By REBECCA SPARROW
I have a ‘thing’ for Julia Morris. ‘Thing’ being what a psychologist may call, oh I don’t know, say a slightly unhinged girl crush. I think J-Mo is an old-school triple threat of Lucille Ball proportions. The reigning Queen of the acting/singing/stand-up triffecta. (Her charm-the-pants-off-you rendition of Fat Bottomed Girls which saw her win the It Takes Two grand final in 2008 is worth Googling when your boss is on lunch).
All of which made Julia’s inability to crack the US sitcom market a little baffling to me. When the 44-year-old Celebrity Apprentice winner moved herself and her family to LA last year she hit dead ends . She couldn’t even land a walk-on part.
So what gives?
Talent wasn’t the issue. Obviously. It seems that at size 12 (which she was at the time), Morris reportedly wasn’t ‘fat’ enough.
“You either need to put on weight or lose it, but unfortunately in Hollywood you’re invisible,” her US agent told her.
Welcome to Hollywood 2012.
In that magical land where tv sitcoms, dramas and rom-coms are set, the under 40-years-old size 12-14 woman doesn’t exist. Well, unless you’re a woman of colour. Interestingly, curves are okay if you’re, say, Jennifer Lopez, Sofia Vergara or Queen Latifah. But do you remember any size 12 white chicks on Friends? Grey’s Anatomy? Modern Family? How I Met Your Mother? Shall I keep going with the rhetorical questions?
But I digress.
We all know about Hollywood’s historic stipulation that actresses be size zero-size two should they want to be cast in lead roles (and by lead role I mean wife/girlfriend/sexy assassin with a heart of gold). No surprises there.
But what of this sudden penchant for casting size 18 and over actresses in lead roles?
Think Rebel Wilson in The Bachelorette. Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. Gabrielle Sidibe in Precious.
Doesn’t that mean Hollywood has made peace with plus-sized actresses?
Well, that’s what I thought. Until I read this article in The Wall Street Journal. Journalist Roxanne Gay examines the way a plus-sized actress’s weight must be part of the storyline in order for her to be cast. The actress is overweight first, and a woman second. Gay writes:
We are part of a culture where full-figured singer and actress Jennifer Hudson received more acclaim in some quarters for slimming down and becoming a Weight Watchers spokesperson than for winning an Oscar for her performance in “Dreamgirls.” In one of her Weight Watchers commercials, Hudson goes so far as to say losing weight has been her biggest accomplishment.
Anytime a woman is able to achieve popular success despite this toxic culture, it is worth taking note. That success, though, comes at a rather high cost. In “Pitch Perfect,” Rebel Wilson’s character Amy goes by “Fat Amy.” She does this, she says, so “twig bitches” don’t call her fat behind her back. Wilson has a significant role in the movie and wields her deadpan comedic style with great aplomb but her size is still a plot point. Her size cannot go unacknowledged the way body size is unacknowledged for her slimmer costars.
Wilson also recently starred in “Bachelorette,” where during the first half of the movie, her character, Becky’s size was a major plot point and a source of much of the movie’s humor. In the movie, Becky is getting married to an attractive, successful man and her three best friends Regan, Gena, and Katie simply can’t believe Becky, as the overweight friend, is the one to get married first.
Overweight actresses are routinely constrained to roles and plots that make their body a focal point and, more often than not, a source of ridicule or humiliation. They are always considered overweight long before they are considered women. The constancy of this erasure is telling.
It’s easy to assume that things are getting better for overweight women in entertainment because there is, indeed, more visibility. The problem is that we can still count the number of singers, actresses, and models who are larger than a size four.
This was an extract of Gay’s brilliant article. You can read the entire post here.
It seems that for any woman who is larger than a size 6-8 to make it in Hollywood, somehow her ‘size’ needs to form part of her character, part of her storyline. Take a look at this gallery of actresses and think about the roles they’ve been cast in through the years:
Christina Hendricks has been in the media a lot recently for her 'fuller figure' - and her dislike of that description.
I’m not even sure how to wrap up this post other than to say it feels like a pipe dream to want to have women of all shapes and sizes represented in TV and film. Larger actresses should be cast in roles other than the ugly duckling, the high school loser or the butch lesbian. Or are we, the audience, unlikely to watch a film where the lead role looks like, well, us?
And as for Julia Morris? Hollywood, you’re a fool. Your loss is our gain.