The Politics of Actresses and Weight Loss Ads

by Melissa Silverstein on October 14, 2010

in Actresses

We all know that this country has a weight issue. We’re all fat, yet every image we see on TV and film is thin.  The disconnect begins the moment you wake up each day and doesn’t end until your head hits the pillow.  The mantra is be thin to be successful.  You know it, I know it.  It’s not that I’m saying that everyone on TV should be fat, but everyone doesn’t need to be thin either.

But we are culture who rewards thinner people (especially women) with more money (check out this piece from the WSJ) and with accolades. The skinnier you are the more you are coveted.

That’s why I’ve been watching the current weight loss campaigns that feature Sara Rue (Jenny Craig) and Jennifer Hudson (Weight Watchers) with interest.  Sara has lost 50 pounds and Jennifer dropped from a size 16 to a 6.

I totally understand why they wanted to lose weight. I did it myself. The pressure is immense and is even more immense in Hollywood.

But Sara Rue and Jennifer Hudson both seemed a bit different.

They both gained their success by not being thin. Rue was the star of her own sitcom Less Than Perfect and Hudson burst into our lives on American Idol and then as Effie in Dreamgirls which won her an Oscar and launched her acting career.

It seems that Sara Rue — who honestly could not get arrested recently in Hollywood — is interesting now to the media since she is on the Jenny Craig bandwagon.  I see her running races in People Magazine (amazing that she did a half marathon.)  The sad news is that she felt she had to lose weight because she had lost a role.

Hudson just finished filming Winnie where she plays Winnie Mandela that is targeting Cannes for its world premiere.  She’s a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers and is talking up their Lose for Good Campaign that raises money for hunger and poverty programs.  The more weight you lose the more money you raise for people who can’t afford to eat.  Oy.  I was also turned off by a comment she made saying that she can’t wait to perform in her new body.  Bad message.  Remember, your former body (which you never know when will return) won you an Oscar.

To me, neither Rue nor Hudson were fat.  They were overweight but seemed perfectly fine.  I’m not here to judge these women for losing weight.  They clearly feel better thinner as I do, but I’m not an actress who is a role model for others.  I just want them to remember that language is very important and they should keep in mind how they frame the issues now that they are paid to talk about losing weight.


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

tonya October 14, 2010 at 10:53 AM

These singers and actors are role models yes, but they do not owe you, me, or anyone else anything. They have a right to do and say as they please. The fact that you or anyone else is offended bt a comment is hilarious to myself and many others i’m sure. It’s not that serious both ladies look amazing by the way.

katie October 14, 2010 at 11:28 AM

I agree neither ladies owe anyone anything but in a society that’s thin obsessed, especially for women, what kind of a message does this send. I can only be successful if I am thin? It’s why so many women and young girls have such poor body images. If these women lost weight to get healthier and feel better more power to them. But I agree with Melissa, we are a society that judges and rewards people a lot on how they look, especially women, and Hollywood and the media continue to enforce this.

I applaud people like Queen Latifah who seems proud of who she is and she’s successful and gorgeous. I’m as equally as proud of Mariska Hargitay and Julia Roberts and Michelle Obama and Meryl Streep, and the list goes on, who seem to be secure in who they are and what they look like, not caving in to what society thinks women should look like.

I actually applaud you Melissa for your comments here.

Kai Jones October 14, 2010 at 11:58 AM

I don’t judge these women for losing weight, but I do judge them for taking money to promote weight loss to other women.

Linn D. October 14, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Such a challenging topic… The only useful thing I can add right now is at one point I read a quote from Jennifer Hudson about what started her on her journey of choosing to lose weight. It was something like – she looked at her young baby and realized if she didn’t start taking better care of herself physically, she might not be around to see her son grow into adulthood. A good reason in my opinion, as opposed to trying to please the ent. industry which doesn’t even know what it wants sometimes.

I also think when you start to read food labels on what food to feed your child, it hopefully makes you question what food you eat yourself. I would imagine it begins when you’re pregnant and trying to eat for two. It’s easy to be careless and not always choose healthy foods/good physical activity when you’re just dealing with yourself, but when you have the responsibility of making sure your unborn child has the right nutrients, I think it helps some people realize they weren’t treating themselves well either.

katie October 14, 2010 at 1:37 PM


Excellent points and good for Jennifer if she lost weight because of her young one. But I hope it had nothing to do with any pressure she was feeling regarding her career. And I’m really not a fan of any of these celebrities(starting with Sarah Fergusen) endorsing these weight loss programs. Both Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig promote eating their foods as part of weight loss programs when getting healthy should be about eating homegrown, natural, local, fresh food and reasonable exercise.

Kim October 14, 2010 at 3:37 PM

Specs for a recent commercial: women sized 6-10, wearing red. While I can’t relay the specifics, the insinuation was that a size 6 woman wearing red could be confused for Santa Claus….because they’re THAT. FAT. While I chose this profession and essentially have to either accept that size 6 = fatty in Hollywood, create my own work, or pick a different job, I was HORRIFIED to think about the message this was sending to women and children in this country. I took the audition so I wouldn’t piss off my agent, but man oh MAN did I pray not to book it. And I wondered, what is my responsibility here? To do the work that comes, until I can be choosier? Or not compromise my integrity?

CParis October 14, 2010 at 9:59 PM

@Katie – I think Queen Latifah is a great performer and smart businesswoman, but she’s been a shill for Jenny Craig in the past.
I usually don’t give celebrity endorsements much credence, whether it’s for weight loss, cosmetics, yogurt or whatever. Celebs have access to chefs, trainers, 24/7 personal assistants, stylists, free clothes, etc – so I’d never assume that any product they’re paid to endorse is ever going to perform or look the same on me.

Paul hasan October 15, 2010 at 9:25 AM

I think these actors or singers or the other celebrities done these type of ads or campaigns just to fill their pocket and nothing else.I really don’t care that what they say in their ads or campaigns and it will never affect me at least.

Julie R. October 15, 2010 at 1:18 PM

In terms of celebrity endorsements, there are plenty of other products I find more disturbing than weight loss: alcohol, fast food, chips, candy, beauty products that are tested on animals… do any of you get your hackles up when celebrities endorse these? Personally, I’d much rather have Jennifer Hudson telling my daughter that she’s joined a program to try and become healthier than telling her that Burger King is her favorite food.

kc October 17, 2010 at 9:26 AM

You say Rue “felt she had to lose weight b/c she lost a role” but isn’t that rather presumptuous? Maybe she lost weight for a myriad of reasons and her career was just the one that broke the camel’s back? You also say Hudson’s body “won her an Oscar” but I’m pretty sure it was her *performance* that won it (and if I were her I’d be pretty offended by that comment).

Reasons for weight loss are complex and numerous and I’m much more offended by your putting words in these women’s mouths than I am offended by what they do (or don’t) put in them. You’re no mind reader so don’t project your personal issues onto women you don’t even know and didn’t even interview.

Melissa Silverstein October 17, 2010 at 4:04 PM

I said that Rue lost a role because she said that in the article I linked to on the piece I wrote. I didn’t presume anything. She is the one who made the statement.

CParis October 18, 2010 at 12:50 AM

@kc – Hudson’s Oscar was for playing Effie in Dreamgirls, a character that is supposed to be “heavy”, especially when compared to Deena (played by Beyonce, who lost 20+ lbs for the role). The producers could have cast an actress/singer who was conventionally thin and she would have to gain weight for the role. With Hudson, they got the visual and vocal in one package.

kc October 19, 2010 at 9:01 AM

CParis, Her weight, race, and gender clearly helped GET her the role but none of those traits GOT her the Oscar — her performance did.

And as an influential writer and blogger, Melissa, it would serve you to be more accurate with your choice of words.

Furthermore, the link bout thin women earning more than heavy women is suspect at best, inaccurate at worst. There is no evidence provided that the weight itself is the cause for that disparity. Consider that women who have more discipline tend to have a better, healthier diet so it would not be surprising that various traits associated with disciplined women (thinness, stronger work ethic, more promotions) would exist in the same person. And I have serious doubts about the study saying men who gain weight automatically earn more, when it’s just as likely they work longer hours and have less time to work out or go to the gym.

My biggest complaint though is that you’ve bypassed the larger issue which is that health, not weight, should be the goal. And a diet of natural foods vs processed/packaged (Jenny Craig, etc) crap should be the ideal. Instead all I’m hearing is a defense of fat. I’m not defending fat or thin body types. I’m just saying, acting wins Oscars and health is more important than weight.

Hilary March 26, 2014 at 6:09 PM

I love seeing the different weight loss ads. I think its especially inspirational when someone famous has gone through the program. It just makes the weight loss plan seem more realistic!

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