It wasn’t too long ago that if you were a woman over 30 and could not squeeze into size 0 jeans, you were handed a one-way ticket out of Hollywood by movie and TV casting directors hungry for young, slender “talent.” If an older actress or one who was overweight by Hollywood standards (BMI greater than 10) walked into the room, she was as invisible to casting agents as the people who delivered bottled water – unless they needed a character actress to play someone’s loser friend or mother.
In what could be a backlash against the super skinny and young – cigarette-thin actresses like Ashley Olsen, who look like dolled up skeletons, and barely-out-of-braces pop stars like Miley Cyrus, whose every teenage-girl insight and pantyless flash is treated as breaking news by CNN – it is possible that audiences are hungering for a little more beef and seasoning in their talent.
Hollywood Hotties: Old is the New Young
Twenty-somethings can blame Betty White and Lindsay Lohan for making 80 the new 20. About the same time Americans grew tired of young talents like Lohan going in and out of rehab like the right hand in the hokey pokey, veteran actress (read old) Betty White magically reappeared on the scene as reliable and rearing to go as the Energizer Bunny. Not only does White have wit, charm and looks, she has an old-fashioned work ethic that is especially refreshing and comforting at a time when stalwart banks are folding faster than shirts at a laundromat. Other older stars who have helped destigmatize growing old include comedienne Joan Rivers, actress Helen Mirren, news anchor Diane Sawyer, and singer-dancer Tina Turner (who can still set a stage on fire at 71).
Until she was inexplicably killed off on AMC TV’s popular hit show “Mad Men,” Randee Heller’s depiction of Don Draper’s old-fashioned, no-nonsense secretary, Mrs. Blankenship, made the older woman a cult heroine, spawning her own Facebook fan page and enough Tweets to supply KFC with birds for a month. Heller’s Blankenship character epitomized one of the key advantages of being old: the license to blurt out anything you want to with no consequences. Before dying at her desk, Mrs. Blankenship was the only woman at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce who could ask Don Draper if he was going to the toilet, scream aloud “Your daughter’s psychiatrist is on the phone,” or call Don out for napping in his office.
Hollywood Hotties: Fat Makes a Comeback
Heavyweight actresses such as Roseanne Barr and Delta Burke were once popular visitors to America’s living rooms, but since the late 1990’s, fat women on TV have been treated more like Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman at the door – not welcome. By the 21st Century, fat had become a four-letter word in Hollywood, unless, for some reason, you were a fat man married to a pretty, petite woman.
As with its new acceptance of older female actresses, Hollywood’s fatphobia could be slowly melting.
This fall’s new CBS sitcom “Mike and Molly,” which comes on the heels of ABC Family’s “Huge,” suggests that fat could be making a comeback, at least on television. With “The Biggest Loser” showing TV executives that Americans enjoy watching fat people on TV, even if it is only to watch them try to get skinnier, producers are dipping their toes deeper into the pool with new TV shows starring women who aren’t poster girls for Weight Watchers. “Mike & Molly,” which revolves around two fat people who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting and start dating, has CBS gambling big that people will want to watch a woman who eats more than a lettuce leaf for lunch have a romantic relationship with a man who does not look like George Clooney.
Meanwhile, the corn is still popping when it comes to overweight actresses getting plum parts in the movies. When Gabourey Sidibe hit it big last year in “Precious,” controversy swirled around whether the actress could succeed in the celluloid world or if her “Precious” role would make her a one-hit wonder. Shock jock Howard Stern predicted the latter, ranting “There’s the most enormous, fat black chick I’ve ever seen” to his satellite radio audience right after the Academy Awards. “Everyone’s pretending she’s a part of show business, and she’s never going to be in another movie. She should have gotten the Best Actress award because she’s never going to have another shot.”
Sidibe’s career could be the parrot in the mine for fatter actresses in the movies. Since her role in “Precious,” Sidibe has landed a recurring role in Showtime’s “The Big C,” a popular cable television show, and has completed filming the not-yet-released indie film “Yelling to the Sky.” Ironically, these days more attention is being paid to Sidibe’s skin color than weight since Elle magazine placed her on its October cover with lighter looking skin. Still, some fans are complaining the large actress was cropped mid-body, unlike Elle’s other cover models, whose slinkier lower bodies are also on display.
Allison Hope Weiner “Hollywood Weighs in On Fat People,” ABCNews.com
Gary Strauss, “Randee Heller brings ‘Mad Men’ secretary to comedic life,” USAToday.com
Nicole Eggenberger, “Gabourey Sidibe’s Cover Shoot Sparks Controversy,” OKMagazine.com