The deep dive: inside the Hollywood thin dustry
Secret clauses demanding actors become ‘malnourished’. Trainers forced upon A-list stars. Lucy Vine lifts the lid on Hollywood’s body fascism – and the experts paid to ‘ bully’ our most famous stars into conforming
it won’t come as a shock to anyone reading this that Hollywood likes its women to be, well, thin. But increasingly, personal trainers have become a staple on film sets, and studio heads openly coerce their leading ladies into losing weight. And with a new emphasis on HD technology, actresses are now expected to arrive on set already looking ‘perfect’ – from every angle.
‘ They’d measure me and call up the personal trainer at, like, nine at night going, “Is she in the gym? And if she isn’t, why isn’t she?”’ actress Gemma Arterton recently revealed of her experience of being forced to lose weight. She didn’t name the film, but described the ‘traumatic’ feeling of being videoed in the gym for proof to show bosses she was trying. ‘ There was one day when I went to get some snacks,’ she said. ‘And the man – this big, fat, obese producer – went: “I hope you’re not going to eat that.”’
This kind of obsessive monitoring is increasingly the norm. Jennifer Lawrence has described how, ‘Somebody [on set] told me I was fat. That I was going to get fired if I didn’t lose a certain amount of weight. They brought in pictures of me where I was basically naked and told me to use them as motivation.’ Sienna Miller has told how her Factory Girl director George Hickenlooper would ‘snatch bagels out of my hands’. A producer on a Sarah Jessica Parker film once had a treadmill flown to the set for her. And Amy Schumer was informed before filming Trainwreck that, ‘If you weigh over 140lbs… on screen it will hurt people’s eyes.’
These comments underline why actresses often resort to hard-core workouts and crash diets. But why, despite these women speaking out, is nothing changing? Why aren’t A-list actresses being heard?
A weighty problem
How studios can get away with such blatant body shaming is a question we put to Hollywood casting director, Diana*, who asked not to be named. ‘It’s often disguised as a need to get “into character”,’ she tells Grazia. ‘If a character is described as being ‘lean’, ‘athletic’ or ‘malnourished’, the studio is technically only asking the actress to better service her own performance and the film. They can claim they’re viewing the body as part of the costume. I don’t get a say in these matters, I’m just told what film bosses want. I do feel complicit, but if I say no, I lose my job. It’s an incredibly superficial and judgemental industry – you should see how people react when I eat a brownie on set, like I’m some kind of rebel!’
At the heart of the problem, she says, are ‘look tests’, which in effect are an audition on camera. But for many actresses, says former producer Andrea*, they are often less about auditioning and more about women parading on camera so directors can see if they’re attractive enough. ‘Of course they want to know if she can act, but most look tests are to see how she looks. If she’s not deemed thin enough but has the rest of the look, most bosses think that can be “fixed”.’ Andrea adds that she’s seen directors take this further, demanding re-writes that make the lead female character smaller for this very purpose. ‘Adding that into the script meant he could tell his actress to lose weight, and it was just part of the character’s look,’ she says. ‘It’s not noble, but it’s better than saying to an actress that she needs to be emaciated to fit his ideal of beauty. This kind of thing is definitely impacting male actors too, but not in the same way: the guys are expected to be big and buff, not wasting away, like women.’
Indeed, the huge popularity of superhero movies means we’re seeing a flurry of men beefing up. But the same isn’t happening with their female co-stars. Upcoming Thor: Ragnarok sees Chris Hemsworth appearing more muscle- bound than ever, while Valkyrie, played by Tessa Thompson, still fits the traditional look. Likewise, the latest Guardians Of The Galaxy saw Chris Pratt bulk up, working with a personal trainer
six times a week, while Zoe Saldana stuck to a ‘gluten- free, no added sugar, nothing artificial’ diet to maintain her smaller frame.
David Kingsbury has been a personal trainer for 12 years, working all over the world with the likes of Michael Fassbender and Hugh Jackman – turning the latter into a literal mutant, Wolverine. ‘Most film sets come with their own personal trainer now,’ says David. ‘ We’re considered part of the crew. I’m hired by the studios rather than actors. They brief me on what their goals are for the actor. We’ll go through dates so I can work out the timeline for training. After that I’ll meet the actor to talk training and nutrition. We start working together eight to 12 weeks before shooting, and then I’m on set for the duration of filming.’
David’s website focuses on his work with male actors, and there is, of course, a difference between the need to physically change for a character – as with many superhero films – and a producer asking an actress to be thinner for the sake of their own skewed aesthetics. And unlike some trainers, David refuses to take things too far. ‘I don’t work in that extreme way, even when we’re short on time,’ he adds. ‘My exercise and diet plan can’t negatively impact an actor’s ability to perform.’ But he does admit there is pressure on actresses to fit a body ideal. ‘It does go on,’ he confirms. ‘ There is always going to be a negative side, everyone’s very aware of the pressure to appear a certain way.’
Another trainer, Dan*, reveals it’s not just actresses under pressure. ‘Studios expect us to deliver more and more dramatic results,’ he says. ‘As films compete for box office
‘ IF YOU WEIGH OVER 140LBS, ON SCREEN IT WILL HURT PEOPLE’S EYES’
success, they rely on their actors to step up too. For women, that often means reaching unattainable levels of perfection. I’ve been asked to “help” a lead actress lose an unrealistic amount of weight. When I met her, she had no idea why I was even there – no one had told her. It was a very awkward conversation. I tried to say it wasn’t feasible in the time frame – or appropriate for her health – and the studio shrugged and said they’d find someone who could do it. We
both knew we faced that same option. So I took the job and the actress lost the weight.’
Producer Andrea blames the ingrained thin- is- best narrative that has carried through Hollywood’s history, and is now underlined by the rise of on- demand cosmetic surgery and HD screens. ‘Actors are seen as tools by many producers and directors,’ she says. ‘ They look at them as barely human, analysing their every expression and every move on a screen, like they’re hired robots.
‘ The new cameras capture each perceived flaw, and if a director doesn’t like what they see on the screen, they want it changed.’ But she does believe that the men in charge will start to listen, particularly as films like
Wonder Woman do well at the box office. Because, yes, even though we are still talking about a film full of slim, gorgeous women,
Wonder Woman is a step in the right direction. Its leading lady, Gal Gadot, was asked to gain weight. She worked with trainer Mark Wright, who spoke of his shock at how ‘her wrist went all the way up. Her elbow was the thickest part of her arm.’ Andrea says, ‘I’m sure studio bosses must be starting to realise that theirs is dinosaur behaviour. Even the catwalks are moving away from the “size zero” ideal, and are lambasted if they don’t use healthy sizes.’
A REDUCTIVE HISTORY
For the past 100 years, audiences have been captivated by large, brutish Rhett Butler types, and seduced by fragile, hollow- eyed Judy Garlands (who was told aged 14 by MGM that she looked like a ‘fat little pig with pigtails’). Films may have changed, but actress’s dress sizes haven’t. Even today, the number of actresses over a size 8 regularly working in Hollywood can probably be counted on one hand. And when you do encounter larger actresses on the A-list, such as Rebel Wilson or Melissa Mccarthy, it’s largely in comedic or character roles.
And what of those actresses lower on the showbiz scale, who don’t feel able to speak out? ‘ There is no way I can talk publicly about these issues,’ says Sophie* who has been a jobbing actress for 12 years. ‘I would be too worried about losing work or getting a bad reputation. It’s a sad reality, but there is so much pressure to look the “right” way. One actor friend got daily calls from her producer to ask what she’d eaten and what exercise she’d done that day. Another was told by her agent that she either had to slim down or fatten up, because she was “too big” for young lead roles but not big enough to be a character actress!
‘ The whole thing is about judging your look, right from the casting call, which usually says “Must be attractive”. At the casting, your body is treated as a public discussion point. I was at a swimwear casting where there were eight people just staring at me and openly talking about my body as if I wasn’t there. It was so awful and shaming. But if I were asked to lose weight for a role, I probably would. This is a tough industry and, if I refused, I know there would be a million women behind me who would be biting at my heels to do it instead.’
THE GROWING BACKLASH
But a sea change is looming. As more actresses speak out, Hollywood will have to start listening – and not just when it comes to body image. Jessica Chastain has pledged to work with a female director every year. Michelle Rodriguez threatened to pull out of The Fast And The Furious unless writers have female characters speaking to each other. Emma Stone has spearheaded a movement for equal pay. Rose Mcgowan named and shamed the casting calls for Adam Sandler’s films, which required women to audition in ‘form fitting tank that shows off cleavage ( push- up bra encouraged)’. Amber Tamblyn spoke publicly about the sexual harassment young actresses often face in a piece for The New York Times recently. In it, she exposed her own harasser – actor James Wood – and wrote, ‘ What I have experienced as an actress working in a business whose business is to objectify women is frightening. It is the deep end of a pool where I cannot swim.’
Grazia spoke exclusively to Lily Collins – who previously suffered from an eating disorder – about it. She told us, ‘I applaud people who are talking about it because it all affects us differently… I can imagine that when someone’s telling you [to lose weight], it’s all very emotional.’ Michelle Dockery agrees, saying, ‘ I hear about [ weight shaming] on a lot of productions and I was actually offered a trainer on Godless. Of course there are pressures on actresses, and it’s a pressure women shouldn’t have. We’re actors and all different shapes and sizes.’
This new-wave attitude is spreading to other, connected industries too, with fashion giants LVMH and Kering, who own brands including Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Christian Dior, vowing to no longer use models below a UK size 4. There is a feeling that women are not going to take this any more. Which is what we need, says body image expert Holli Rubin. ‘Hollywood has always been the ultimate barometer for women’s looks. So seeing hyper- thin actresses and models impacts how we see ourselves. The notion that actresses possess the right or ideal way to look is omnipresent and women have always tried to emulate them. But it is unrealistic – we are left feeling disappointed and less than.’
Holli believes that our only route to true change is with more women, like Gemma Arterton, using their power to speak out. ‘ We need established actresses having the courage to say, “No, I won’t lose weight for this role.” Only by breaking out of the box and letting women be who they are will these stereotypes be obliterated.’
Because, ultimately, it comes down to us and what we’re willing to put up with. Film studios and producers will argue that they are giving the public what they want, so it’s time for our expectations to adapt. As casting director Diana says, ‘ The only way things are going to change is for studios to see that the public want to see real bodies. We also need Hollywood’s inherent chauvinism to fall away, which will come with more women taking those top jobs.’
If our favourite actors are ready for the brave new all-sizes-welcome world, the only question that remains is whether Hollywood is too.
Clockwise from main picture: Sienna Miller in Factory Girl; Jennifer Lawrence; Amy Schumer in Trainwreck; Gemma Arterton
Right: Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman; a larger- sized model on the catwalk
From Chastain; left: Lily Jessica Collins on set; Michelle Rodriguez in The Fast And The Furious