Ah, the New York Times. The old gray lady, the paper of record, the practice workshop for standup comedians. If the latter strikes you as out of place, just check out this article (title: “What’s the Skinny on the Heftier Stars?”), which basically amounts to the author, Michael Cieply, saying “Fat actors! What’s the deal with that?”
Honestly, I have no analysis of this one; I’m just here to mock it. It was apparently written by a man who has literally never once thought about body size before in any context, much less film. We start off with obligatory fatphobia, which Cieply assumes is shared by all his readers:
Two men. One notebook. Four chins.
Hollywood’s pool of leading men is getting larger — and not necessarily in a good way.
Cieply goes on to note that some male film stars, like Russell Crowe, John Travolta, Hugh Grant, and Denzel Washington, now appear to be bigger than they once were. It’s crazy because they’re only around 50! How could this happen? Tom Hanks was totally skinny in Castaway when he was playing a man stranded on a desert island, but now he looks different! He doesn’t have a beard or a volleyball or anything.
My absolute favorite sentence of this article is about The Ladies.
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.
This honest to god made me LOL. This right here is a stunningly great example of the male gaze and how it is founded on male privilege. There are two parts of this sentence that are more or less factual: 1) “Hollywood’s women may have weight issues of their own” (depending how you define “issues,” of course), and 2) “actresses who expand do not often get roles to showcase that growth.” But it’s the hinge of these facts, that wonderfully clueless phrase “But it is somehow less noticeable,” that makes me want to put this article in a textbook under “Male Gaze 101.” See, there’s a phrase missing from this sentence, an important one. The sentence should read: “It is somehow less noticeable to me.” I guarantee Michael Cieply that the absence of fat women, or even size-6 women, or even very thin women who are not shockingly beautiful, onscreen is eminently noticeable to women moviegoers. To girl moviegoers. To fat moviegoers. To anorexic moviegoers. To flat-chested moviegoers. And so on. Behold the grammar of privilege: it rests in the absence of the phrase “to me” and the presence of the word “somehow.” The “somehow” is the male gaze. If you are a straight man, women onscreen are selected for your visual pleasure, and the camera acts as a proxy for your point of view.
“Desire […] is a property of men, property in both senses of the word: something men own, possess, and something that inheres in men, like a quality.” –Teresa DeLauretis, “Through the Looking-Glass: Woman, Cinema, and Language”
The reason it is “somehow less noticeable” to you that there are no fat women onscreen is that the entire history of cinema is designed to reassure you that you don’t have to look at fat women. Thin women are the default; they are how the cinematic world is populated, so they look normal to your eyes. You don’t notice the absence of fat women; you notice their rare presence, when the camera deviates from your point of view long enough for you to say “Whoa, fattie!” But every single woman who sits in a movie theater is forced to inhabit that male gaze, too, forced to watch how the camera treats women of rare beauty and slenderness as the only kind of women who exist. This is how it is possible for women as small as Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Simpson to be “Hollywood fat.” For women moviegoers, the “weight issues” of “Hollywood’s women” are one of the *most* noticeable things about movies — sadly, for some of us, the primary fact of movies.
(This matter of gaze and representation, incidentally, is why so many fat people and fat allies were angry about Wall-E. Here is one of the very very very few instances where the world is not populated only by very thin people… and it’s the dystopic future of the human race.)
Okay, it turned out I had some analysis in me after all. Back to mockery!
Cieply points out that the male actors of yesteryear, like Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable, stayed skinny well into middle age. Of course, they smoked like chimneys and also survived the Great Depression… but seriously, you didn’t see them letting themselves go! That Denzel, he just needs more self-discipline.
Cieply saves the biggest laughs for the end, though, like any good comic.
He might want to get some diet advice from Jason Segel.
Mr. Segel, 29, was fairly hefty in “I Love You, Man,” a comedy released by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks in March. But his face looked surprisingly thin on billboards advertising the film.
The advertising photos were done some weeks after the film shoot, with a slimmer Mr. Segel, said Katie Martin Kelley, a publicity executive with Paramount. “There was no retouching done,” Ms. Kelley said.
Since Mr. Cieply and his editors at the NYT clearly need a lesson in human biology as well as rhetoric, feminist theory, and film studies, I am offering myself up as an object lesson. Shapelings, I, like poor John Travolta, have gotten a lot bigger in the last 20 years. A LOT. It’s like my whole body has just ballooned outward in every direction, and I can’t control it, and no matter what I eat or how much I exercise, I just can’t get back to my old shape. I think you can see what I mean. (Edited to include funnier picture.)
There was no retouching done.