To hear Gabourey Sidibe's name is to connect with a current Cinderella story. Anyone familiar with the critical success of the recent film Precious can't help but feel impressed at the formerly unknown Sidibe's first-ever movie performance resulting in a Best Actress Academy Award nomination.
That is, anyone except Howard Stern.
The shock jock lambasted Sidibe's physical size on his satellite show, saying:
"There's the most enormous, fat black chick I've ever seen. She is enormous. Everyone's pretending she's a part of show business and she's never going to be in another movie," he said.
"She should have gotten the Best Actress award because she's never going to have another shot. What movie is she gonna be in?"
Stern likewise addressed Oprah Winfrey's Oscar night sentiments with sidekick Robin Quivers, claiming that the omnipresent TV host had "lied to Sidibe" in saying the fledgling actress would go on to enjoy a brilliant career during the Oscars telecast.
Since saying as much, Howard Stern has experienced an immediate subsequent firestorm regarding his words. However, he refuses to retract his remarks about Sidibe. Stern also continues to insist that Sidibe's size will jeopardize her chances of landing roles, and that she should not be held up as a role model for overweight people because obesity is a life-threatening condition. He likewise said:
"The point I was trying to make is that obesity in this country is out of control. What's really sad is that you see people saying it's OK to be like this, you have to love your own body. it's OK to look like that. I feel this girl is going to kill herself -- you can't eat like this. I did enjoy her performance (in Precious) I have nothing against her, I'm just trying to say she's enormous."
"The girl has got tremendous problems and she needs help. And we got slammed."
Abrasive as he is, Stern has a point. Part of the reason Sidibe is compelling as Precious Jones is because of her physical size. However, in order to be a consistent working actor and able to impact the kinds of roles she is offered, Sidibe needs to lose weight. Obese women are a rare, if novel, presence in the entertainment world, and their chances for Hollywood longevity are slim.
Additionally, Stern is likewise right to say that Sidibe's physical obesity is indeed a worrying factor. Regardless of her Best Actress nomination or her own sense of self-acceptance, Sidibe is in danger of experiencing a shorter life fraught with health complications because of her size. To look at her is to not only view an amazing performer, but to also see someone at risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease at a far too young age.
However, even though I can't refute the common sense in Stern's remarks, I wish he had stopped uttering sound bites long enough to take a more thoughtful look at obesity itself. With Stern's comparatively advanced age and worldliness, he could have afforded a more sensitive perspective towards the younger Sidibe, and crafted his remarks more elegantly than, "Holy crap, she's the size of a planet."
Any obese person knows that his or her girth comes from too many Twinkies or Dollar-Menu decadence on a bad day. But, obesity is as much an issue of social circumstance and education as it is a consequence of personal responsibility. A little girl from Harlem might know that McDonald's sucks, but be completely mystified by what high fructose corn syrup does. And, if fattening fast food is what she was taught to eat by her community and what she was able to afford, then Sidibe's obesity isn't just a result of her moments of individual indulgence, but of how she's grown up.
Additionally, in pointing fingers at Sidibe's obesity, Stern should have been decent enough to offer a solution. Had he urged her to see Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels on "The Biggest Loser" or offered to network her with any obesity specialists, he could have at least shown Sidibe that he cares past using her name to make himself interesting to listen to. Stern can claim to be right about her health risks and career possibilities, but where Sidibe and obesity are concerned, he has nothing of value to add past inflammatory fat comparisons.
But, since he's not Oprah, he doesn't really matter.
In any case, I hope Sidibe is able to shake off Stern's tenderly expressed sentiments enough to address the heart of his message. Not only will losing weight give the young star another chance to win an Oscar, but a shot at a lasting life. With some material affluence and Oprah's network, I believe she has an ideal opportunity to take her own health in her hands- a truly precious prospect that some people don't get to enjoy.
And, if she succeeds, she'll also have the perfect catchphrase for Stern: "I told you so."
An expert in coloring outside the lines while reading between them, Alex B has a head for business, bod for sin, and weakness for ice cream during all seasons. Apart from watching Bravo marathons and enjoying haute bites here and there, she writes about TV, pop culture, and coloring outside even more lines. She sneaks Tweets via @lexistential.
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michelle von euw
3.15.10 @ 12:15a
There have always been heavy people, and many of them have gone on to live long and happy lives. Certainly, there are actors and actresses in Hollywood doing dozens of worse things to their bodies, and yet they are allowed to continue as is, without the additional scrutiny into their choices.
So, yes, I buy that there may not be as many roles open to Gabourey Sidibe, I don't think her options are as limited as you suggest; in fact, I'd argue that she could have even more of an impact at her weight than in generic size 2 roles. I don't think we need to worry about her size, especially if she's not.
3.15.10 @ 12:56a
I would like to see Gabourey Sidibe succeed, and maybe her options are more open than one would expect (she does have the Hand of Oprah in her corner), but I still think that she is going to run into unfair limitations just because she is her size. I don't think she needs to be as small as a size 2, but if she gets down to a healthy size- which I define as anywhere from a proportionate 8 to a 14- she will endure less restriction and fat jokes, and has a larger chance for a longer career.
I'd like to see her get to the point where she has a long-running career like, say, Chandra Wilson's. But, if she stays obese, I think she'll be considered a novelty ("that fat girl from Precious") instead of a talent (that girl from "Precious"), and I'd like to see the latter be the defining term for her.
3.15.10 @ 9:56a
Health problems aside, Sidibe's size poses problems no different than the ones an actor like Michael Clarke Duncan faces, or the dude in The Blind Side. For Duncan and Blind Side, it took roles as a supernatural giant and a huge football player for them to catch their breaks. And Duncan hasn't done all that much since his nomination. It's just hard. Not many movies can accommodate a character who's proportions can't help but overwhelm other non-physical characteristics. There typically has to be a plot-associated reason to cast someone of their size, because it's too jarring otherwise.
That said, Sidibe already landed a role in a Showtime TV show. Plus she seems like a really happy young girl, and it's been hilarious watching her gallivant through awards season having the time of her life.
And chastising Stern for not being sensitive enough? Where have you been for the past 30 years?
3.15.10 @ 10:57a
I hope that Sidibe continues to get cast in projects- there is an interest in her right now because of her Oscar nomination, but what happens when the honeymoon phase is over? She's got buzz now, but will it last?
I see what you're getting at in comparing Sidibe to people like Michael Clarke Duncan, but Duncan- as a man- is easier to cast because it's easier for him to find scripts and roles as a giant-sized person. He's a guy, and I haven't seen many roles calling for huge women where the character is substantial and not just being played for fat jokes. Sidibe is a girl, and I don't intend to smack feminism in the face for saying as much, but she faces more difficulty than Duncan or that Blind Side kid in finding good projects because of her size and gender.
Howard Stern mouthing off is nothing new, but his doing so on a girl like Sidibe is something I didn't enjoy with his style or his timing. Picking on Paris Hilton or the Kardashians is one thing for his usual asshole shtick, but with Sidibe being as exceptional as she is, I wish he had made more constructive comments.
katherine (aka clevertitania)
3.15.10 @ 8:41p
I love how a twig like Howard Stern is completely oblivious to the funny in this. My son's father is like him; spent years trying to put on weight and never could. You'd think someone who finds it so difficult to put on weight, someone with an abnormally high metabolism, would understand that the opposite is also true.
Bottom line, Sidibe has resources now to eat right (instead of making due on crap like most of the country has to do ATM). Monique lost weight, she can if she wants.
3.15.10 @ 8:49p
Great column, Alex. When you get discussion like this, you're doing something right. :-)
3.15.10 @ 9:58p
Stern is not in the least bit concerned about this young lady's health. He's a guy whose job it is to piss people off, and he's good at it. He has only one person's best interests at heart: Howard Stern's. Why on EARTH would he be thoughtful, decent, considerate, or helpful to Sidibe? What's in THAT for him? If he was concerned about someone's health preventing them from getting work, why wouldn't he have, say, told Corey Haim that if he wanted to work again, he oughta lay off the drugs?
And really, telling Oprah she's insane for encouraging Sidibe .... now let's see, where in the world would Oprah Winfrey get the idea that an overweight black woman might be able to be a success in the entertainment industry?
3.15.10 @ 10:51p
Stern's in radio because he's a bit of a large doofus. The irony that he would mock anyone for his or her size is lost on the dumbasses that listen to him. Why anyone still listens to the 80s hack is beyond me. Oh! Stern will save satellite radio! Um, not. Oh! He's so edgy! No - he's an idiot bully who not only panders to the lowest common denominator, he scrapes it off the floor.
And Robin Quivers should be ashamed of herself - no talent, laughing nonstop on the sidelines while Stern pulls his stunts. What a worthless human being.
3.16.10 @ 1:57a
I would love to see Sidibe gracefully get healthy, receive a better range of role choices by losing weight, and just win by example. That's always the best revenge, anyway. She doesn't need to reprimand Stern, or to insist on an apology (whose appeal has always been lost on me).
And as far as Howard goes- I'm willing to bet this man has some fairly obese fans. You know, the kinds who sit on the couch with potato chips while swearing he's the Man because they don't have anyone else to latch on to feel badass. Clearly it is too much to expect him to be of help to anyone, and... it's too bad that he really has nothing to offer past all the charisma.
Robin Quivers is one to pick on Sidibe when she used the Master Cleanse to lose 70 lbs. Why pick on a girl who's been where she was? And wasn't Stern nice to his sidekick when she was porky?
katherine (aka clevertitania)
3.16.10 @ 11:42p
Just an afterthought, from alex's comment.
It seems everyone has this line, where they think a situation is 'extreme' enough that it's no longer necessary to be nice. Like 3 cats is OK, 4 is too much. Especially true of obesity. A person has to nearing non-ambulatory for me to think I have any business saying they are unhealthy. But I'm very forgiving, being still this size and eating healthier than most of the skinny people I know.
3.17.10 @ 9:55a
Katherine - that is an EXCELLENT observation.
3.18.10 @ 8:02p
I think everyone has their own definition of unhealthy, as well as their point where they start urging others to change. It's a range of experience and sense of politeness that determines whether they actually say so.
When it comes to Gabourey Sidibe, I don't think she's in dire need of hospitalization, nor do I think she's on the verge of death. However, I do think she is unhealthy. Perhaps I'm not nice for defining her as such or for saying so in light of her Oscar nomination and general good buzz, but I do because I would like to see her continued success as a talent and as an individual.