Cross Post: Extreme Weight Loss for Roles is Not "Required" and Not Praiseworthy

Features
by Robin Hitchcock
November 27, 2012 10:56 AM
7 Comments
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Kale and dust. Hummus and radishes. Two squares of dried oatmeal paste a day.

If you recognize any of these phrases, then you've probably been hit by the Anne Hathaway starvation-diet-for-her-craft marketing blitz.

In the unlikely event that you haven't heard about this already, I'll catch you up: Anne Hathaway, slim to begin with and already leaned down to catsuit size for The Dark Knight Rises, lost 25 pounds to more realistically inhabit the role of starving-and-dying-of-tuberculosis Fantine in the upcoming movie musical Les Misérables. Actors forcing dramatic body weight changes for roles is nothing new and nothing unique (see the similar-yet-tellingly-different coverage of Matthew McConaughey's weight loss to play an AIDS sufferer in The Dallas Buyers Club), but Hathaway's weight loss has become The Story of the production of Les Mis: a subject of endless discussion on celebrity gossip sites, the talk show circuit, and the cover story in the December issue of Vogue magazine.

Why is a skinny person getting skinnier garnering so much media fascination? Are hummus and radishes so much more fascinating than Les Mis director Tom Hooper's decision to have the actors sing live for the cameras? And even if we insist on reducing an actress to her physical appearance, couldn't we just talk some more about Anne Hathaway chopping off all her hair?

When discussing her weight loss with Entertainment Tonight's Mark Steins, Hathaway says, "It's what is required. It doesn't matter if it's hard."

"Required"? Really?

This makes two gigantic assumptions: 1) That physical frailty is necessary to properly play the character Fantine.

Patti LuPone as Fantine, 1985 London production
Randy Graff as Fantine, 1987 Broadway production
Sierra Boggess as Fantine, current West End production

An assumption I think it is fair to reject: these women are slender, but not emaciated, and they are able to play the character convincingly.

But let's give Hathaway the benefit of the doubt and say the intimacy of a filmed adaptation requires more stringent realism when it comes to Fantine's body size. This still assumes that the actor actually losing weight is the only way to portray her extreme physical condition.

Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Skinny Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger

Yeah, nope.

So let's be clear: Anne Hathaway's extreme weight loss for Les Mis was in no way required.  But while it is artistically a wash; as a career choice, it was clearly a good move.  The film benefits from all this attention, and Hathaway enjoys the "she so devoted to her craft" kudos that often translate into statuettes.

But it is bad for women, and bad for our culture. More diet talk, more body talk, perpetuation of the myth that weight loss is a noble pursuit and merely a matter of dedication. Voluntary adoption of disordered eating is not praiseworthy. These types of body transformations are not artistically necessary, and certainly not "required." So let's hope actors stop endangering their health for roles. We can suspend our disbelief over a few dozen pounds.

_____________________________

Robin Hitchcock (no relation to the Master of Suspense) is a Bitch Flicks weekly contributor. In May 2012, she reluctantly left her home of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to move to Cape Town, South Africa with her husband. Robin is a Contributing Editor for LeWeekley.co.za, a weekly guide of things to do in Cape Town. You can also find her writing at the mostly-dormant feminist pop-culture blog The Double R Diner and her personal blog HitchDied.com.

Originally published on Bitchflicks.  Republished with permission.

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7 Comments

  • May | December 13, 2012 2:12 AMReply

    Choosing two male examples which support your point doesn't really help, http://i2.listal.com/image/1196860/500full.jpg Here's what Christian Bale looked like when doing the machinist. Saying it's "Artistically a wash" is completely ignorant to the different acting methods that actors use in their craft. If she felt the need to diet in order to portray HER vision of the character, that's her prerogative.

  • Allison | November 29, 2012 2:27 PMReply

    "So let's hope actors stop endangering their health for roles. We can suspend our disbelief over a few dozen pounds."

    I totally agree. I am disturbed by all these actors putting their health in danger just so they can win an Oscar. There's also been some news coverage about McConaughey's costar, Jared Leto, dropping a ton of weight in a very short time for his role as a transvestite. I am sure Hathaway, McConaughey, and Leto have done some unnecessary damage to their health. Is an award really worth it?

  • Less Lee Moore | November 28, 2012 12:51 PMReply

    This post comes across as very "Anne Hathaway is a bad feminist" and sounds like some sort of weird reverse-body-shaming. Additionally, it's not accurate to use Benjamin Button and Captain America as comparisons since those characters were not aged and/or scrawny for the entirety of a movie. Shouldn't we be criticizing those who are objectifying women and not Anne Hathaway for not being like those other women on Broadway?

  • Rachael | November 27, 2012 5:33 PMReply

    You are confusing two issues: the objectification of women in our culture and a performer's need to fully embody the part she is playing.

  • Skippy | November 27, 2012 3:38 PMReply

    To be fair, I've heard just as much about Hugh Jackman losing weight for his role, too.

  • Stephanie McCanles | November 27, 2012 3:30 PMReply

    I wish we weren't having this conversation about Anne Hathaway's body at all. Mostly because I think it's none of our business - she's an actor, and actors do things to get into roles, and again, it's both literally and metaphorically her business. The comparison to onstage Fantine's are irrelevant - theater and film are entirely different things, and since Les Miz was usually performed in very large houses, it is most likely that we recognized the character of Fantine by the dress she was wearing, because she was so far away from everyone but the first few rows.
    We have some good role models right now for performers and body type - more than we have had in the past, and less than we would like. But if Anne is playing someone dying of tuberculosis, and the camera is going to be up her nose, well, then she's probably going to lose some weight. I didn't hear any similar freaking out about Adrian Brody and his wildly unsupervised diet for THE PIANIST that left him with a years worth of side-effects. Probably because Adrian Brody is a guy, and we don't think of his body as being open season. It's like we're counting Anne Hathaway's ribs and trying to discern what they say about being a woman in the world today. I wish we could just move on and not constantly at the pictures of famous women in order to see ourselves.

  • Marshall | November 27, 2012 11:16 AMReply

    I think something important to keep in mind when considering this issue is the effect it had on Hathaway as she prepared and performed the role of Fantine. It could have had some profound psychological effects on her as she attempted to enter the heart and mind of the character as she coped with vast hunger. Sure, maybe we can cynically say it was a good career move because of all the press it gets, it was a good career move if it helps her draw out a performance so great that all the pundits are calling the Best Supporting Actress race at the Oscars for her already.

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