In this episode we’re jumping into the conversations people have about bigger bodies and exploring how women such as Lizzo, Adele and Rebel Wilson have been caught in the glare of fat-shaming. From the body positivity movement to accusations of promoting obesity, join us as we discuss why so many of us have such strong emotional reactions to fat, and ask are bigger bodies finally acceptable?
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Fat shaming: The Case of Lizzo, Adele and Rebel Wilson
45% of women are size 16 or bigger in the UK. Yet in the fashion industry, anyone over a size 10 is considered a plus size model.
But in Hollywood, thin is still in. Female celebrities who don't fit into this mould often find their body under intense scrutiny. But why are we so obsessed with weight?
From the body positivity movement to accusations of promoting obesity, Lizzo, Adele and Rebel Wilson have been a big part of the conversations on fat shaming, to the point that it seems more of a talking point than their actual work.
So why do so many of us have such a strong emotional reaction to fat and are bigger bodies finally acceptable? So Sarah, just in our lifetime, we've been exposed to an endless stream of perfect body types. I'm thinking of the sculpted physiques of the 80s like my idol Madonna to the waiflike figures in the 90s thinking of Kate Moss, then came along Liz Hurley in her infamous safety pin dress. Do you remember this?
I actually really do. I think it was the Four Weddings and a Funeral premiere, and she, I had never heard of her before, but she came there as Hugh Grant's girlfriend and she was wearing, Well, it was all you could do is see boobs. That's what it was. It was just amazing. And I think she really launched herself onto the scene with that and and all I have is this just seared in my memory, these amazing boobs, basically.
She did, she looked absolutely fabulous. And I and I think that she sort of became like the It girl of like I think this is in 94 and then thought like the rest of the 90s, she was like an It girl. She was very glamorous, very slim, but like you said, curvy. And I always remember reading in one of these magazine articles that she said this, “I've always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous. But I’d kill myself if I was that fat. I went to see her clothes in the exhibition, and I wanted to take a tape measure and measure what our hips were. She was very big.”
Wow, I actually have heard that quote before. And it's it's crazily extreme to me because Marilyn Monroe is one of my idols. So you're holding up someone who's considered a pinup, stunning, and you're saying she's too fat. And you'd actually want to kill yourself? I mean…
And interestingly, Kim Kardashian recently couldn't fit into a dress by Marilyn Monroe, the one that she was going to wear to the met ball. So if you're already calling Marilyn Monroe fat, what are you saying about Kim Kardashian who can't even fit into her her clothes?
Exactly. Exactly. And I mean, there was a real furore wasn't there when Kim Kardashian turned up in that dress? I mean, it was just a real break the internet moment.
I think that, you know, everyone was discussing that she lost maybe like, a whole stone for that event.
She lost a lot of weight, and she still couldn't fit in. So, it's so interesting, because I think as that Liz Hurley, quote demonstrates, it's almost like fat is often the worst thing someone, especially a woman can be called. And if people like Marilyn Monroe aren't safe, then what hope do the rest of us have?
And I think one of the first times that this issue was explored in depth is, I really remember reading the 1978, feminist classic by Suzy Orbach, which was titled Fat is a Feminist Issue, which just grabs your attention. And she declared “fat is a way of saying no to powerlessness and self denial. Fat is a social disease and fat is a feminist issue. Fat people are so rarely included in visual culture, that fat is perceived as a blot on the landscape of sleek and slim”. I mean, what do you think of that, that quote?
Oof! Yeah, I think it's a very powerful quote. And as you know, I've had quite a few difficulties with my eating and body image, you know, and it started young, as it often does, you know, I was eight stone, which I think is around 53 kg, and right through to my early 20s. And I gradually put on weight over the years, I sort of lived in these two worlds, as you know, either I'm a complete exercise addict with restrictive eating, feeling virtuous and powerful, or I spiral into binge eating and just watching TV and being a bit antisocial. And I still struggle with moderation, even after quite a lot of therapy. Even though now I'm like a size 16, and, you know, the biggest I got was a size 18, I actually feel pretty good now, you know, I'm fit and strong. I feel really grateful. I've got a body I've danced all through the 90s with, done a marathon with, rowing, climbing. And I actually want to acknowledge that how amazing it has been to me and I've put it through a lot of extremes. But in some ways, I've never really accepted being fat. It's been a difficult thing for me, and I think I've cancelled myself on many occasions when I've gained weight.
I mean, I can really relate to that. I've also had a lot of problems with weight, eating disorders pretty much my entire life. I don't really remember not having these issues, or not thinking of myself as someone who had those issues. And at my heaviest, I was nearly 30 stone ,which is the equivalent of 415 pounds or 190 kilos. And at that point I was, you know, practically disabled. I've gone through so many different iterations, I've been in treatment multiple times, I've had surgery, I've lived in a boot camp for six months where we met.
I was training for up to five hours a day. I've gone through periods of starving myself, I've repeatedly gained and lost large amounts of weight, for example, 10 stone in six months, and then putting it back on the following six months. And I've been in therapy now for over half my life. And it's essentially, I would say, overshadowed or been the biggest focus of my entire life. And I'm finally at a place where I've done a lot of work, and it's still an ongoing thing, but I can accept myself to a much greater extent than I ever did. And I again, like you, I appreciate what my body has done for me. But as you say, in terms of accepting fat or being fat, in the past, I couldn't even hear that word, it was almost like a massive slap to the face, I had such a shame response. And now I'll call myself that because I don't have that association that is, you know, it's just a descriptor. But, but that has been, you know, we're talking a sort of 30 year journey to get there. So I think as you, as you point out, we're in a position where we have a lot of personal experience on this topic that we're bringing today. So for example, growing up, I rarely saw women with bodies like mine in the mainstream media, and that made me feel even more of an outsider, and a freak, to be honest, is how I often viewed myself. And so it's been so exciting to witness the rise of Lizzo in the last few years.
Yeah, and you know, Lizzo is having a really hot moment, isn't she and she, you know, she's won big at the Grammys. She's been at the Brits, the Emmys. I feel like she is the celebrity out there, representing big women. And like you said, it's like, I'm not really used to this. This is all new to me.
Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, for people who maybe don't know who Lizzo is, she's an American singer, rapper, flautist, classically trained. And she's known for embracing her body and sexuality, including twerking on stage, and she appeared naked on the cover of one of her albums, the album Cuz I love you. She's very confident in her body and herself. And she declares that “I know, I'm fat. It doesn't bother me. I like being fat. And I'm beautiful. And I'm healthy. So can we move on?”
You know what, I absolutely love her. She's just such a breath of fresh air. And she doesn't do anything different to what Beyonce does. Yet she is constantly dealing with a barrage of abuse because she's doing it in a in a bigger body.
And for example, when I, we were researching this, one of the quotes he found is “plain and simple. Lizzo is absolutely disgusting. I don't know how or why, but I have seen her music video. And I've seen her videos posted from her concerts. And all I can think is why the hell would someone wear that in public, much less someone who is her size? She is way too big and her rolls swallow the lingerie she wears”
I mean, yeah, wow
This is just one of 1000s of comments that you find about Lizzo.
And not even the worst of what some of the people say.
And I think as as a comment like this demonstrates, there seem to be certain themes that come up in the criticism, which is, it's almost saying that people in bigger bodies, they can only wear certain things, you have less right to wear what you want, if you are in a bigger body. Also that being exposed to a bigger body is somehow offensive.
Almost as if you should be hiding away because you're so offensive, that anyone just accidentally encountering you in public might be horrified, you know, you should be covering up in a miu miu or something. You know, for example, there was the comment on, it was a Daily Mail comment that said, “fair enough, but shield the rest of us by wearing clothes that are more supportive and give better coverage. We don't all have to see it”. And there's just sort of no account-, self accountability for well, you don't have to look at everyone, do you? You know, how was someone offensive just for existing in that body?
It is quite shocking the intensity around how disgusted people are by fat. But why are people so disgusted by fat? I mean, you go online, there's a lot of people acting like fat people are the worst of the worst. And they should not even exist because they are fat. It’s that intense.
It really is. It's, it's, I mean, I know there are other groups of people who also get a lot of hate, but it's something that seems so disproportionate. And I think the thing to firstly remember is, it's not actually universal. This is quite a westernised culture. I mean, I spend a lot of time in Africa and you know, you can walk down the street, no one's looking at you. There are a lot of bigger bodies. In fact, it's considered the height of beauty in certain areas. So we're coming from a very westernised perspective, but also I think what's so interesting to me as you know, the term fat phobia, we always think of it as hating fat, but as you know, as it comes from the Greek, phobia is really about fear. It's a fear of fat. I mean, I don't know what people think are going to happen, that you know someone in a fat body, what are they actually going to do to you? What are you actually afraid of? And there's an element for me where I believe it's about, it represents losing control, or not having discipline. That's how it's perceived. And I think when people see it in others, they subconsciously don't want to deal with their own fear of losing control, their own fear of their weaknesses being exposed. And instead of looking at themselves, and what they, they might be worried about, they, it's so much easier to push it away and be like, You're the problem. You're disgusting. You're the person I hate. And I don't have an issue, I'd have to look at myself at all. And like we said, there's quite a strong perception that fat equals being lazy, being greedy, and that there's an absolute choice about it. You know, that's always one of the biggest things that people say.
Absolutely. And, you know, do you think it's somehow more offensive for a woman to be fat?
I mean, I do I, you know, I actually really do, because I think women are expected to be sexually and visually attractive. That's one of the main goals of womanhood is, is subconsciously. And I know not everyone agrees with this, but there's a sort of expectation that our value comes with how attractive we are perceived to be by men. And as fat isn't considered attractive in Western society, it means that if you are fat as a woman, then you're somehow not fulfilling the role that you're supposed to be fulfilling as a woman who's supposed to be attractive. So I do think there is a bit of a double standard. But Lizzo is not here for it. She's not interested in that double standard. And she's recently hit out again about body shamers. And she was wearing a string bikini in the video, and she said, “you know, the discourse around bodies is officially tired. Do we realise that artists are not here to fit into your body standards, artists are here to make art and this body is art. I'm going to do whatever I want with this body. I wish that comments cost people money so we can see how much time we're effing wasting on the wrong thing.”
Oh, my goodness, I love this. I love this. And this brings me to something that's new to me the body positivity movement and self love, which Lizzo has been a big promoter of and I would say she's the face of on the body of, and one of the quotes I liked, she said is “I'm all about body positivity and self love. Because I believe that we can save the world if we first save ourselves”
You know, absolutely. And I completely agree with that. And she's got millions of followers on Instagram, and she's got a lot of support from people who really, really need to hear this message. And for example, there was a Daily Mail comment that said “Lizzo is an extremely talented, classically trained flautist, and her music is full of positive messages about self acceptance. It's such a shame that people choose to drag her down, because she's not afraid to be confident in her body.” And another quote was “I agree with you fat people shouldn't have to hide away and be ashamed. I would love her confidence”
And I think quite a lot of people feel that way.
Oh, boy. Yes. And, you know, have you ever felt you should hide away?
Absolutely. I mean, not these days, but there was a whole period, especially as a teenager and into my 20s, where I mean I had such extreme social phobia that was very body related. I wouldn't leave the house other than to go to school much. And I certainly wouldn't buy clothes, I used to make my mom go and guess what size I was and bring them back and I'd try them on because I was so scared to be in public and I just felt constantly shamed. And I don't know how much was accurate and how much was projected. But it really, I mean, I very much felt like I should just stay in my house and not go out. And that's been taken years to overcome, I think, you know, and now I'm at a point actually, as I was telling you the other day, I went to a yoga class on Saturday and it was so hot, I mean, so hot that I did it in like a little sports bra and trousers, of course,
Just the sports bra.
Exactly. Which, you know, a lot of people go to yoga, and they wear these little crop tops, like the sports outfits. But even then, it was like a tinge of, oh, you know, I'm letting all my loose skin or my, my, my rolls out. Are other people going to be bothered by this? Do I have the same right to wear the kind of clothes that people in smaller bodies do and you know, what was interesting, I think anyone was looking at me.
But there was that initial insecurity, which is so interesting, even now after years of work, so you know, and I think you've probably had similar experience.
Yeah, I have. And you know, it's just crazy, when I was looking back at my diary for this episode, and I found entry when I was 17 saying, I'm eight stone six, I've got to get down to seven stone ten. You know, I absolutely wasn't allowed to live a life until I got to this weight. And you know, as the decades have gone, the weight’s changed, like its a sort of number. And I'm like, well, now I can't go out because I'm over that number I can't live my life and be happy. And that's why it's crazy because you're not like someone like Lizzo comes along. Like I said, she wasn't around when I was growing up, I grew up with Madonna, and, and she was my idol and, and I'm thinking of this quote, about Lizzo “I'm a size 10 to 12 and don't have the confidence to wear a bikini, I wish I had that kind of confidence that Lizzo has”, which is something for saying, especially when you get to your mid late 40s, and you're like, Just live your life. Your body is so beautiful, you don't realise as you go through the decades.
Yeah, and I think lizzo’s so radical, because self love and body acceptance is just so rare in women of any size, but practically nonexistent for bigger women. And she's not just accepting it, but she's absolutely loving it and embracing it. And I think, I mean I don't know, any woman who hasn't at times been on a diet, or had aspects of the body that don't like, you know, cellulite, or, Oh, I don't like my nose or this. And like we've said, I've been in a lot of treatment around people with eating disorders, and some people who, for me look like absolute models I would have killed have their body in their face. And they feel horrendous. So it just shows it's not really related to the external. It's such an internal thing, particularly among women. Lizzo has been fat shamed by lots of people online, but but she even has to deal with being shamed by other male celebrities. For example, last year, Kanye West said in an interview “when Lizzo loses 10 pounds and announces it the bots on Instagram, they attack her losing weight, because the media wants to put out a perception that being overweight is the new goal when it's actually unhealthy”. And she hit back she was like “I’m minding my fat, black beautiful business.” And that's the thing she's getting on with her life, but, but everybody has something to say regardless of that.
And it makes me think, and I found a quote for today's session saying that “only respecting women you're attracted to isn't respecting women”.
Oh, I love that quote.
I thought it just nailed it. But Lizzo is so entertaining and spreading so much joy, because she does, like we said, incite a lot of online anger. And one of the frequent criticisms I've seen is that she's unhealthy and promoting obesity. And this is a tweet from a few weeks ago, I'm just going to read it out. It's about the Brits “get rid of that Lizzo off my screen Brits. Shouldn't be giving someone that unhealthy and obese this much air time, too many young impressionable girls will be getting the wrong idea on their health. It's as much as a war on women as it was on men these days, save us all hashtag Brits.” And yet the Brits didn't respond. But it got seen by a lot of people. And it made me think can't people exist and accept themselves as they are without being accused of promoting something or being unhealthy?
Yeah, it's such a crazy thing that, that it's one of the very frequent criticisms that we see. And it's, you know, going back to the quote that you've just said, there's no mention of the fact that we've had loads of probably anorexic women who've probably got some kind of eating disorders on our screens. We don't say, oh, no, we shouldn't be giving them their time. What are they promoting? But for example, a woman in a in a in a fat body, it's like, oh, no, she shouldn't be here, I shouldn't have to look at her. And it's so weird, because I don't know, it's almost like just looking at a fat person is somehow going to make you suddenly want to be fat yourself. I don't understand the logic of it. But also, there's this idea that if you somehow aren't showing shame, then you're encouraging everyone else to be putting on the weight. And that you should just be you should be apologising for your existence in a bigger body by by constantly being drenched in shame, because otherwise it might be infectious and you accept yourself. For example, we found and we've found so many online comments where they've argued that you should encourage fat shaming people, because it's actually giving them the motivation to lose weight. For example “we do need to tell people, they're fat, and we shouldn't flinch from saying things which are difficult. It isn't fat shaming, it's honest.” But you know what, you know, what's so interesting is when you actually properly look into the research, it pretty much proves the opposite. You know, “studies show that exposure to weight bias triggers physiological and behavioural changes linked to poor metabolic health and increased weight gain.” You know, so that's, that's happening on a metabolic level. So, you know, fat shaming is actually making people fatter is essentially what it's saying. And shame. Shame is so toxic, and again, and again, the research demonstrates the link between shame and addiction, shame and depression, eating disorders, bullying, suicide, and as Brene Brown, one of our heroes, I mean, she's both of our heroes, right? Yeah, as she says, “shame erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.” If shaming people actually worked, we wouldn't have any fat people left because it would have motivated everyone already. So it's just such a weird logic for me, but one of the ones that I see, most often. You know, loving yourself and accepting yourself as you are doesn't mean you don’t have areas that you want to work on, or that you're advocating that everyone should be exactly like you. Weirdly, the times that I've gotten healthier the quickest are the times when I wasn't focusing on losing weight, I was focusing on just loving myself as is. And it somehow gave me that breathing space to just take care of myself, so I think it's such it's it is counterintuitive, but almost the less you focus on it, the more it happens a bit more effortlessly.
I think you've had similar experiences?
I did, because a couple of years ago, someone, you know, very close to me, sort of did a fat intervention on me. And they said to me, you know, you're very overweight, and I'm worried about you. And I think it's fair to say I'm worried about you getting diabetes or, and things like that. But I think the strange thing was that it was weird, because it's like, I didn't already know that I was overweight, and they didn't ask me what my plan was and if I felt healthy, it was just an assumption that I must be walking around completely unaware that I'm three, four stone overweight.
Like you’re just constantly out there buying size eight clothes and wondering why they don't fit. You're like, but I'm sure I'm a size eight. I'll just keep buying it!
And I did wonder if I had opposite body dysmorphia, because I don't really have mirrors in my house. And I thought I still look like JLo, I still got it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I mean, something I've experienced and experienced from just like, I think the bigger you are, the more, more you'll get interventions, if you want to call them that, you know, even just down to comments or diet advice from complete strangers. I mean, I've been, I went I once went into a plus sized clothing store. I find it funny now. But I was buying clothes in a plus sized clothing store. And the lady at the till tried to give me diet advice. And I'm like, didn’t ask
No, thanks. Yeah. And also, one of the things that doesn't happen to you when you're bigger in the office is no one ever says, Oh, you look like you've put on weight or you've lost weight. They keep well away from that topic. But if there's a slim girl, that'd be constantly saying, Oh, you look really great. I love that dress on you, have you lost weight, it's like, but they would never say it to me. I don't know if they think they'd be heading straight to HR. But yeah, it's, it's an interesting topic.
Well, it's interesting, because I feel like on the other hand, I've obviously, you've known me long enough, I've gained and lost weight and usually quite rapidly in periods. But when I'm losing weight everyone wants to compliment you on ‘Oh, you've lost weight’. And I mean, literally, there's a homeless lady who comes on bin day, she comes on on our street here. And every week she's saying, Oh, you've lost weight. And I know it comes from, it comes from a good intention, it's meant to be kind. But essentially, when I'm losing weight, all they're telling me is, oh, well, you weren't really that great when you were bigger, so thank god, you're losing it now. And it's almost like can I not just go around my life without people I don't even know commenting on my body.
Yeah, yeah. And talking about fat shame. You know, let's get to Adele, and I don't think we don't need to really introduce Adele, you know, we all know she's an amazing singer, and she likes a good laugh. She's British. You know, I've always thought she was beautiful. And, but I've never forget Karl Lagerfeld saying “she's a little too fat. But she has a beautiful face and a divine voice.” I mean, would you say that he was fat shaming her or just telling her the truth?
No, he's telling his truth, not the truth. I mean, and yes, it's fat shaming, whether he's aware of it or not. I mean, it's one of those classic things you hear about, oh, she's got such a pretty face or she'd be so beautiful if she just lost weight. You're like, backhanded compliment there. But also, I think Karl Lagerfeld, he used to be very overweight, and he lost a lot of weight and he works in the fashion industry, so I feel like he's projecting his own fat phobia that he clearly hasn't dealt with on to someone else. And yes, it's not malicious. It's not it's you know, there are different degrees, we've read some some much worse ones. But it's still an element of you're not good enough. And I have a right to comment on your body. And it's, I mean, that has to be exhausting being in the public eye and having that constantly thrown at you.
Yeah, and I think that's the world that Adele sort of lived in for quite a long time, isn't it. Is that she's got this beautiful face, beautiful voice, she's bigger woman, and you know, then she went and lost a lot of weight. 100 pounds they say. So that's seven stone, 45 kg we figured out. And you know, she looked radically different when she posted that photo on Instagram to the point I didn't almost recognise I was thinking, where’s Adele gone. It was really shocking. Do you remember?
Definitely yeah. No. It was on all the newspapers and it was, it was quite a shock transformation.
It was. And you know, there was a lot of praise and sort of obsession how she lost that weight, because it was so like incredible. I think we've gradually seen her on a few posts going down in weight. But there was also a massive backlash and a sense of betrayal, a social media comments saying “skinny Adele feels like a betrayal.”
Yeah, and that was kind of, there were quite a few people who felt the same way. I mean, there was a telegraph article by Rebecca Reid, that was titled “Why the photo of a new slimmer Adele makes women like me feel uncomfortable”. And in it, she said “when I've spoken previously about the sense of betrayal that I get, when someone who used to have a body like mine loses weight, people have been quick to accuse me of jealousy. And those people are quite right. There is an undeniable aspect of jealousy in my reaction to Adele’s weight loss. Just as there has been every time someone I know in real life goes from having a body like mine to a body like a love Island contestant”. And I think Virgie Tovar, who's a body positive influencer and author, she explains this phenomenon, and this this reaction that people have, with the quote “When you're in a larger body, and you're hearing for the first time that there's nothing wrong with you, that you aren't inherently unhealthy that your body is beautiful, you really, really want to believe it. This idea is so radical and so nascent, however, that the instinct is to look for evidence of others adopting this belief. And this is where larger bodied celebrities come in.”
Yeah, and I think for me, Adele was one of those few sort of, what would you call her a bigger bodied, British style,
Bigger bodied, but sort of average women size. You know, she wasn't morbidly obese, I would never have called her that, but she she was definitely more like an every woman than a Hollywood,
Yeah, double, you know, size zero, or whatever they call it.
Yeah. And I think for years, they tried to pin the weight thing on Kate Winslet who was not even fat in the least. In fact, she's been recently promoting the rerelease of Titanic. And she was talking about how abusive people were towards her when that film came out. And especially because, you know, when they, at the end of the film, she's getting on that sort of doorframe with Jack. And she's, you know, people accused her and said that, you know, she was too fat. She said, “they were really mean, if I could turn back the clock, I would have used my voice in a completely different way, I would have actually said to journalists, I would have responded and I would have said, Don't you dare treat me like this. I'm a young woman, my body's changing. I'm figuring it out, I'm deeply insecure, and I'm terrified. Don't make this any harder than it already is. That's bullying, you know, and actually borderline abusive. And I would say that”. And I do remember Kate Winslet being. I mean, this was something they talked about and every time she promoted a film, this was brought up about her weight.
Yeah. And she's not fat. She's not morbidly obese. She's, she's just got a certain body type that's not inherently skinny. And and I've always thought she was absolutely stunning.
Absolutely. And I mean, I even remember memes saying, oh, you know, Jack wouldn't have had to drown if she hadn't been so fat, because they'd have both been able to fit on that door. And you're like, Come on, guys. I mean, that's what you're focusing on.
Yeah. And like you said, I think she's got a sort of beautiful body, but an everyday kind of woman’s body. I mean, I think someone even said that she was like size eight in real life. So it's crazy that, you know, when you've got like, you think of those media representations of bigger women, and I'm thinking of growing up, particularly in the British scene, you know, I'm thinking of Dawn French, who I absolutely adore French and Saunders. And she's a comedy genius. And I'm still laughing. She did a brilliant Catherine Zeta Jones impression, look it up. Anyway, I found this quote from her about her experience of being bigger. And she said “as my career progressed, and I got a greater public profile, my being fat made it okay for others to be fat. It allowed people to breathe in a way”. For you, like, how important is it to see bigger bodies out there in the media, and in films and in TV?
I mean, so important, but I didn't realise that at the time because it wasn't really an option. You know, you're you're, you're having these idealised fantasies, which a lot of film is for us, aspirational. And there just weren't bigger women other than the fat side, funny sidekick role, or the, do you remember that, Pauline Quirke was in, was it
Was it the Sculptress where she was considered a horrible, horrifying murderer. But there was such a focus on the fact that she was overweight in it. So I mean, I remember when the film Dumplin came out not a few, a few years ago. It's about a teen girl who enters a beauty pageant and she's plus size and but she was also she was the protagonist and she was the romantic lead. And it's just, you know, you're so desperate for these, to see yourself there that you don't realise, you don't realise until they come along how much you've been waiting for that. But as a result of that, and the scarcity of it, I mean, it puts a lot to pressure on the bigger bodied celebrities to be role models. And in response to this whole kick back to Adele's weight loss, and she said “I was body positive then and I'm body positive now. It's not my job to validate how people feel about their bodies. I feel bad that it's made anyone feel horrible about themselves, but that's not my job. I'm just trying to sort my own life out. I can't add another worry.” And I feel her, I feel her there.
And I've noticed that since she's lost a lot of weight there's been a slight narrative shift in the media towards her sort of framing her as a sort of bit of a diva and a loss of what made her lovable. For example, this mail online comment “who does she think she is really, she used to be so down to earth and relatable, now I find her overrated and annoying.”
I mean, there were quite a few comments along those lines. And, and there seems to be this theme, particularly, I think, in British culture, that we really like an everywoman and we like an underdog, you know, and we want to have someone that we can root for that doesn't feel that, that feels like an underdog that we can root for. And so we build them up, because we want to have that representation. But as they become more successful, and they go to Hollywood, or whatever, they're no longer the every woman that we wanted them to be, and so as a result, we then tried to tear them down. I think they call it sort of tall poppy syndrome. That seems to be the cycle, that we keep trying to find everywomen role models, but as soon as they've become successful, they're not fulfilling that anymore, and we want to have a backlash.
Exactly. And they call it having a glow up, don't they? And you know, and that's very Los Angeles. And
That’s very American, I feel.
And you know, somehow that's just disappeared, that lovable side of her. And that brings us to Rebel Wilson.
Rebel Wilson. Yeah. And I think back in, I mean, back in 2015, she actually attributed some of her funny to being fat. And she said “and bigger girls do better in comedy. I don't know why, maybe because people find it easier to laugh. It's very hard to laugh at someone who's very attractive I think. And normally those people don't have a great personality anyway. I do have these dreams like what if I just went to a health farm and lost 50 kilos, what would happen? Would it affect my career? But then I think that's never gonna happen.” However, skip ahead five years to 2020 her year of health as she termed it, and she actually lost 77 pounds, which is the equivalent of five and a half stone or 35 kilos, and that, that made very big news at the time. And she went on to comment on that. And say “you know, in 2019, I had like four movies come out, two of which I produced, and one JoJo rabbit, which got nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Yet, I get more pressed the following year when I do nothing except lose weight.” I mean,
Yeah, she was everywhere about her weight loss, wasn't she? And she documented it over a course of a year like her year of health, like I said on Instagram. It's actually very inspirational. You see her hiking. She does give off such a great vibe. I really think that she's worked hard for it. But like Adele, she got a lot of criticism, and one of the quotes that we found about both Rebel and Adele was “Rebel Wilson and Adele both look weird after they lost weight. They have these weird big mouths and smiles and their heads look all large and standout. I'm not trying to bash them for their weight loss or anything, but something about them both just seems off”. And the response comment to this was “these poor women can't win. First is eff them for being fat, and now it's eff them for looking weird after losing weight.”
Yeah, I mean, I think that sums up Hollywood entirely, it’s not really, someone who's going to hate you for something.
But particularly in this in this topic it's such a big thing, yeah, you really can't. So it even goes as far as, it's not just about a backlash of losing weight itself, but then there's also the speculation of how you lost weight, did you lose it the right or the wrong way? And there's a definite moral judgement on how you lose weight, as if there's an ethical or an unethical or one that we can get behind. For example, Rebel Wilson has been accused of gastric sleeve surgery and there was a comment that said “Rebel and Adele had surgery wish they would stop lying to people.” And even more than that, like one of the latest things I've noticed has become a really big theme since the end of last year beginning of this year, but there was a Variety magazine article in 2022 calling ozempic, which is a medication that you inject for diabetes, the worst kept secret in Hollywood, and it suggested A listers were using it to slim down for events. Elon Musk has admitted to using it to keep in shape. And Kim Kardashian was rumoured to have used it to lose the 16 pounds she needed to fit into the Marilyn Monroe dress that we talked about earlier. Other people have also been speculated who've lost weight and you know, they've said Mindy Kaling’s used it. They've, I mean, they've they've said everyone who's lost weight has used it essentially.
What's interesting is you’ve said it's Hollywood's worst kept secret. Why do you think there is so much secrecy about how celebrities lose weight?
So, well, firstly, I think there's this idea that you want them to seem naturally perfect, sort of above us. And then on top of that, there's, there's the monetizing of their bodies and weight loss of the aspirational. So for example, a lot of them have sponsorship deals with companies saying, Oh, this is how I've got my body. Why don't you buy it, and you can get it too. I know that the Kardashians are accused of that a lot. They've been called out for promoting these diet teas. And I think it's particularly difficult. You're promoting these products and you're saying this is gonna make you look like me when they've had probably a lot of surgery. I mean, they've never admitted to it but, or if you're having a gastric bypass, but then you're saying I just did it with my trainer. Why didn't you buy my exercise video. Yeah, and you're like, that's not really what happened. I think it's the bait and switch element. Because there are definitely people out there who who do go, yeah, I've had a gastric bypass or yeah, I've had this. I personally have a lot more respect for them.
But it's very few and far between, isn't it? I'm thinking of, is it Kelly Osbourne admitted to having a gastric sleeve?
And getting back to Rebel Wilson, it brings me on to the fact that fat girls get typecast as the funny girl thinking of Melissa McCarthy, Jo Brand, Dawn French, Amy Schumer, Miranda Hart, Mindy Kaling. And, you know, I was thinking that humour is so much part of their kind of defence you know. When you're fat, humour is used as such a defence isn't it? I mean think of all the male comedians or so that are fat. But Jo brand has been making jokes about her weight ever since the mid 80s. Her first television appearance, she says, “I read that book fat is a feminist issue, got a bit desperate halfway through and ate it. I get why she did it back then you need to make the obvious fact do it yourself before the hecklers do and make them funnier.”
Yeah, I mean, it's quite funny. That's the thing, it's that self deprecating humour. And it's, it's the thing that the class clown represents, the idea that, you know, people who might be bullied can joke their way out of it. If you make the joke first, it's almost like, you know, there's nothing anyone can do to hurt you. And I think probably some of these people have actually developed their sense of humour as a defence mechanism in the first place, and then, you know, created a career out of it. And I think, you know, good on them. Yeah, but, but it's also not just women that this applies to, I mean, there's loads of overweight male comedians who've lost weight, such as Drew Carey, John Goodman, Jonah Hill, James Corden, Ricky Gervais. And you know, there was a human behaviour expert and celebrity life coach who said “losing weight can be the ultimate comedic curse if you've established yourself as a fat comedian. Once we create our images of famous people and actors, we don't like those images to change or to be challenged.” And another body image expert and author Dr. Robin Silverman said “people tend to find it easy to laugh at those who are seen as overweight. This may be because the audience feels that they are better than the performer and feel comfortable because they aren't threatened or worried about measuring up.”
And you know, it's interesting in Rebel Wilson's career because she, you know, like you said, she mentioned that she was worried that if she lost weigh it would impact her career. And, you know, I'm thinking of her iconic role as fat Amy and Pitch Perfect, which was brilliant in. But someone tweeted “Rebel Wilson practically built her comic career on demonising and mocking fat bodies, and now she's lost the weight, she's practically useless as an actress.” I mean, do you think that's true for Rebel Wilson? Because actually to be fair, I've not actually watched anything recent of her since she's lost weight. Just there was a sort of Netflix comedy show, where she played this girl where she had amnesia, and then she came back to high school. She's still got the same comic timing, and she's still funny. But there is something, is her brand, like a little bit lost? I'm not sure.
I mean, I think she did do quite a lot of self deprecating humour. And obviously, if the main thing you go to in the self deprecating humour is is your weight, like the Fat Amy character, I think, you know, I think one of my favourite things is in that that film, she's lying on the floor and claiming she's doing horizontal instead of vertical. And it is funny. It is, but, you know, obviously, she's gonna have to pivot now, because she can't do the same brand of comedy. And it's quite interesting because there's just like a quick aside, but I don't know if you've seen Hannah Gatsby's Nanette Netflix special, where she, the whole thing is about why self deprecating humour, so she used to make a lot of oh i’m clearly a lesbian humour, lesbian feminist humour, it can ultimately be quite damaging to you because you're basically trading your own vulnerabilities for comic currency and over a long period of time, you're eroding your own sense of self worth. And I thought it was just such an amazing Netflix special and it was completely revolutionary. But I think there's always opportunities to reinvent yourself and find the funny in something else, or in the process of weight loss, or in what you have to deal with now, so I don't think it has to write you off. It just depends on how you approach it.
Yeah, it's almost like, you know, if you've gone, you traded too much in it, it's hard to sort of almost get out of it, right. But what do all these comments about Lizzo, Adele and Rebel Wilson sort of mean for us? On one side, you had this very vocal body positivity movement. On the other side, this intense, almost hatred of fat? How do we literally metabolise these messages, are we meant to hide in our houses if fat, or be out dancing and sparkly outfits, and enjoying our fat selves unapologetically and accepting it, and it's just the other person's problem. I'm sort of a bit stuck, what to do with all this information?
Well, I mean, it's so difficult because each person's relationship to their body is so individual. And even if you work on your own self esteem and your own relationship with your body, we still live in a society, we're not living on an island by ourselves. We're still affected by it. And for me, the quote that sums up the relationship our society has with fat is by Suzy Orbach, where she says “our idea of a healthy body is so destabilised that insecure people have come to bolster their own bodies by deeming others, those with fat bodies, less worthy, less capable, and less employable.” And that's still as true today as when she wrote it in 1978, worryingly. There are a lot of statistics that do show “people who are overweight are hired less, promoted less and paid less”. One study suggests that “for every six pounds an average American woman gains, her hourly pay drops by 2%.” And the author of another study noted that “in terms of wages, the obesity penalty basically amounted to losing three years of experience in the workplace”. But this kind of stigma or this kind of discrimination, there is a gender bias. And women come off much worse than men in this respect. And Jennifer Shinnall, a law professor whose research focuses on discrimination, she said “employers don't mind if an obese man is the face of their company, but they have a very different attitude toward obese women.” This is the world we still live in unnfortunately.
I’ve just got a little aside, because you know, our prime minister for many years in Norway was Erna Solberg. And I just just sort of did a little bit of research, and she actually had a lot of people made fun of her at the beginning of her career, very long career in politics. And she really said “I had to work twice as hard to get to where I am, and show I was capable. Even though I had the same brain, the same articulation”. She, she had to overcome so much because of her body. But I think actually, the fact that she is a bigger body woman and she had such a prestigious job, I just think she's quite inspirational. So what are your final thoughts on fat shaming, in regards to Adele, Lizzo and Rebel Wilson?
So I think women in the public eye are definitely under a microscope. And the first thing that people look at is their body with weight often being the focal point of that. And as someone myself who's in a bigger body, I'm very intensely aware that there are many people who will project their own fears and judgements onto you. Sometimes they feel that simply by your existing in public, they have the right to comment on your body and what they believe that says about you as a person, even though they might never have met you before. And fat really does still trigger such an extreme response in many people. For celebrities, particularly women, this is even more intensified. They're trapped between being accused of spreading obesity as if it's some kind of infectious disease, for example, Lizzo, or they're accused of selling out for deciding to change their body, such as Adele and Rebel Wilson. They just really cannot win. And sadly, I don't see this being eradicated anytime soon. That said, each person's journey with their body is a personal one. There's no such thing as perfection. And perhaps the only thing we can do as individuals is to keep learning to love ourselves in whatever form we come in and hope that that self love will be catching. Well, that's my hope anyway.
And my hope, too. And I've got a great quote from JK Rowling “Fat is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she really wants to hurt her. I mean is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than being vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, or cruel? Not too me.” Thank you for listening.
And we'll see you next time.
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