Wellness and the Big Lie of Hollywood Thinness

Hello, everyone! Have you ever noticed that every woman in Hollywood is thin? It may sound like a stupidly obvious question, but I’ll rephrase it: have you ever noticed that every woman in Hollywood is thin in the exact same way? Not thin like your gym-rat neighbor, not thin like your cousin who was born with “good genes,” but “Hollywood thin,” the type of thinness that is so precise as to be almost manufactured. The media might arbitrarily separate these women into different body categories with descriptors like “curvy” or “willowy,” but the truth is that 99% of these celebrities have the exact same type body type: thin. Tall celebrities, short celebrities, white celebrities, Black celebrities, Hispanic and Asian celebrities, all of them will become “Hollywood thin,” or else kiss their careers goodbye. And all of them, almost as if it was scripted, will say they came by their bodies naturally. It’s easy peasy, they say, laughing over a salad. Just eat well, exercise daily, wash your face, and take your vitamins, and you, yes you, will look like Zendaya on the cover of Vogue. If you run into trouble, just turn to your friend the wellness industry, where they can provide you an innumerable amount of solutions for your problems. As it happens, they say, I’m a spokesperson for an up-and-coming supplement brand that has just the thing for your issue. How relatable they seem. How attainable. It’s a tantalizing prospect to imagine that with just a few products, and a manageable daily routine, you, too, can become Hollywood thin. And it would be a wonderful thing, too, if they all weren’t lying.

oh dear retouching GIF by Percolate Galactic

Today, I want to talk about how Hollywood pressures female celebrities to maintain a uniformly thin body-shape through unhealthy dieting, intense exercise regimes, and weight-loss pills, and then sells a sanitized version of that body to the public. I also want to talk about how the wellness industry uses these celebrity bodies to sell snake-oil to the public. This is a post about how the combination of celebrities lying about their bodies and wellness companies lying about the effectiveness of their products contributes to your negative body image. If you’re constantly feeling fat, unhealthy, or less-than, it’s not your fault. They’re in your head. They always have been.

Female celebrities are always talking about their bodies. It’s not their fault; they have to. From the beginning, now matter how much talent they possess, female celebrities are judged primarily on the attractiveness of their bodies, and no one will let them forget it. While “thicc” bodies have been trending on Instagram since the early 2010s, thinness still prevails in movies and television. You will be hard-pressed to find an A-List, B-list, or even C-list celebrity who doesn’t have a flat stomach, toned legs, small arms, and a thin waist. Even supposedly “curvy” celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Scarlett Johansson, and Kim Kardashian fit the bill. Take a look at their faces, and you’ll scarcely find a single chubby cheek. To a T, these woman have defined jaws, sharp collarbones, visible obliques, and toned shoulder muscles. Aside from a few notable women who have built their brands on being outside the norm (like Rebel Wilson, Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy to name a few), these women all have the exact same bodies. Their faces are different, their hair is different, their clothes are different, but their bodies are almost identically thin, toned, and shiny in the same way, as if some Hollywood machine crafted them in a plastic mold. Even just by looking at a typical red carpet, you can get a sense of the eerie similarities between these women.

If that doesn’t convince you, why not look at some before and afters? Here’s Lea Michele, whose body changed significantly after she rocketed to fame on Glee.

Lea Michele Skinny

While Michele was certainly in amazing shape in the first picture, the second picture shows that she’s become “Hollywood thin,” with a super-defined collarbone, toned arms, visible obliques, and a razor-sharp jawline that weren’t present in the first picture. Michele’s rounder face is gone, as is any trace of fat on her arms, legs, or chest. A PopSugar article helpfully explains to us that Michele’s dramatic body transformation is not due to extreme dieting or exercise, but a simple devotion to “wellness.” Eating clean, exercising frequently, and focusing on internal happiness are the cause of Michele’s new body. A 2020 Health article also backs this up, emphasizing that Michele changed her diet to battle PCOS, which can cause weight gain. While it’s possible that eating more fruits and vegetables caused this transformation, the eerie way in which Michele’s body now looks exactly like all the others leaves me skeptical.

Another subtle, but noticeable transformation is Jennifer Lawrence, who started acting as a teen before The Hunger Games made her mega-famous.

The Tech Inside on Twitter: "Celeb Weight Loss Tips 3. At restaurants,  order two appetizers instead of a starter and a main - Jennifer Lawrence # jennifer #Canelo #CaneloRocky #celebrate #weightloss #LikeForLikes…  https://t.co/n4ZceZwuzK"

Same story here as with Michele. Compared to the average person, Lawrence was already in incredibly good shape, but after become mega famous, she was forced to become “Hollywood thin.” Super defined collarbone, super defined waist, super defined jaw, super defined arms, etc, all the signs of the “Hollywood thin” woman are there. Lawrence even alluded to this in a speech she gave at the 2017 Elle’s Women in Hollywood awards where she said that a producer had told her to lose 15 pounds for a role, despite already being thin. “In Hollywood, I’m obese,” said Lawrence. Looking at her before picture, that seems like a joke, but in Hollywood, it’s deadly serious. We can tell by looking at Lawrence’s after picture that even as one of the most famous actresses in the world, she is not immune to this pressure, and is in fact a slave to it.

I think that if we look at the evolution of most female celebrities over time, we can see how they’ve transformed from thin to “Hollywood thin” over the course of their career, and how this has become so commonplace that we barely notice. Now some people might chalk this up to good genetics, a balanced diet, and frequent exercise, and while I think those all play a part, I also think these before and after pictures show that “Hollywood thin” is not normal for anyone, not even these incredibly genetically gifted celebrities. Even these beautiful women are not thin enough for Hollywood.

So, how do they all look like this? If you read any women’s magazines, the common theme is that celebrities like Lea Michele and Jennifer Lawrence become “Hollywood thin” simply by eating well and exercising. Search anything about Jennifer Lawrence’s weight-loss, and you’ll be inundated with articles about her “routine” and how she got into “the best shape of her life.” A Marie Claire Australia article un-ironically describes Lawrence’s diet and exercise regime as “relatively realistic, and refreshingly inconsistent.” One of the qualities that made Lawrence into such a “relatable” star when she was first getting big was her insistence that she just ate pizza all the time and barely worked out. Seems great until you look at what her body actually looks like, and you realize that a woman who eats pizza all the time and barely exercises does not look like that. Not even if they have amazing genes.

Jennifer Lawrence
Lawrence in Red Sparrow. This is not the body of a sedentary pizza lover.

The way the article diminishes the intensity of Lawrence’s regime might make it seem attainable, until you actually look at the specifics of it.

“I worked with Jen six days a week, three hours a day for three months, as well as doing cross training in the form of Pilates, or toning and weight-training, or gyrotonics,” professional dance coach Kurt Froman told Body and Soul.

Lawrence was working out 18 hours a week! Professional athletes like Simone Biles train about 32 hours a week, which means that Lawrence was working out at the same intensity as a semi-professional athlete. Very relatable! Even more relatable is Lawrence’s diet:

I’ve always wondered what it would take to get me to really diet, to be really hungry, because I’ve never done it for a movie,” she told Vanity Fair.

For Hunger Games, they told me to lose weight, and then I discovered [US fast food chain] Jack in the Box. Red Sparrow was the first time that I was really hungry and disciplined.”

As part of that diet, which meant swapping fast food cravings for lean meats like chicken breast and snacking on banana chips, Lawrence said she had a “meltdown” of sorts.

“I can’t work on a diet. I’m hungry. I’m standing on my feet. I need more energy,” she told Vanity Fair.

Still, Wong said Lawrence likes to keep healthy snacks on hand while on set.

“In Jennifer’s trailer, we would always have some full-fat Greek yogurt, some dark chocolate, some hummus and vegetables,” Wong said.

In short, Lawrence’s approach to her health is not unlike her approach to life in general: fuss-free, honest, realistic, but capable of serious hard work when required.

Notice how Lawrence glosses over what she actually eats, or how much she eats, or how often she eats? The only thing she touches on is the fact that during Red Sparrow, she was really “hungry and disciplined.” As anyone who has been on a diet can tell you, being hungry means that you’re not eating enough. Discipline is like a code word for starving. She is basically admitting to starving herself, but she can’t say that, because that’s not relatable. And if you think I’m putting words in her mouth or exaggerating, I’m not. I’m reading between the lines. Lawrence, like all the other female celebrities who talk about their diet and exercise, can’t tell us the truth about what they really eat or how much they really exercise, or risk exposing just how frighteningly unhealthy this whole industry is. But if you look closely, they leave us breadcrumbs, showing us just how tired, hungry, and miserable this whole “wellness” thing makes them feel.

Rarely, a celebrity who is fed up with the entire industry, and often on their way out of it, reveal just how difficult it is to maintain a “Hollywood thin” body. Take this article by model Carré Otis:

Whenever asked about my diet/workout, I would cite a healthy routine, the kind touted in women’s magazines. “Jazzercise three times a week and light weights,” I’d say. The heavily guarded truth was that I exercised a minimum of two hours a day, seven days a week. On days when I wasn’t working, I did double duty, going to the gym twice in one day. I said I ate oatmeal for breakfast, chicken, and veggies for lunch…but in reality, my diet staple was four to six cups of black coffee per day, avoiding even a splash of skim milk since I was terrified of extra calories. And to stave off hunger, I went through a few packs of cigarettes daily. Cigarettes with coffee gave me an extra boost. And all energy boosts were welcome because my body was perpetually fatigued from little to no sleep, over-exercised muscles, starvation, and the relentless stream of criticisms inside my own head.

Another article from the Huffington Post describes models who “eat cotton balls dipped in orange juice” to stay thin, or the Victoria Secret Angels like Adriana Lima who work out twice a day, consume only liquids, and stop eating or drinking entirely 12 hours before their show. More recently, notable celebrities like Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato have opened up about how the pressure to be “Hollywood thin” has contributed to their disordered eating. In the documentary “Miss Americana,” Swift discussed how constant paparazzi photos negatively warped her view of her body, and how the constant criticism of her body felt like a deserved punishment. ‘

I thought I was supposed to feel like I was going to pass out at the end of a show, or in the middle of it,” she attests in the documentary. If anyone expressed concern, she’d say, “‘What are you talking about? Of course I eat. …. I exercise a lot.’ And I did exercise a lot. But I wasn’t eating.”

Taylor Swift Reveals Eating Disorder In "Miss Americana" Documentary  (Review) — EXPOSINGSMG
A reverse before and after, where Swift changes from “Hollywood thin” to normal and healthy. She’s still a size 6.

Demi Lovato has been open about her eating disorder, stating in her documentary “Simply Complicated” that food “is still the biggest challenge in my life.” Lovato also discussed compulsive exercise, admitting that she sometimes worked out as often as three times a day, and touched on the relapse of her eating disorder after her 2018 overdose. Even though Lovato has struggled with an eating disorder since she was 9, she stated that it was her eating disorder which pushed her away from acting as a teen, which is no surprise considering the deadly thin standard that Hollywood expects for its leading ladies.

Admissions like these, however, are few and far between in the industry. Most of the time, the only truthful glimpse we get about celebrity eating and exercise habits are the tidbits they drop in magazine interviews, where they might complain about their raw food diet, or mention that they eat whatever they want, except for gluten, soy, dairy, alcohol, caffeine, red meat, white rice, nightshades, shellfish, or corn. The grand takeaway from these interviews is that female celebrities are not the pinnacles of health that they claim to be. They are extremely thin, and they are extremely beautiful, but they are starving themselves and exercising fanatically to get that way, and all because they’re stuck in this rigid system. Funnily enough, one of the signs of a cult, as depicted in Steven Hassan’s BITE model (Behavior control, Information control, Thought control, Emotion control) is through the regulation of diet. If these women are always so focused on their hunger and their fatigue, and weighed down by the intense and never-ending scrutiny of the media, they became unable to mobilize against some of the other more worrying issues in Hollywood, like misogyny, glorification of violence against women, unequal pay, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse to name a few.

If you’re an alien spending your first day in the United States, it might be obvious that Hollywood is sending a very unhealthy message by promoting this type of body. But if you’ve lived here your whole life, you might have a harder time picking out this message from the overwhelming flood of advertisements and digital media telling you that you’re the unhealthy one, you’re the fat one, you’re the one who needs to lose weight, tone up, eat better, take vitamins, and exercise more. The ads scream that these celebrities aren’t unhealthy, and their lifestyle is not unsustainable! These celebrities are the ideal, our society’s own version of Aphrodite, and even though they are 1000x thinner and more beautiful than anyone you’ve ever seen in real life, their appearance is completely attainable if you stop being a lazy fat-ass and get off the couch! If trying to reconcile the idea that these celebrities are simultaneously gorgeous goddesses and normal people just like you makes your brain hurt, that’s the whole point. They don’t want you to think about it too hard, or else the whole system tumbles like the house of cards it is. Once the average woman realizes that no matter how much they exercise and how well they eat and how many supplements they buy, they’ll never look like Jennifer Lawrence, the industry fails. But since we’re sold the exact opposite message from birth, it’s unlikely that such a thing would ever happen.

So how does the wellness industry profit off of the big lie about the “Hollywood thin” body? They use their products as a form of legitimacy. As we saw above, these celebrities are constantly peddling the idea that they are thin because they practice “wellness,” an insidiously angelic term for body-obsession that promotes self-love and a healthy body while creating advertisements whose main goal are to body-shame you into buying ineffective products. Gwyneth Paltrow, the “Hollywood thin” poster-child, created an empire devoted to this very concept. On the goop homepage, you can find an article decrying diet culture on her main page, and dozens of articles praising intuitive fasting, advertising goop-branded detox supplements, and lauding juice cleanses elsewhere on her site.

Other celebs who have founded wellness companies or partnered with them include supermodel Elle MacPherson, whose company Welleco makes “super elixirs,” Beyoncé who partnered with the daily vitamin company 22 Days, and Lo Bosworth, who sells feminine wellness supplements, whatever the hell those are. And even if they haven’t founded the company themselves, they’re being paid to rep them, whether it’s Kylie Jenner shilling Sugar Bear Hair vitamins or Kim Kardashian advertising those infamous appetite suppressant lollipops.

“Wellness” is just the repackaged version of diet culture and body shaming, and it relies on the bodies of celebrities to keep it going. With Hollywood constantly shoving thin-ness in our faces, the wellness industry has an enormous pool of ready-made advertisements. A-lister’s can’t say how they became so thin or risk losing their relatability, so the wellness industry steps in, providing an acceptable reason for thin-ness for the celebrity, while the celebrity provides free advertising for the wellness industry. It’s a toxic cycle, but it’s really nothing new. Hollywood has always been rigidly controlling women’s appearance by showing them unattainable beauty standards, pretending they’re accessible, and selling them products to achieve those standards. The products don’t work, the average woman stays average, and the cycle continues eternal. Nowadays, they hide it all behind the word “wellness,” but it’s still the same old story, except now it’s millennial pink. These companies, with their cloying statements about loving our bodies, are still focused one thing: our bodies! God forbid for one single second we stop thinking about those!

You might be wondering what’s the point of talking about this. Hollywood is gonna Hollywood, and nothing will ever change the fact that beautiful thin women sell products. That may be true, but that doesn’t make it okay. We deal with enough shit just being human, we shouldn’t have to constantly worry about how our bodies look. The appearance, really, is the least important thing about them. Unfortunately, even if you don’t watch movies or TV, it is impossible for anyone but the most disconnected among us to stop caring about our body image. We are constantly being attacked from all sides, from film, television, radio, print, and digital mediums telling us that we need to change. The constant need for improvement is the driving force behind female consumerism; Betty Friedan realized that all the way back in the 1950s. It is impossible to escape the idea that you are not enough. The only thing that gives me an ounce of hope is the realization that you, and I, and all of us, will NEVER be enough. We will never be as thin, pretty, or shiny as celebrities, and we shouldn’t want to be, and they shouldn’t have to be. The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is to stop trying.

3 thoughts on “Wellness and the Big Lie of Hollywood Thinness

  1. It’s terrible all the ways Hollywood abuses women, from starvation diets to forced onscreen nudity, from sexual harassment to actual assault.

    Liked by 2 people

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