Gabourey Sidibe, a different kind of Hollywood heavyweight

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At the 2010 Academy Awards, Gabourey Sidibe stood out noticeably amid the sea of other actors and actresses walking the red carpet.

For one thing, whereas most of the other stars are seasoned pros in the movie industry, Sidibe’s acting credits prior to her turn as the title role in the film “Precious” are limited to two small roles in college theater.

But secondly, and more obvious, is the fact that Sidibe weighs easily 2 or 3 times more than the typical Hollywood starlet. And yet interestingly, in various photo galleries from the red carpet, comments such as “Stunning!” and “She’s gorgeous!” on photos of Sidibe seemed to far surpass similar comments on photos of her skinnier counterparts.

Sidibe’s numerous nominations (not to mention wins) for acting honors during awards season are proof that Hollywood knows she has some serious acting chops. Photo feedback seems to indicate that the average American sees her as beautiful. Leave it to Howard Stern, however, to spark a debate over whether Sidibe’s career actually stands a chance.

“What movie could she play in?” the shock jock asked on his March 8th show.

Columnist and blogger Jeffrey Wells added, “…the hard fact is she’s way, way too fat… I don’t want Gabby to not work, but the only roles she’ll have a shot at playing will be down-market moms and hard-luck girls working at Wal-Mart.”

Both Wells and Stern also remarked on the likely toll of Sidibe’s obesity on her health, which is a perfectly fair concern — not only for Sidibe’s own wellbeing, but for her potential status as a role model. While, as I mentioned in an earlier post, the ultra-slender actresses and models who generally serve as a paragon of beauty in our culture often create an unhealthy ideal for women of all ages, Sidibe is hardly a better alternative. While I think it’s extraordinarily encouraging that so many people consider her beautiful despite her contradiction of the typical Hollywood mold, there’s also a danger in seeing her as so beautiful that we forget the health risks of obesity. I hope that Sidibe serves as a demonstration for young women that beauty is not limited to a size 2, but not so far as to make obesity feel “safe.” Sidibe herself says that she’s perfectly happy in her own skin, which is both commendable and a cause for concern.

On the other hand, of course, Sidibe is remarkably talented, and her talent has already earned her two more roles on Showtime’s “The Big C” and in the forthcoming indie flick “Yelling to the Sky.” I, for one, truly hope that we’ll continue to see more of Sidibe, and that she’ll prompt Hollywood to realize that talent, true talent, doesn’t have to be a generic brand.

Related links:

A more in-depth blog about whether Gabourey Sidibe can find a place in Hollywood

Gabourey Sidibe, a different kind of Hollywood heavyweight

8 thoughts on “Gabourey Sidibe, a different kind of Hollywood heavyweight

  1. As a bigger person myself, I really appreciate the way this woman isn’t being treated badly over her weight. Maybe it’s because of the wonderful job she did in her film. Who knows? Still, I can’t say I think she looks gorgeous in that dress. I’m a big fan of dressing modestly and dressing in clothes that flatter and slim me rather than clothes that show my fat or make me look fatter. Plus, I prefer colors that make me stand out, and black against her skin kind of makes her bland overall.

    I also have to wonder how long the praises will last. Despite her great performance in one film, I tend to agree with the critics that her overall career doesn’t have much of a chance, unless, of course, there are roles for bigger girls out there, roles like the one she has already done. As long as she is overweight, she will be stereotyped. You never see big girls in leading lady parts, especially romantic ones. As sad as it it, people go to the movies to watch ideal worlds and ideal people.

  2. Karissa says:

    I agree with you that people go to the movies to see the ideal. But it is sad because I find that more and more people base all their perceptions on what the media tells them, not realizing that movies are just ideals or just fabricated pieces of entertainment.

  3. Heather says:

    I was very encouraged by this piece. The typical “size-2-slim-perfect” hollywood star needs a little change and here it is. Gabourey Sidibe is gorgeous in her own skin and her obesity should not make people look down on her career. I do however may have to agree with Harmony that after awhile after the hype of the movie and the awards if her career does not take off with her praise dwindle? I am just encouraged that people gave her praise instead of demeaning words. The tiny, slim figure of any star is in everyones head but realistically people cannot all be the same. we need some more flavors out there.

  4. Melissa Soto says:

    I think it is so awesome that she can break that typical celebrity mold. Everyone has their own opinions to how people look and there is always going to be good things said as well as bad things. Although that is true I am super proud of the media how they have been supporting her and admiring her talent regardless of her weight. It’s awesome!

  5. Charissa Standage says:

    I think it is very interesting that now a line is being drawn between normal and healthy, and obese. In today’s media so many times the focus is on the larger women when discussing true beauty and refusal to conform to Hollywood’s unrealistic standards. Because we always associate the larger women as being more rational and in touch with reality we hardly ever consider the status of their health. Being incredibly large, as the blog says, doesn’t make for perfect role model either. We certainly shouldn’t encourage young girls to be making unhealthy choices in either direction of the spectrum. With this in mind, I am tempted to think that the whole idea of role models is a bad idea. Who is the perfect role model? Someone who isn’t too skinny but isn’t too fat; where are these women? These women are the ones who face real persecution because they aren’t making a dramatic statement either way. No one is going to look at Gabby and say she’s looking dramatically worse in her swimsuit every week, or mistake a normal womanly shape as a baby bulge. The actually healthy women deserve to get the total positive recognition.

  6. Sarah says:

    I agree with what you said, and think there is something to be commended about this woman. In todays Hollywood culture someone feeling good in their own skin is basically unheard of. The size 2 models most often aren’t even happy with what they look like. However there is definitely something to be said about an unhealthy weight. There is a difference between having a bigger build and being healthy, and then just being obese. This woman has more guts and confidence than most people I know, and I commend her for this. Yet I think it might be good for her to aim towards getting healthy. Not skinny, healthy. I think that is often the problem in our society. No one tries to become healthy, they instead try to become skinny. I hope someday America can focus on health versus weight.

  7. Elizabeth Sallie says:

    Hmmm. Interesting thoughts, ladies. Something that’s been very interesting with the whole weight issue is the new focus on “plus-sized” models. Many women are incensed by the ordeal because the magazines are trying to tell us that size 4 is considered “plus-size.” Even when the fashion world TRIES to address the issue of looks, they still manage to do the normal world a total disservice. Oy vey. What do y’all think about the latest drama with Gabourey and Vogue? There are claims that she was told she’s “too big” for Vogue. Anyone have thoughts on that?

    Harmony– I agree. Not a huge fan of the dress. However, at the Oscars, I think Miss Sidibe was looking lovely… a nice shade, a nice cut. Quite classy and fitting for the event, without being garish or drawing negative attention.

  8. Tomoko says:

    I think that you hit some great points in your reflection of Gabourey Sidibe’s situation. People really do like “different,” don’t they? Perhaps people get bored of the same old skinny actresses.

    I liked your concluding remark about how young women should not feel that beauty is “limited to a size 2, but not so far as to make obesity feel ‘safe.'”

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