By Drew Mackie
Full disclosure: I'm a guy writing about women's body issues, so take what I say with however much salt you need to make it palatable. But I do follow celebrities, and I'm eager to see my favorites succeed. Of the female stars I enjoy, most happen to be best known most for being funny -- ladies like Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Kathy Griffin, Sarah Silverman, Samantha Bee and Judy Greer. But I'm worried that pressure to conform to a Hollywood standard of physical beauty might distract them from what they do best: cracking jokes.
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In the new issue of Redbook (excerpt via CNN's Marquee Blog), "Office" star Jenna Fischer discusses why the size and shape of an actress's body weigh particularly heavily on her mind, saying, "In my business you have to tell someone [that you've gained a few pounds] so that the next time you go to a fitting, the clothes are the right size." It's really embarrassing to have to say to your manager, 'I'm now a 6 pant instead of a 4.' E-mails go out, and they CC the agents: 'Jenna would like everyone to know that she's now a 6 pant.'" This is news to me. I might have imagined that this sort of indignity might be suffered by the world's Megan Foxes, whose fame exists in exact proportion to how sexy they look, but not to a comedic actress such as Fischer.
I understand that women who don't appear on TV might similarly worry about tightening waistbands, but Fischer describes a situation more humiliating than anything Sally Sue Envelope Pusher would undergo after she gained ten pounds. And it sounds more bizarre when you consider that physical sexuality and sensuality play little into Fischer's "Office" character. The story of Pam Beesley and Jim Halpert gives "The Office" a romantic element, sure, but at heart, Pam is a quirky, amusing, occasionally mousy character who wears business casual. If physical sexiness were central to her character, then her measurements might possibly be a matter of concern for parties besides herself. But just being on TV means this isn't the case, as Jezebel points out: "[P]art of being a Hollywood actress is wearing clothes that are not your own. You've got wardrobe fittings, stylist fittings, award show fittings and photo-shoot fittings."
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Of course, Fischer's story isn't unique. Even Tina Fey, the queen of the current batch of A-list witty, smart women, admits that her jump to fame coincided with weight loss. After working in comedy for years and proving herself to be an ace writer, a crafter of perfectly barbed insults and more often than not the smartest cookie in the room, Fey's career didn't explode until after she slimmed down. As she told Vanity Fair in late 2008, "I'm five-foot-four-and-a-half, and I think I was maxing out at just short of 150 pounds, which isn't so big." But after seeing herself on screen, pre-fame, as a background extra in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch, Fey decided to join Weight Watchers. "I was like, 'Ooogh.' … I looked like a behemoth a little bit. It was probably a bad sweater or something. [Or] maybe cutting from Gwyneth Paltrow to me." The thinner Fey went onto fame on "SNL" and eventually achieved the recognition she deserved.
On one hand, it's great that Fey achieved a body she felt more comfortable with. However, part of me wonders if it's worth the time and effort for these women to focus on losing weight when they could -- and may even prefer to -- hone their craft. I'm so enamored of these talented women that I want them to take every chance they can get to write, to make jokes and to show that it pays to be clever. I'm being selfish here: I like their work, and I want the opportunity to appreciate as much of it as possible. If exercise and junk food fuels their creative process, so be it. These women don't need to be fashionably skinny like run-of-the-mill, dimwit starlets and bland romcom leads, because they're already better than them; They're smart, they can express themselves in sophisticated, funny ways and they'd be able to do it just as easily with a few extra pounds on them.