The Catch-22 of Losing Weight in Hollywood, as Told by Lena Dunham, Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Simpson and More

E! News/March 22, 2017

Magazine covers are often dedicated to it. Products are promoted around it. Britney Spears even sang a lyric about it. We’re talking about celebrity weight loss.

In Hollywood, what begins as a highly personal process can snowball into a month-long tabloid beat, a red carpet obsession and, for many female stars, a winding maze of public criticism.

For an industry that often demands its own version of physical perfection, life can be a relentless tug-of-war for the women who don’t fit the mold. As experienced by the likes of Lena DunhamJennifer Hudson and more famous figures, when women do appear to shift their weight for whichever personal reason, it often continues to fan the body shaming flames instead of extinguishing them.

As the princess of pop perfectly captured such a catch-22 in her “Piece of Me” lyric, “I’m Mrs. ‘She’s too big, now she’s too thin.'”

Let’s begin with the Girls creator and star, who has come under fire for how her body looks since her first nude sex scene aired on HBO in 2012. As Dunham poignantly told Ellen DeGeneres, “I spent six years of my career being called things like ‘bag of milk’ on the internet—’bag of milk,’ ‘baby cow,’ ‘aging cow.’ I just never felt self-conscious about it. I was like, ‘Anyone who is going to take the time to say something negative about my weight on the internet isn’t someone I was particularly keen to impress anyway.'”

Amid a endometriosis battle, the actress appeared to change shape—something some spectators took notice of and responded with a new shade of disapproval. “Suddenly I got all these people saying, ‘You’re a hypocrite. I thought you were body positive. I thought you were a person who embraced body types of all sizes,'” Dunham continued. “I do. I just understand that bodies change. We live a long time. Things happen.”

It’s an explanation Jennifer Hudson would understand all too well. The Oscar winner blazed onto the silver screen in 2007 with a standout performance in Dreamgirls. With a bold sound and uncommon shape as far as Tinseltown standards were concerned, the former American Idol contestant and the success she harnessed became an emblem of hope and pride for curvier women watching.

Four years later, the actress had shed 80 pounds and was a newly minted Weight Watchers spokeswoman—a move that shook her supporters. As the public alarms were sounded, Hudson had to accept that she would not be able to win over everyone.

“There really is no winning with losing weight,” she told Piers Morgan in 2012. “First you can’t do it, then you do it, then you’re too small and it goes from there and it never ends, but that is why you have to do it for you.”

The other element of the battle was the psychological one—why had they decided to lose weight? It seemed the public was just as judgmental of the reason behind their new shape as the shape itself. Mostly, their losses were sparked by matters of health.

“I genuinely [would] worry all the time about losing my toes,” Gabourey Sidibe, who secretly underwent laproscopic bariatric surgery, told People of her inspiration to lose weight.

“I did not get this surgery to be beautiful,” she elaborated in her memoir. “I did it so I can walk around comfortably in heels. I want to do a cartwheel. I want not to be in pain every time I walk up a flight of stairs.”

Tyra Banks, who is constantly compared to her younger supermodel shape, also felt there were benefits to her former size. “I feel more comfortable when I’m lighter–I sleep better, I snore less, I have more endurance when I work out, my arms look better,” she told People in 2007. However, after she was publicly shamed with a few photos of herself in a one-piece on the beach, the professional poser fought back, literally telling anyone watching: “kiss my fat ass.”

“I still feel hot, but every day is different,” she told the magazine. “It’s when I put on the jeans that used to fit a year ago and don’t fit now and give me the muffin top, that’s when I say, ‘Damn!'”

In the midst of this tricky catch-22, there’s one thing that is often overlooked—it does not matter what anyone else thinks. “It wasn’t really my priority to please the public and make them feel like I’m supposed to be looking like I did when I was 25,” Jessica Simpson, another former Weight Watchers spokesperson told Matt Lauer of her past weight loss. “I don’t think that I wasn’t still a sex symbol [with the weight].”

For Ashley Graham, a longtime model and body activist, simply appearing like she had lost weight after launching a career in the plus-size industry triggered immense digital backlash.

“To some I’m too curvy. To others I’m too tall, too busty, too loud, and, now, too small — too much, but at the same time not enough,” she wrote in a piece for Lenny Letter. “When I post a photo from a ‘good angle,’ I receive criticism for looking smaller and selling out. When I post photos showing my cellulite, stretch marks, and rolls, I’m accused of promoting obesity. The cycle of body-shaming needs to end. I’m over it.”

Instead, like all the other women who had experienced shaming on both sides of the scale, the Vogue cover girl reminded everyone that the only person with any say over her looks was—drumroll please—her.

“For the past sixteen years, my body has been picked apart, manipulated, and controlled by others who don’t understand it. But now my career has given me a platform to use my voice to make a difference,” she concluded. “My body is MY body. I’ll call the shots.”

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