Leonardo DiCaprio has been frolicking in the surf with his 22-year-old model girlfriend in tropical Bora Bora.
He’s carefree. He’s famous. And as you may notice, he’s more rotund than usual.
The internet has responded to these topless photos with a series of snarky fat-themed puns. From gossip site TMZ: “Leonardo DiCaprio or Leolardo DiFlabrio?” and “What isn’t Gilbert Grape eating?” Page Six ran with a story called “The Great Fatsby” in which they described Leo as “The whale of Wolf Street.”
Cruel – obviously. Funny – maybe. But when we talk about Leo’s body like this, are we calling him fat or are we fat-shaming him? Yes, there is a difference – and it’s all about gender.
Kat Stoefell argues in The Cut that it’s not possible to fat-shame a man like Leo:
The more tabloids comment on men and women’s weight in equal measure, the more they underscore the shame gap between them. On DiCaprio, extra pounds are incidental to his identity, no more or less damning than the hideous graphic T-shirts and newsboy caps he wears. For women like, say, Jessica Simpson, being photographed at a higher weight is so humiliating and intimate, it necessitates an emotional “weight loss journey” to be sensitively discussed on a talk show couch later.
The ‘shame gap’ exists for many reasons: we treat famous women’s bodies as our property, to be judged and evaluated when we want. We hold individual women accountable for the self-esteem of our entire gender. And we talk about a woman’s weight gain as a moral failure rather than just a shift in kilograms.
That’s why, when Jennifer Aniston has a big breakfast, tabloid magazines call her pregnant. When Kirstie Alley puts on weight, she’s shunned from the industry until she signs up with Jenny Craig again like a good, obedient female celebrity seeking redemption. When celebrity mums like Kate Hudson or Hilary Duff take more than a week to return their bodies to pre-pregnancy svelteness, they stay on the front cover of magazines until they lose the ‘baby weight’.
For women, attractiveness is a virtue. For famous women, it’s also their livelihood. So when they dare gain or lose too much weight, the secret questions we’re asking when we talk about their bodies are: How could she do this to her career? What kind of role model is she now? Why has she given up on the quest for perfection? When will she get back on track?
Women are expected to take up the least amount of space as possible, fragile feminine creatures that we are. Whereas men are expected to take up space in the world; to command attention with their bulky presence. That’s what Leo’s doing here; flaunting his masculinity. He knows his fame, power and wealth will not stop supermodels from going to bed with him, Hollywood directors from calling him, or fans from fawning over him.
Leo knows the size of his belly won’t affect his career. He knows it won’t affect how much money he’s paid, or whether he gets his next movie role. It won’t diminish his power and it doesn’t detract from his manliness.
Just like a couple extra kilos didn’t make Gerard Butler, Robert De Niro, or Channing Tatum unemployable. We can call them fat but we cannot fat-shame them – because getting fat is not shameful for a man. It’s a purely physical change, not a moral one.
As players in our tabloid universe, men of that level of celebrity are untouchable. Gaining weight is a temporary setback, nothing a few gym visits won’t fix. But for women, it’s a lapse in judgement, a personal mistake and a moral failure. It’s shameful, which allows women to be ‘fat-shamed’.
Don’t worry about Leo. He might be pudgy now, but the man is virtually invincible. He’s too rich, powerful, famous and male to let a little fat – or a few fat puns – dent his success.