Back when the Kickstarter madness happened with the Veronica Mars movie project, I mused to the boyfriend, “Kristen Bell just had a baby six weeks ago. What’s she going to look like when they film that movie?”
Having now seen the finished product, I can say that she looked good. And she looked like she’d just had a baby. This, of course, means she looked odd, because women who look like they’ve just had babies aren’t regulars in our movie world.
Here’s my take on where we are with female body types and media: incredibly thin. Look at Rose Byrne, look at Anna Kendrick, look at Emma Stone, look at Mila Kunis. They are tiny, just one teetering step above near-emaciated, in my opinion. Contrast that to a mid-80s Cyball Shepard or Kathleen Turner or Alley Sheedy, who lived on the thin side normal weight where they still have breasts and hips. Those actresses looked great, but are larger than our current female standard. It’s to the point that I’m wondering how many accidental pregnancies have been avoided in Hollywood because I’m not sure the female stars weigh enough to be ovulating.
Obviously there are all types of bodies. Some are naturally thin and lean, like Kira Knightly.* A lot of women, though, come with the type of body that has curves. What I would like is for it to be okay to be an actress and have those curves instead of denying the hand that nature dealt. I’m guessing that, during filming, Kristen Bell was in the normal weight range, maybe even mid-normal, but because the standard is set to incredibly thin, she looked huge.
This drives me crazy because I long for a diversity of body types in media as much as I do other types of diversity. Hollywood has two set points for women: incredibly thin and very large. It’s rare to see an actress I would consider normal weight. Amy Adams was my go-to example for a long time, but she lost weight for American Hustle and it remains to be seen if it will come back to her. The movie Pitch Perfect gives us examples of both of our standard women bodies: the hefty Rebel Wilson, playing her fat for laughs** and all the other characters being of the uber-thin type. It was noticeable enough for my friend to comment about the film, “I enjoyed it too. Although I had a hard time getting beyond the fact that almost everyone (except for the wonderfully uncategorizable Australian character) was so very skinny - made me wince to look at most of them. I don't even mean that ideologically, I just mean viscerally.” I agreed with her (Ah, that's what they do now, those actresses. Starve, poor things.) and was disturbed that it had gotten to the point that I hadn’t even noticed.
(Veronica Mars movie spoiler in this paragraph)
I wanted to not care that the Veronica Mars on screen for the movie looked different than the Veronica Mars in the TV series, I really did. After all, in the series she was playing a teenager, and in the movie a woman of 28. Women of 28 tend to weigh more than teenage girls. But throughout the movie, I was distracted by her normal-sized shape, then annoyed at my distraction. This distraction/annoyance ran in a constant loop for the length of the film. The whole thing even launched into comedy for me at the pivotal scene when Logan and Veronica finally come together. The actor who plays Logan is smaller than he was in the series and with Kristen Bell being larger, everything felt off in an amusing way. After the movie was over, Matt and I discussed the body differences and he commented about that scene, “it was kind of like real life.” I had to laugh, because it is what happens to (regular non-acting) couples as they age. If the men don’t gain weight they tend to get scrawny, while the women pad up. For a moment on screen we had reflected before us our reality, not our ideal. The fact that the reality distracted me from the story is disturbing.
I should probably throw in a paragraph so obvious it’s worth commenting on just because it’s not worth commenting on. Male actors don’t have this same pressure. Though men do have pressures to meet an idealized masculine state (Chris Hemsworth, Channing Tatum and, even at times, Matt Damon are much larger than most men can ever hope to be) diversity in size of males is much more accepted. Men who are fat (or of normal weight) tend to be comedians and in comedies, but not always. Vince Vaughn is notorious for teetering of the edge of the body type more likely to be cast as a wise-cracking character actor, but he still gets leading man roles. In fact, the horrendous movie The Dilemma (which I don’t recommend, except for the small Channing Tatum role) nicely summarizes the split in gender body type. We have Vince Vaughn (incredibly airbrushed for the poster--it looks like they took off 30 pounds) and Kevin James holding down the guys-of-normal/overweight roles. Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder round out (or not as they have few curves) the too-thin girlfriend roles. ***
So, Hollywood, put hiring women of different body types on your to-do list. I want to see curves, I want to see hips, I want to see that good-looking is all different kinds of things. I’m happy to report that upon a second viewing of the Veronica Mars movie, Kristen Bell just looked good, not heavy. So it didn’t take me long to adjust. If you start peppering your films with good actresses of every type, we probably will adjust, and will be better for it.
*Although looking at a few photos, I think she could put on a few pounds.
**And the fact that fat actresses are few and far between and only used for comedy and making fun of their body shapes is fodder for a completely different essay.
***More fodder for another essay: the women are much better actors than the men in this film. Yet no starring roles for them.