Size Matters: Celebrity Schadenfreude

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Celebrities who have the “misfortune” of gaining a few pounds usually find pictures of themselves looking “fat” on the cover of a tabloid rag at some point. Americans, at least, seem to derive pleasure from this, as if gaining weight is some kind of comeuppance for celebrities, knocking them off their pedestal and showing the world they aren’t so perfect after all. The attitude is that getting fat is a punishment for vanity, or just something generally bad that we can wish on beautiful thin people we feel envious of or don’t like for some reason. Getting fat ranks up there with botched plastic surgery as far as reasons to ridicule celebrities endlessly. We want them to be perfect, and when they’re proven to be just like you and me, fat and all, our lives are turned upside down. Well, some people’s lives.

A few years ago, Tyra Banks made the tabloids after someone shot an “unflattering” series of pictures of her in a bathing suit. Ty Ty came out blazing, getting the cover of People with the headline “You call this fat??” She also did a segment on her talk show decrying the pictures and then tried to tie her plight to the plight of other women everywhere who have been called fat unfairly. Because, you know, calling someone fat is really cruel. Every time a celebrity decides to come out and defend their nonfat honor, it reinforces the idea that fat is negative, something to be avoided at all costs.

VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club is a veritable jackpot of celebrity schadenfreude. The premise is that we get to watch faded stars who’ve gained weight go through a “boot camp” led by Harvey Walden IV, an ex-Marine personal trainer, to get thin again, but mostly just make excuses about why they gained weight instead of losing this week. Being celebs, they often skip boot camp meetings (they get to go home in between the sessions) because they supposedly had something more important to do, such as Bobby Brown claiming he had some show in Europe to do. (Bobby, we know you are not doing any type of shows right now. Give it up.) Or they show up drugged out like Daniel Baldwin (who spent most of the first season like that, actually) and have general rage attacks. The point being, ha ha look at these fat celebs, their lives are all out of control and they eat to take the pain away. Obviously, this is not a positive move towards fat acceptance. The shame train is chugging along and Harvey Walden IV is the conductor.

Jessica Simpson has repeatedly been skewered by the media for her weight gain. Although she has embraced her newfound “curves” and says she is at peace with her body, that apparently just hypes up the fat shaming, since there’s no way we’re going to let her off the hook that easily. A celebrity being okay with gaining 10 pounds? Oh hell no. Even articles that support Simpson’s body acceptance have to throw in a little jab about her dress being too tight. Personally, I never had much respect for Jessica Simpson before I saw her attitude about gaining weight. The way she’s handling it it is basically the polar opposite of the way Tyra handled it.

It’s doubtful that the public’s fascination with celebrity weight schadenfreude will wane as long as the general societal climate is tilted towards fat being a Bad Thing. One can only hope, however, that more celebrities will begin to handle shade being thrown at them over gaining a few pounds as gracefully as Simpson.

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