34 AM

this is a good article i’m glad that someone is taking a stand against this double standard crap

nightmare girl88 August 16, 2009 at 11:49 AM

it’s pretty insane how they want them to be thin than blast them for it

JenniferJo August 31, 2009 at 12:44 PM

seth rogan is funny, and he’s not a bad lookin guy. it’s a matter of opinion though, right? and why does it matter if he’s ugly or handsome if he’s talented.

and did anyone know that marilyn monrone was a size 13? hmmm

Violet November 23, 2009 at 8:22 PM

Marilyn was a yo-yo dieter like all the other hollywood starlets. Only at her heaviest was she a size 13. Her pant size was mostly a size 8, which might sound large until you realize that they have been making women’s sizes smaller and smaller over the years as women have gained more and more weight. It’s a marketing scheme that works quite well. So today’s size four could easily equate to a size 8 back in those days. Meanwhile, her stats were 36-24-36, damn near close to perfect.

emmziees December 15, 2009 at 8:07 PM

Hey, and yeah i totally agree! Why can’t everyone be looked at as their insides, without freaking out about their insides? I sure don’t get it. It sets a bad example. I think it is right to take a stand. (:

Chris Evans December 24, 2009 at 9:08 PM

“Men on TV often let go a little once they’ve got a good gig, while the women get tinier and tinier.”

Great point as well, that I missed. Desperate Housewives is a perfect example.

cosmos January 22, 2010 at 2:12 AM

I don’t go to many movies because like another writer I am sick of seeing men of all ages and women under 30…simple as that. I know that the cinema is about fantasy..but whose? Just males? I actually think more women are interested in going to the movies but there aren’t any films catering to us..just those chick flicks which also have ordinary looking men in them…that’s cos women don’t discriminate. If the man is a nice person, it doesn’t matter what he looks like which is a good thing for men because if we were like them..no man would get a look in! The so called beautiful women on the screen are often very stupid and annoying yet the men like them because they look good! Go figure.

Akhi 99 April 12, 2010 at 7:38 AM

Any time women face a difficulty, it is automatically men’s fault (no proof need exist).


Hmmmmmm, would I rather watch Mariah Carrey or Gabourey Sidibe?

Funny thing is, most women would rather watch Mariah (but I bet that is men’s fault), too.

From a gynocentric perspective, most men can be found to be wanting. Of course, most women do NOT want to be judged by a masculist perspective, but they do not mind judging men negatively from a female perspective (more of that feminist ‘equality they always talk about which is big on feminism and small on equality).

And next time someone tells you women get paid less for ‘equal’ work, remind em “equal” work is equally dangerous and since 93% of all workplace deaths are men, I have yet to see any evidence that women do work equal to men. I am aware that most women are eager to get paid the same for lesser work, less dangerous, less far from home, less hours, less stressful work, but still they want to get paid the same.

Me, too. I would like to be like a female tennis player who plays two fewer sets (as many as 20 fewer games than the men play) against weaker players (the top women can never beat the top men even though some like to pretend women can do everything a man can do), while demanding “equal” pay.

Sidibe is so hot. She is gonna be the next Sandra Bullock (LOL), a man hater who makes lots of money off of men?

elle April 19, 2010 at 5:20 PM

Straight white men are in charge of Hollywood, and the predominant audience they target is young, white men 18 -35 who are not interested in looking at other dudes. Also, average looking man is someone he can relate to being average himself. What the young, white male is interested in is hot women – not average looking, not old, middle-aged, and defintely not overweight. He imagines himself as the average hero who gets to boink the hot, above average woman. It’s all about the male gaze and the male fantasy. That’s why it’s highly important that actresses be young, slender, and pretty. Because that’s what men want.

siletgirl September 3, 2010 at 5:27 PM

well it’s a double standerd

Anna January 5, 2011 at 10:50 PM

I think Russel Crowe is the exception more than the rule. Most guys on the screen don’t look like that. What about Taylor Lautner? I don’t beleive he has an ounce of fat on him!
Generally, people want what they can’t have. Thats why girls play hard to get. Thats why the ideal figure is thin.

HandsomeBlackCowboyBrett1953 May 19, 2011 at 12:22 PM

Here’s another qestion,folks.Why can’t we life-size Brett dolls,i.e.,classically handsome black men get love interest roles,es-
pecially on daytime TV and in the movies?(For example,when I sopke to a Dramatic Arts Professor at my alma mater,the University
Of Windsor,Ont.,Can.,two years ago,this 60’s gentleman,a former casting didrector,said he would cajole me into seeking “working-
class,charactor actor” roles,despite the fact that,though 57-58 July 6,I’m regarded Hollywood leading man handsome,have a 147-160 IQ-genius level,people!!!-and despite my blackness,I’m said NOT to
speak with an “identifiably black” voice inflection.(In addition,I’m said to resemble a handsome black cowboy by a lot of people here in Windsor,ESPECIALLY the ladies,and am a heavy metal,garage rock,Country music,dancing-EXCEPT LINE DANCING!!!-rodeo-
non-existent here except on cable TV,where I AVIDLY watch it-and sometimes don cowboy clothes.)
I can only conclude,that,apart from my blackness,now seen as anathema to those casting lead actors and love interests for the
leading ladies-even the miniscule number of BLACK leading ladies-
my size-I’m 5’8″,210-220 lb.,and sport 171/2″ biceps amongst my measurements-would prevent Hollywood producers and directors
from casting me in lead roles.What say you,fellow posters?Agree or

Nolan January 19, 2012 at 2:37 PM

This article was incredibly frustrating for me. It is a view point and it is even possible that it does sway in favor of men but not by the landslide shown above. The reason for this being so noticed i firmly believe is the red carpet events. Women put so much pressure on what other women look like. I just sat down for an hour to match the list of well know heavier actors vs. well known and accomplished actresses. I say the following names with all do respect to the actors / actresses and use their names as simply references for this case.

John Candy / Kathy Bates, John Goodman, Roseanne Barr / Paul Giamatti, Gaby Sidabe/ Seth Rogan, Jennifer Hudson (who in face was asked to gain weight to play Effie white in Dreamgirls)/ Chris Farley, Melissa McCarthy / Paul Sorvino , Rosie Odonnel / Zack Galfinakis, Octavia Spencer, / Mark Addy, Loretta Divine / James Gandolfini, Queen Latifa / Drew Carey, Mimi from Drew Carey (I dont know her name, and i wouldnt know Drew Careys name if the show were not named after him) Jack Black, Kathy Najimy / Jason Alexander, America Ferrara / Anthony Anderson, Oprah Winfrey.

The list goes on and on. The perfect body complex goes as well for men in the hollywood standard. And acting is about a role to play. Not as much as a prejudice. Many women in film are attractive and fall in love with what is seemingly a less attractive man. Take a look at the world around you, it happens to be the way it is, unless of course your husband is more attractive and presentable than you are. (in which case ladies, i might add that you may want to check to see if he is gay)

Throghout history, women have found their power through their beauty. No matter what shape size or color they were. Men have found their power in seemingly not noticing the beauty before them. It is the true battle of the sexes.

The argument goes that many actors can gain weight in hollywood and still work while women can not. This again is not necessarily true. Sure they are not going to get the sexy young roles they were once used to. And to quote “First Wives Club” There are 3 roles for leading women in hollywood “babe, district attorney and Driving Miss Daisy”. For men its similair, “hunk, detective, and grumpy old men” Meryl Streep who i would credit with being the greatest actress of my time is no longer a size two and she still packs the box office and leads hollywood in movies. Oh and ummmm Marlon Brando, who I would say the same about male actors, does not.

Let yourself persevere and do not let the medias attention pointing out why you can and cant do something. Just do it. Others have broken molds and so can you.

And to handsome black cowboy above; if you want to play more ethnic rolls go ahead and use the voice that you referred to as blackness. There are tons of roles for that! embrace it. If you want to be cast in more versatile roles, work on changing things. Go see Iron Lady this week and take a peek into what Margaret Thatcher had to do in order to get elected as Prime Minister. Her voice simply did not dictate authority.

Whyd o we let so many peoples opinions stop us dead in our tracks. They are for the most part complete and total strangers telling you how to look and act from their opinion. Would you let them tell you to but a pepsi instead of a coke at a supermarket? Not if you went in there specifically for that Coca Cola! It seems to me that many of us (self included) dont know exactly what we want. We have some version of a destination and we are asking a dozen yellow brick road scarecrows for directions.

As a self test take 10 of your friends; tell then you are thinking of panting your living room but dont know what color idea to choose. (Evderyones first question should be, “Well what look are you going for” But sadly only one or two will care enough to ask that before blurting out what they think you should do. (you should at the least get 7 totally different colors and or ideas. Several will mention getting new furniture that woudl look really great with you r wall color. All in all no matter which way you choose, you will get to the destination of your new enjoyable to relax in living room .

Parents to be, do a similar test and run some baby names around your friends. They can find a problem with every name in the book. But when you finally decide, everyone loves it, even if they did warn you that his name would be Maxi Pad.
I heard a story ( and i have no idea if it is true or not) But they said that Gaby sidabet was auditioning for the role of Precious. She did not have a manager or an agent. The few managers that agreed to meet with her said up front that if she wantd to work in hollywood she would need to lose weight. (they did not even ask what the role was that she was going for)

In closing, art imitates life and life imitates art. Find yourself, then be yourself. You have a perfectly unique role in the world, when you connect fully with what that is, you will see where there is a place for you in hollywood.

Leanne February 1, 2012 at 6:13 PM

Another issue – casting elderly men against young women.

First got repulsed by the movie Entrapment (1999) watching an elderly Sean Connery lose his false teeth down a young Catherine Zeta-Zones’ throat. Disgusting. How anyone could have cast that movie and let it pass was beyond me.

One commenter above said (paraphrasing) that movies are made by old men, for old men. I think that’s probably true. I’m a young-ish female, and have no interest in watching Star Wars converted to 3D (hasn’t Lucas played with it enough already!), comic characters “brought to life” (only their mothers can spot the difference!) and yet more female actors who clearly don’t eat.

And YES on the fat old men with yellow teeth.

Hollywood needs to remember that PLOT comes first. If it ain’t well-written, it ain’t going to be watchable. And we’re all heartily sick of anorexic 20-somethings paired with doddery old has-beens.

tamara April 25, 2012 at 1:02 AM

I can say if a women is hot or not im not slim like i use to be but i no there are hot big girls out there and they deserve the spot light just as much as the fat harry guy. Just solve the problem and start making some scary movies where every one is ugly scsry movies that actually scare the sh..t out of you i dont think ive seen a good scary movie in a long time they all suck.

Works in Hollywood September 1, 2012 at 12:16 PM

>>Straight white men are in charge of Hollywood<<



Marcia May 20, 2013 at 8:06 AM

Highly energetic article, I enjoyed that bit.
Will there be a part 2?

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