Radical Suggestion: Let’s Not Body-Police Famous People Anymore

Turns out the rate of sandwich consumption among celebrities is none of our concern.

Aug 22, 2011 at 3:02pm | Leave a comment

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So Jonah Hill -- noted Funny Fat Guy actor -- has lost of a ton of weight. He has also shaved and cut off all his hair, basically removing the three characteristics that made him physically attractive to me. 

If I’m being honest, this has bummed me out a little, because I’d like to see poofy-haired funny fat guys in my media with more regularity, and here one of them is ... well, still funny, I suppose, but lacking in all the other physical attributes that I so enjoyed looking at. Of course, Jonah Hill isn’t required to look a certain way just because I like it. Jonah Hill gets to look however the hell he wants, and while I am not required to find him attractive, nor am I entitled to police his appearance. 

I always follow the reactions to these sorts of celebrity weight loss events, and the responses in Hill’s case have been conflicted, ranging from the standard “Good for him!” to “He was cuter before” to “He looked totally gross in his last movie and no woman could possibly have been attracted to him so it’s good that he’s skinnier now.” Because, yeah, we should all be valuing ourselves first and foremost based on our ability to attract anonymous members of the opposite sex.

The majority of comments with regard to Hill’s loss are congratulatory and positive, but many of them also seem to express an expectation that his career will inevitably suffer as a result. Considering the loss was allegedly for Hill’s role in a “21 Jump Street” remake (yeah, I know, WHAT? WHY? I am with you) that career destruction remains to be seen. It seems like we get used to someone fitting a certain mold -- in this case, the Funny Fat Guy -- and when that person tries to step out of that role, we’re annoyed. It’s like we have to think of him as a person now, instead of a stereotype! That is super irritating!

Let’s look at this issue from a different angle, shall we?

Earlier this month, Sinead O’Connor totally ROCKED the WORLD by daring to appear in a public perfomance looking not like the youthful Pope-ripping libertine we remember. In short, she got older and fatter, and grew her hair. This is what naturally happens to lots of people who aren’t celebrities, I am led to understand.

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I think O’Connor looks awesome either way, but I’ll be the first to admit my aesthetics are a little off the beaten path for most people. I will also cop to a weakness for a well-rounded belly. 

The public reaction to O’Connor’s change has been, predictably, less complimentary, with lots of comments about how she’s “let herself go,” wails of anguish over her lost hotness and references aplenty to pigs and disgust. There’s even some righteous outrage. How DARE she gain weight and get older? Why, it’s as if she’s demonstrating that such unthinkable horrors can happen to anyone!

Whenever I hear folks make presumptuous comments about changes in other people’s bodies, be they famous or no, I tend to get angry about it. There are an astounding number of reasons why a person might gain or lose weight, and frankly, none of them are any of my business, nor yours either. 

The fact is, celebrities are under no obligation to maintain a certain appearance simply because it’s the one we’re comfortable with, and yet we all seem to expect an answer when they dare to gain or lose weight, or get older. We don’t want our celebrities to be normal humans, subject to the same inevitable changes that happen to everyone. Our celebrity culture is about fueling our impossible aspirations -- our longing to be physically perfect, slender, ageless, timeless, forever.

Body-policing sucks for everyone. Suggesting Jonah Hill needs to eat a sandwich is no more acceptable than announcing that Sinead O’Connor should put down the fork. The problem with engaging in this kind of public commentary on the bodies of famous people is that it contributes to a world in which announcing one’s body-size observations is a normal and acceptable thing to do, even when these comments are not about celebrities. It creates a culture in which what we ALL do with our bodies is open for public comment.

Now, everyone loves a compliment. But if we're going to unquestioningly accept the “You look great, have you lost weight?” comments, we must also understand they’re paid for by shaming people who gain weight, or age, or otherwise stop looking the way we’re used to them looking. And you know what? It’s not worth it. 

So let’s leave celebrity bodies alone. Jonah Hill doesn’t stop being funny because he’s skinnier, and Sinead O’Connor is no less capable of singing because she’s fatter. If we can break the habit of judging the bodies of famous people, maybe we can also learn to go easier on ourselves -- and on each other as well.