The Roseanne Benedict Arnolds
How Fat Women Are Betrayed by Their Celebrity Icons
Beth Bernstein and Matilda St. John
According to the latest federal guidelines, more than half the people in the United States are fat, but you would never know it by monitoring television and movie screens. Fat people—more specifically, fat women—are a majority group with few celebrities representing us in mainstream media. Housewives on Wisteria Lane may be desperate but they're not over a size 4. When given airtime, portrayals of fat women are rarely positive, often recycling hurtful and degrading stereotypes. For the fat viewer already feeling demonized for their size, it can be demoralizing never seeing anyone who resembles them portrayed as normal. To add insult to injury, many female celebrities who once picked up the torch for fat girl pride are putting it down. The Hollywood epidemic of gastric bypass surgeries is helping to fuel a string of celebrity defections from “fat and proud” to “thin and repentant.”
The spectacle of Celebrity Wasting Syndrome—identified by Sondra Solovay and Marilyn Wann in Wann's 1998 book FATSO? (Wann, 1998, p. 56) as the infectious trend of celebrities losing weight as they achieve success— has gotten a hefty amount of press in recent years thanks to formerly skinny but now anorexic-looking ingénues such as Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan. Hysterical headlines fret, “Is Mary-Kate wasting away?” Yet the fat folks who fall victim to this syndrome don't receive the same anxious handwringing about the effects on their health, the assumption being that for them any downward shift in weight, regardless of how it was achieved, must be beneficial to their wellness.
We're living in a celebrity-obsessed culture that demands much of people who are, after all, just entertainers. For the modern celebrity, the line between personal life and professional life is blurry at best. Part of the trick of maintaining celebrity is remaining true to popular qualities while changing enough to hold the public's interest. With that in mind, we don't presume to intimate that change in itself constitutes betrayal, but rather the alignment with a marginalized group of people followed by a renouncement of that group as unhealthy and sick. The four celebrities discussed in this chapter specifically exploited their size to appeal to a perpetually underrepresented audience—fat women. Their subsequent frantic efforts to