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Bathroom Scale Vs. Pay Scale: How Celebrity Weight Affects The Job

March 24th, 2008 2:30pm EDT | Shannon Peace By: Shannon Peace
Tyra BanksLast week, Lisa Marie Presley was forced to reveal her pregnancy after harsh media speculation about her weight gain reached a fever pitch. In 2007, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Tyra Banks blasted publications that derided their bikini-clad bodies.

Check out recent cover mamas Christina Aguilera, Nicole Richie and J-Lo: You won't find one article that doesn't congratulate them on their new cherubs while mentioning their efforts to lose the baby weight in the same breath.

Let's face it: Hollywood is thin obsessed. This is a town that forgives actual junkies sooner than junk-food junkies. Take Britney Spears, for example. The tabloids weren't truly cruel to the pop diva - despite her poor parenting, erratic behavior and suspected substance abuse - until she gained weight.

A no longer slender Britney Spears

It's an unfortunate fact that obesity is epidemic in this country, and the health repercussions have lowered our life expectancy rate for the first time in decades. For this reason, a focus on healthier lifestyles is not only warranted, it's crucial. But let's be real. How many casting directors reject someone for a role because they're concerned about diabetes? How many producers pull actors aside on set to warn against cardiac disease? How many tabloid covers splash real-sized women across their pages and dissect every dimple and ripple as a sober reminder of how weight affects reproduction?

In the entertainment industry, it's not about health - it's about wealth. The prevailing notion is that thin is the ideal, and ultimately more marketable. Where the prospect of success in most professions isn't directly related to physical appearance, in Hollywood, a few pounds can make or break a career.

Pregnant, not fat, Lisa Marie Presley

Label execs reportedly pressured Kelly Clarkson to lose weight or lose her contract. Sienna Miller recently revealed that Factory Girl director George Hickenlooper asked the already slender star to shed some more pounds. "He'd come and try to snatch bagels out of my hands," confessed Miller. Hilary Duff told People magazine that her dramatic weight loss a couple of years ago wasn't because she "wanted to start eating healthier," like she claimed at the time but because of the media. "I've felt that pressure like everyone else in my position," she said.

Curvy Kelly Clarkson

Under the bright lights of the biz, not even having a baby counts as justifiable weight gain. "Most of the times when actresses have children, they go away and come back slim and trim like you remembered them," chuckled Tisha Campbell-Martin, about her struggle with baby weight after returning to the set of "My Wife and Kids". "King of Queens" star Leah Remini met with the same pressure. "Which actress has a baby and is still fat a year later? I was the only one. It was very hard on me mentally."

For a celebrity, lost weight can equal gained jobs and raised profiles. Faded 80's star Corey Haim (Lucas, The Lost Boys) nabbed a reality deal on A&E with pal and fellow 80's has-been Corey Feldman less than a year after losing over 100 pounds. Small-screen sweetheart Valerie Bertinelli's endorsement deal with Jenny Craig pushed her back to the forefront of the consciousness of an America who had largely forgotten her. The "One Day at a Time" actress is now making the talk show rounds publicizing a memoir entitled "Losing It: And Gaining My Life Back One Pound At a Time."

Tyra Banks

One exception to the "thin is in" rule seems to be Ron Lester. Best known for his 1999 movie Varsity Blues and the TV Show "Popular," Ron Lester hit a high of 509 pounds by age 30. Gastric bypass and almost 20 surgeries to tighten and remove excess skin helped him shed an astonishing 350 pounds, yet he struggled for roles as a newly thin actor. Lest you think that this indicates any level of fat acceptance in Hollywood, consider this: Ron's roles were primarily comic ones, predicated on what Hollywood must believe is the inherent humor in obesity; Ron himself concedes that now that he can no longer be employed as a punch-line, Hollywood has lost interest.

Now, some might insist that there are roles in Hollywood that require a certain physique. I'd concede that point if the actor/actress were playing an athlete or a physical trainer, etc. However, aside from very specific castings, rarely in scripts does the role specifically call for a thin person, nor is the size usually all that is relevant to the character.

Jennifer Love Hewitt

Others might argue that television and film are escapist, meant to be fantasy, and the current perception of fantasy includes thin, beautiful (as if the two are mutually exclusive) people. How then to explain the enormous popularity of reality television, which is largely populated by - when the show isn't about wooing Bret Michaels or becoming a Top Model - people who look very much like the rest of us? Take the Bridget Jones films as one example of the fact that there are many who will pay to see someone with the same insecurities most real people grapple with, as well as the ultimate acceptance we all strive for.

The standards of Hollywood and the realities of the real world, while never truly aligned, have grown not only glaring in their growing disparity but also, frankly, insulting. People of all shapes and sizes walk this earth and are underrepresented and worst - undervalued by an industry that is supposed to entertain and cater to all. Perhaps actors and actresses who reflect a more average, realistic weight should - gasp - garner more work, more status and better positions on the pay scale.

A refreshing possibility, but don't hold your breath: When it comes to matters of size, Hollywood has a long weigh to go.

Story by Shannon Peace
Starpulse contributing writer