Goodbye to seeing a plus size, dark skinned beauty on screen. Goodbye to the hope of seeing a big body survive in hollywood without eventually shrinking itself. A farewell to the dream of actual body diversity in movies and tv.
From the moment we saw her debut in Precious, Gabourey Sidibe captured America’s attention for better or worse. For me, it was a moment that I thought meant that roles were opening up for little chubby bunnies all over Hollywood. Note: I am the chubby bunny. I had never realized how far back my desire to be an actress went until watching some home movies. In the video, 10-11 year old Danyelle threw her body in front of the camera and demanded attention. In the video where my two younger sisters and I were playing with our new puppy, while rolling on the floor and pretending I was ‘hunting puppies,’ I said to my director - I mean- my mother, “Mami, am I a glorious actor?” Emphasis on “-tor.” It’s pretty cringe worthy footage. When the glow of childhood wonder fades and you’re raised with body shame in all aspects of your life, pursuing a career where so much attention is paid to your body mass, rather than actual skill, it seems foolish. How can a person want to perform, to have eyes on themself, when they’ve been told over and over, that their body is wrong. I am always so in awe of people who never hold back and pursue their dreams. Especially women! Eyes fall on them so harshly.
It is truly exhausting to be a fat woman in America. Fat women are expected to just be smothered by depression; made immobile by the shame of having ‘let it come to this.’ If a fat woman is perfectly content in her fat, she is met with aggression, contention, and accused of promoting an “unhealthy” lifestyle. When we are in fact sad about our bodies, we’re mocked for it. If we decide to actively lose weight, we’re mocked again for having ever been fat or, even worse, told that we need to just be happy with our bodies. Take a second, Recover from that whirlwind. Dizzying, isn’t it? It can be so easy to cave under this pressure and learn to hate your body. Hating is easy. Learning to love yourself is some expert level shit.
Gabourey Sidibe, or just Gabby as her fans (myself included) call her, was never that girl to us. From day one, her weight was dragged by everyone before they even saw if she had any talent. When she proved herself by getting nominated for a damn Oscar, people still were not satisfied. All the while, Gabby was strong. She met all of her body shamers with wit. Watching her handle a hater was like watching a boxing match! They’d swing, she’d dip, catch ‘em in the rib, hit ‘em with the knockout, and dance out of the ring while laughing her infectious giggle. She showed she couldn’t be stopped. To think that she is now going to take up less space on her next movie or tv set, just breaks my heart.
Back in 2010, just after the Golden Globes had aired, radio personality, Robin Quivers, appeared on the Wendy Williams Show to discuss comments she had made on the Howard Stern Show where she and the host joked about what they believed would be Gabby’s short lived success. Hm, How do those words taste now? Quivers said on Wendy’s show,
“everyone was acting as if [Gabby Sidibe] was now a member of the Hollywood community and we’ll be showering her with parts and everything’s wonderful. [At the Golden Globes] she was sitting to the side of the auditorium in a special seat because she couldn’t even sit in one of the chairs. The young lady has a major problem with weight. An actor’s body is a part of their instrument. You have to be able to fit yourself into a role. [Gabby sidibe] happened to be perfect for Precious, but how many roles are there like that in Hollywood. That’s the first thing. The second thing is everyone can see she has a major problem and nobody wants to address it. Nobody will say, ‘That was great, it worked out for Precious, but now you really need to take control of your health and get something done.”
Meanwhile Gabby was to host SNL the weekend this Wendy Williams episode aired and Gabby had already been cast for another show. I include this quote because line by line and word by word, Robin Quivers said everything that she should’ve kept to herself and everything I knew I would hear. On Quiver’s idea that even after being nominated for an Oscar, Gabby was not a member of the Hollywood community. How else could Gabby possibly gain your respect? What is more defining in an actor’s career than an Oscar nod? On her statement that there aren’t many roles out there like Precious to call for actresses that look like Gabby Sidibe, actually, I agree completely. But how is that to fall on Gabby’s shoulders. What it actually speaks to is a desire to minimize fat visibility. And the cherry on top of this cake that I’m going to devour were Quivers’ thoughts on how everyone can see that Gabby has a “major problem with weight” but no one will tell Gabby to get a handle on her weight. Controversial as this is, you cannot see health based on weight. You can’t assume that every fat body is unhealthy because logic would say that all thin bodies are healthy. And! Why do you feel any one has a responsibility to tell Gabby to “get control of [her] health and get something done.” No one has any right to dictate how a person’s body should look. I agree that an actor’s body is part of their instrument. So many actors drag their bodies through hell by losing and gaining weight and muscle for a role. The difference in Quivers’ statement is that she was telling Gabby that her body is wrong to begin with. This was just the perfect example of something fat women face everyday. The concerned citizen just trying to help out by telling us to eat salad and go for a walk.
In her #ThisBody campaign video in collaboration with Lane Bryant, Gabourey Sidibe wears a shirt that says, “This body is made for Magic.” She talks about how her body has never kept her from achieving. After her gaining all of her successes, she says she didn’t know she could do them and, “now that I’ve done it, I know how little insecurities matter...Thank god my insecurities didn’t keep me from being an actor.” She is MAGIC. Whatever journey she takes her body through, for whatever reason, she is free. Her body has never belonged to our eyes. I wonder if Lane Bryant had launched this campaign in 2010, would they have cast Gabourey Sidibe? Did anyone praise Gabby for her body before?
If you’re reading this and thinking I just want Gabby to stay the size she was when she played Precious, you’re missing my point. Regardless of her size and body journey, I will pay to see her movies for forever. What breaks my heart is that all bodies deserve visibility. I could only have hoped that when I was a kid, a genuinely plus sized woman had gotten the attention Gabourey Sidibe received. Her body is one of so few bodies that look like hers in the industry and that has also been so successful. She is not the only shrinking actress. Her Precious Co-Star, Mo’Nique; as well as Jennifer Hudson, Melissa McCarthy, Kirstie Alley just to name a few. Celebrity weight loss is often accompanied with hyped up attention that congratulates each Celebrity for shedding their bodies. For us spectators, watching celebs receive such high praise for looking less ‘gross,’ reinstates the notion that if you don’t fit the American beauty standard, you are wrong. The irony of writing an article that pays so much attention to the actors’ bodies rather than their talent is not lost on me. But visibility matters when it comes to body types, they especially need to be seen in non-stereotypical roles. It gives people validity. Should we be seeking validation from a television show, hell no, but it doesn’t change the fact that media sources control what we see. When we don't see ourselves, our bodies, our races, it feels like we don't exist to society. So I’ll mourn the loss of a larger body onscreen but I accept another woman for who she is and what she wants. Pop Up Plus will certainly support Gabby Sidibe on all her career goals. It can be so easy to cave under pressure and learn to hate your body. Hating is easy. Learning to love yourself is some expert level shit. She is a woman we can all learn from. Let us all gain the confidence and success that Gabourey Sidibe earned for herself. Most of all, let us hope to ever have the strength to put in the work Gabby has to develop her I know I’m fly personality. Thank you, Gabby!
By; Danyelle Valentin