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.
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.