Monthly Archives: October 2013

Celebrity Dieting for Dollars

Lynne Murray says:

I was very upset to hear rumors at that diet companies were “battling” over having Rebel Wilson as their spokesperson.”

Wilson is one of a very few smart, funny, sexy role models who seems to take no prisoners. Many of her interviews suggest that she understands and takes responsibility for her influence on women struggling with body image problems. She always seems to make the point that the “standing out in a crowd” aspect of fatness can be valuable.

A piece describes her attitude:

Wilson is round in a way that seems like an attribute; she has a post-fat state of mind. She does not shy away from her size—instead, she embraces the fact that she is different. That attitude makes Wilson at one with the Zeitgeist: In entertainment today, unless you aspire to be on a reality show or soap opera, different is the way to be.

“I was thinking, Why are these network shows so crap? As a creative person, it can make you insane to have 50 people in suits, who aren’t in comedy, feeling that they have a say in every aspect of the show. The people who bought it keep telling me, ‘You can’t say that. And you can’t do that.’ So one day, I sat down and wrote a Post-it and put it in my Hello Kitty notebook, which I take everywhere. Whenever I feel down, I read the Post-it and remember why I’m doing the show.”

Her Post-it is a kind of mission statement: “The bigger purpose in all of this,” Wilson wrote, “is to inspire girls who don’t think they’re socially all that—who don’t think they’re pretty and popular. To let them know they can have fun and exciting lives.”

The Misfit: Can Rebel Wilson Create the American Sitcom’s First Genuine Outcast?
By Lynn Hirschberg

The piece speculated that the payday Wilson could reap for a weight loss spokesperson gig could amount to $4 million (the amount Jessica Simpson collected for her endorsement deal with Weight Watchers, dollars) “An insider claims that [Wilson] is asking for a fortune…. viewers could get a front-row seat to her slim down on her ABC series.”

Jezebel concluded by mentioning that “[Wilson] also has a history with the industry: she was the spokesperson for Jenny Craig Australia in 2012.”

I was saddened at the prospect of seeing Wilson’s attitude turned into the sort of smarmy commercials that have me diving for the remote to mute the television set when I hear the words, “Jennifer Hudson.” I just hate to see another in-your-face-fat girl turned into a notch on the diet industry’s bedpost. Someone on Facebook mentioned that an appropriate sound track the Queen song, “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Then a ray of hope dawned in the form of an post quoting Wilson shooting down the rumors:

Rebel assured her involvement in a weight-loss campaign is a rumor. “Nobody’s come to me directly,” adding that another program she was involved with in Australia, “Didn’t quite work out.”

When it comes to body image, Wilson explained, “I don’t really care what I look like that much, and I think women out there should just be happy with the way they look. They shouldn’t really try to conform to any kind of stereotype. Just be happy and hopefully healthy.”

In a 2012 article, an Australian newspaper, “The Daily Telegraph” described the outcome of Wilson’s Jenny Craig adventure there:

Speaking on the Kyle and Jackie O show this morning, the Bridesmaids actress said she was landing more roles in the US because of her figure.  “Because of my filming commitments in America you have to sign contracts where you can’t change your physical appearance,” she said on-air.  The Sydney-born star said she ended the agreement “like a year ago”.

Wilson’s most recent big screen outing, in a Capella comedy “Pitch Perfect”, saw her play a character called “Fat Amy”. Producers told her when she landed the part she couldn’t lose more than a few kilos before filming finished.

Rebel Wilson might be better qualified than most fat actresses to negotiate a graceful exit from diet company bondage. She has a law degree, writes much of her own comedy material and her career is on the rise. The typical weight company “ambassador” is a performer who seem to have exhausted the shock value of rising above the crowd as a talented fat phenomenon. Not getting any younger in a youth-obsessed profession and facing the reality that very few parts exist for fat actors and singers, the temptation must grow to accept a weight company spokesperson offer before the public forgets their names and even those offers dry up. The stated aim would be to reboot their careers by recreating their bodies several sizes smaller, but do they really find career opportunities not centered on their dieting activities?

The way in which weight loss companies truly use and abuse their spokespeople shows up in the Australian Jenny Craig organization’s comment on Wilson’s departure. A diplomatic statement assured the world that, “they were happy to briefly have Wilson has an ambassador” but it came coupled with a back-handed insult:   “The well-rounded comedienne ended her agreement with the weight loss giant last year before reaching her target goal, which was shedding 20kg [45 pounds].”  They just had to let us know that they defined Wilson as a dieting failure despite her acting career successes.

I value Wilson’s attitude so much, that I strongly hope she continues on the path that led her out of the dieting celebrity game and into an increasingly stronger voice for body diversity.

Breast Cancer: Just the Facts, Ma’am

Laurie and Debbie say:

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States, which might be a good thing if it increased breast cancer awareness. Instead, it far too often reinforces stereotypes, gives marketers a hook, and increases the amount of pink in the world.

Before we get to the two stories that got us started down this road, let’s just review the statistics. Almost everyone has heard the “1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime.” This is, more or less, a true statement, but it’s rarely accompanied by the reminder that four of those women will get breast cancer over the age of 60 and two of those will be over the age of 70. This says something about increased cancer tracking to increased life span. Breast cancer death rates have been decreasing since 1989, and breast cancer incidence has been decreasing since 2002.

If anyone has ever told you that Asian women “don’t get breast cancer,” they were wrong. Going back to the statistics link above, Asian women get breast cancer at approximately 2/3 of the rate of white non-Hispanic women, which is absolutely not an excuse for a doctor to rule out or ignore the possibility. As Angry Asian Man says at the link:

The National Asian Breast Cancer Initiative is a … national initiative to address the unique cultural, linguistic and genetic challenges that Asian women face related to breast cancer.

During the month of October, NABCI has entitled this campaign “Asian women don’t get breast cancer” in honor of breast cancer activist Susan Shinagawa — and for the express purpose is dispelling this fallacy.

Shinagawa is in treatment for an unrelated breast cancer recurrence. During her first breast cancer, she initially wasn’t sent for a biopsy because two different doctors didn’t believe she could have breast cancer.

(Many diseases are racialized in this way, and many people die of medical assumptions based on how they look–as clear an example as any of how body image can be a life-and-death issue.)

Men get breast cancer too–about 1 in 1,000 men will get breast cancer in their lifetimes. This is still enough to make it important for doctors to take the possibility seriously.

Meanwhile, while women are threatened with imminent breast cancer (1 in 8 of you!) and simultaneously turned away from breast cancer diagnosis because epicanthic folds in your eyelids are somehow evidence of what’s happening in your breast tissue, corporations have your back. Everywhere we turn in October, something else is pink, because Breast Cancer Awareness Is Important. Unless, of course, the pink products are trying to kill you.

Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel lists ten of these products, and puts them all in the context of “pinkwashing,” a term coined by Breast Cancer Action to describe “insidious Breast Cancer® cause marketing that doesn’t actually do anything but exploit people’s good intentions to at best pad corporate pockets and at worst convince people to expose themselves to carcinogenic chemicals For The Cause.”

Examples include:

Chevrolet has promised to donate $10 from each tests drive on select dates in October and November to an American Cancer Society program. Problem is that many, many chemicals involved in the manufacture of cars demonstrably cause cancer. In fact, women who work in automobile manufacturing are much more likely to develop breast cancer than women who do not.

But hey, who would expect Chevrolet to actually clean up its act and make its employees safer? Pink is easier!

A portion of profits from sales of Dramatically Different face lotion by Clinique are being donated to a Breast Cancer® charity. Unfortunately, Dramatically Different contains propylparaben, a hormone disruptor (hormone disruptors, as a class of chemicals, have been linked to breast cancer).

We do disagree with Ryan about her unexamined connection between “obesity” and breast cancer, especially since her link on the subject is only about recurrence of breast cancer and not initial appearance. But her point about pinkwashing and dangerous products is still valid.

What should you do for Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Check your breasts. Have a mammogram if you’re due for one. Catch up on your statistics. If you want to donate, donate to the National Asian Breast Cancer Initiative or some other anti-corporate activist group. Don’t buy anything pink unless you want it anyway.