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Howard Stern on Gabourey Sidibe: hard facts

Howard Stern, in case you needed reminding, is the highest paid American radio personality & the ultimate media shock jock. On Monday, on his Sirius XM program with co-host Robin Quivers, he had some harsh things to say about Academy Award nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe.

“There’s the most enormous, fat black chick I’ve ever seen. She is enormous. Everyone’s pretending she’s a part of show business and she’s never going to be in another movie,” he said. “She should have gotten the Best Actress award, because she’s never going to have another shot. What movie is she gonna be in?”

The immediate instinct is to be critical of Stern, because his comments clearly convey fat-hatred, sexism, and racism. Gabourey is indeed fat and female, but calling her “enormous” and a “chick” was just a way of shaming her.

Yet Howard Stern was true to form. Her was offensive. He was also accurate.

We live in a world where fat people are not exactly appreciated. Fame was not enough to keep Kevin Smith from being thrown off of a plane. Though this was an incident of clear discrimination, many openly applauded Southwest’s decision to do that to Smith, because we believe we can always shame a fat person into conforming to the prevailing aesthetic.

When Jessica Simpson was attacked by the media for looking “fat” in her infamous mom-jeans, we forgot that she was actually a size four. The media much preferred her in Daisy Duke shorts, even if that weight was not healthy or sustainable. The shame caused Simpson to create a new reality television show called “The Price of Beauty,” to explore what women across the globe are forced to endure to be considered beautiful.

It remains to be seen whether or not Stern’s assertions about Sidibe’s movie career are indeed correct. The actress has already signed on to play a student in the upcoming Showtime comedy series, “The Big C.” What is certain is that her weight will play a significant factor when it comes to the roles she’s offered, and her earning potential.

Meanwhile, Robin Quivers, Stern’s long-time sidekick, did not remain silent after Howard’s offensive comments.  She chimed in, stating: “And Oprah’s lying and saying you’re going to have a brilliant career.”

Robin Quivers at one time was a fat woman and her commentary is reflective of the hatred that she internalized. Quivers lost 70 pounds on the Master Cleanse diet, which includes long periods of fasting. Though she is no longer on the diet, Quivers continues to fast during the day, subsisting on a mix of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. This is supposedly more healthy. Quivers has now joined the multitudes of women who daily starve themselves, and there are very clear reasons for that.

Hollywood is not filled with fat actresses. Even average size women have a difficult time succeeding. Mo’Nique was Sidibe’s co-star in “Precious,” and she was inspired to lose weight to become healthy, as opposed to become healthy and, as a by-product, lose weight. Queen Latifah also mirrored this sentiment when she lost ten percent of her body weight following a Jenny Craig diet. This is an important point, because regardless of the overall health of a fat person, we always assume they’re waiting for the grim reaper to call on them at any minute.

When Camryn Manheim earned an Emmy for role on “The Practice” in 1998, she declared, “This one’s for the fat girls.” Manheim knew firsthand, how hard it is to be a fat woman in Hollywood. Even though she can be seen weekly on “Ghost Whisperer,” her character is nearly invisible next to the slimmer lead, Jennifer Love Hewitt.

“It’s okay to be a fat man. It’s prestige and power and all of that. But fat women are seen as just lazy and stupid and having no self-control,” says Manheim and, Kevin Smith’s troubles notwithstanding, there is certainly truth to that statement. Not since Roseanne Barr have we seen a fat woman in a starring role on television.

Fat women are largely invisible, unless they are playing an outrageous and over-the -top character, to be laughed at, rather than laughed with. Kathy Kiney fulfilled that role as MiMi on “The Drew Carey Show.” It did not seem untoward to have a fat leading man, but would the audience reaction have been the same had that role been written for a woman?

Today, someone like Kirstie Alley is more famous for her weight loss struggles than her work as an actress. While on a strict 1,400 calorie diet with Jenny Craig, Alley lost seventy-five pounds, only to gain it all back plus some. Paparazzi stalk Alley to catch her eating, because stigmatizing fat people is a national pastime.  Predictably, Alley is set to star in her own reality show, “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life,” chronicling her weight loss struggles.

Sidibe in "Precious"

Though the language that Stern and Quivers used was definitely problematic, they were not wrong to question Sidibe’s ability to succeed in Hollywood. In 2001, Halle Berry played the role of Leticia Musgrove, the wife of an executed murderer in the movie “Monster’s Ball,” which led to an Academy Award win. Today, it seems like this was the high point for Berry. If a light skinned, slim, beautiful Black woman like Halle Berry struggles to get the really plum roles, what kind of chance does a woman like Sidibe have?

It may be comforting to cheer Sidibe from the sidelines, but the cold, hard reality is such that fat women do not have the same opportunities as their thinner counterparts. Stern was most likely right when he pointed out that it would have been better had Sidibe gotten that Academy Award.

10 thoughts on “Howard Stern on Gabourey Sidibe: hard facts

  1. Hatte McDaniel – her life story has yet to be told, and I think she would be perfect for the part. Especially playing in a movie that chronicles the life of a very very early black (fat) actress at a time period when the struggle could get no harder than that period. This movie would open up so many harsh and uglies of that time period, in and outside of hollywood – where Clarke Gable became this woman’s friend. There are certainly many movies for her to play – question is, will she accept where they will place her as an actress? Back to Hatte – yes – the movie of her life, has been long overdue!

  2. While not set in stone I think Stern’s words do properly reflect the uphill battle Sibide will face in her acting career. Omar Benson Miller and Anthony Anderson as just now getting roles that aren’t centered around their weight and the presumptions that go along with it.

  3. Sorry, but Howard brings out the mean in me. Just look at those two pictures at the top of the post — how can HE of all people criticize others? He is so ugly, in so many ways, and though I know my better self should not be focussing on his looks, I can’t help but point out, “Howard, you ugly! Shut the F up!” Why oh why do people like this horrible, hateful a-hole?

  4. In many cultures nice figured women are considered most beautiful. In India beautiful women’s legs are compared to elephant legs.

    I remember when I have lost weight many of my men friends said that I looked sexier before. Men love big forms, and if someone refers to a woman as a ‘fat chick’,for one he does not know anything about beauty. For two, he is not a very bright person if all he can see in an actress who won an oscar is her forms.

  5. Very true – offensive, but while we could spend time shouting down his blatant;y disgusting sexism, racism and fat hatred – what he says is true – albeit worded in the most atrocious fashion

    What they said was unacceptable – but how much more so that we ahve this policing shame culture that means that, grossly worded, their comments are correct – that the chances of Sidibe having a high flying Hollywood career are remote – due entirely to her weight that will overwhelm any amount of talent

  6. While I have never been a fan of Howard Stern…this makes me realize that I never will like him. He is a schlock jock…not shock. The only thing shocking is how much money they pay him and how many people listen to him. Still he is an ahole! As to the fact in your article about Halle Berry. The problem is that black actresses have trouble getting roles…fat or thin. This leads me to believe more and more that we have to get our own production company and create more roles for black folks!!!!

  7. There was nothing at all racist with what he said he didnt deemeen her because of her colour he did so because of her weight.
    If she were white and that size and a black man was to criticise her,would he be racist?

  8. All weight loss programs fail 97% of the time. It is not necessarily true that fat people are unhealthy. Plus, the weight loss process itself, whether a person starts out very fat or relatively small like Karen Carpenter. puts a person at grave risk for death.

    If fat is all that bad, and I disagree that it is, there is no known safe way to help a person lose weight. Yoyo dieting has been proven to be more dangerous than staying fat.

    Look at how much Oprah has yoyo’d. She could even afford a cook to constantly make special lower-caloried versions of her favorite foods, but eventually regained the weight.
    The entertainment industry does not fairly reflect the world around us. It is encouraging to see fatter actresses in productions.

    If we are going to have realistic film and television about American black people, the productions will include fat women. Lots of American black people think “full hips” are attractive on women. Furthermore, in some African societies, fat is regarded as a positive, feminine characteristic and a sign of fertility.

    American hispanic culture, as well as American black culture, also tends to regard fatness as more normal and does not necessarily idealize thinness.

    I have lost weight twice in my whole life, and each time became seriously ill. I always regained the weight and, with each gain, became less prone to infections.

    The medical profession knows all weight loss programs fail 97% of the time, though some of them won’t admit it. I have fired doctors who refuse to see the truth.

    Howard Stern is no expert on weight.

    The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance has sought through litigation and pressure to get tax-funded agencies to quit putting out propaganda that denies that weight loss programs fail 97% of the time and also put pressure on institutions like prisons and mental institutions to provide adequate food and not force diets.

    Time will tell if fat people will get our rights. It is a very positive sign to sign fat women get Hollywood roles.

  9. I’ll keep rambling. If we truly had realistic, representative TV and film, there would be more rules for attractive, very fat black women than dog ugly. harsh-looking radio personalities.

    The King of All Media Stern is one-of-a-kind. I think the powers-that-be would have trouble finding an actor ugly enough to play him.

    In spite of what Hollywood and TV shows us about cookie cutter small women getting all the love, people in all sizes find love, have sex, and reproduce every day.

  10. FYI, Patti C’s “weight loss programs fail 97% of the time” is not true.

    It’s semantics.

    Proper weight loss = exercise, diet and nutrition. By “diet” I mean fundamental changes to eating habits, not starving yourself with shakes or cardboard Nutrisystem meals.

    Success is very possible IF you exercise and eat the right kind of food.

    But that 97% figure includes such absurd things as “Exercise In A Bottle,” the ab cruncher, and all the other ridiculous products that reel in stupid people who think they can become healthy without putting in any effort.

    Quoting that 97% figure without any context is dangerous because it gives people the impression that they can’t lose weight.

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