Saturday, 5 May 2012

The "Too-Skinny is Beautiful" Epidemic

I'm sure many of you have seen this picture that floated around the internet a few months ago:

I was prompted to re-share the photo above after reading some absolutely horrendous online comments about Megan Hilty (pictured below), the beautiful Broadway star turned TV actress on the hit show Smash. The voluptuous and (more importantly) talented actress has been described by some teen girls as "chunky," while preferring to idolize the weight of Hilty's costar Katharine McPhee. Furthermore, online article titles about Hilty (e.g. "Curvy Girl Gets TV Show!" and "Smash star Megan Hilty: no thanx to Spanx") demonstrate the shock and surprise at casting a woman with an actual figure. My question is: when did it become such a shock to see a female with a womanly figure landing a coveted role on TV? 

When Hilty was asked by Access Hollywood if there was any padding to her Smash costumes (since her character is seeking to land the role of Marilyn Monroe in  Broadway musical), Hilty proudly stated: "There is no padding. That's what you get for casting someone with a real body on TV." My question is, why was that question even asked in the first place? Why are we so stunned that Hilty is proud of her weight? Why are her curves even making headlines? I'll tell you why: stars like Hilty are, in the 2012 era of "skinny is so beautiful epidemic," are, sadly, an anomaly. 

I now encourage you to look at the picture at the top of this post again. Hilty's figure is reminiscent of the 1950s stars that the mass media of the day promoted as beautiful: the figure of say, Marilyn Monroe, or Elizabeth Taylor. That's not to say that all stars of the 1950s were voluptuous. (Look at any photo of Audrey Hepburn to have that one confirmed.) However, the difference is, Hepburn was in many ways the anomaly of the 1950s, not Monroe or Taylor. We are now seeing a complete shift in what society covets and promotes as sexy and beautiful. 

What are the problems with this, you may ask? You have Smash (mainly McPhee) fans who are picking their favourite star (Hilty or McPhee) based on weight, not talent. We are living in a skinny-obsessed society, one that values weight over everything else. Scary stuff. Because, when you look at the sheer talent of both women, while both are gifted singers, there's no contest in my mind to who the stronger singer is.

These days, when we see anybody modern with curves in the media, we automatically think, "Ooh, a vintage look for a change!" Why must this be a look we only consider "vintage?" Why can't it be a look we value for every woman in 2012? Most women with curves on TV is not in a show that takes place in our modern times. Hilty portrays a character portraying Monroe, so her curves are considered "acceptable." Christina Hendricks is on Mad Men, a show set in the 1960s, so, again, it's "acceptable." I can't, off the top of my head, think of anyone else on TV that has true curves. We've been on a steady decline, from the 1970s onward, to idolizing women who are skinnier and skinnier. See the photo timeline below for examples: 

 1950s (Lucille Ball): The I Love Lucy icon was what I would call a  "very healthy skinny."

1960s (Barbara Eden): In the 1960s, I Dream of Jeannie audiences dreamed of a voluptuous and stunning genie in Barbara Eden.

1970s (Farrah Fawcett): The 1970s presented women of many different body types (e.g. curvy Wonder Woman), but skinny Farrah Fawcett of Charlie's Angels fame became an idealized body type.

1980s (Tracey Gold): The Growing Pains star battled eating disorders after feeling pressure from ABC to lose weight.

1990s (Courteney Cox): The skinny Friends star reflects the average image of women in the media for the 1990s decade.

2000s (Eva Longoria): While this Desperate Housewives star isn't dangerously skinny, the nature of the photo shoot suggests the image-obsessed culture we currently live in.

I did not post these pictures of current women in the spotlight to criticize their weight; I am merely pointing out the progression of societal image idolization. It's no wonder that Megan Hilty is an anomaly when looking at the mass-produced images of women of the last few decades. I hope that the casting of Megan Hilty produces a turning point, where we in society start to re-idolize the HEALTHY figure. Not a woman who professes herself as "curvy" but is actually overweight, not a dangerously skinny woman who exercises herself to the point of exhaustion and starvation, but women who are naturally beautiful. I hope we can reach a point where we aren't shocked by Megan Hilty's healthy appearance on TV.

I truly look forward to a resurgence of a day when healthy, curvy women are no longer the minority in both the media and our everyday surroundings.


  1. I suppose you've had it ever since celebrity began, only with different parameters. Look at the way MGM treated Judy as they tried to get her weight down. As time has progressed film has proffered ever-thinner stars. I honestly don't know why, I don't think it's attractive to see someone looking unhealthily thin. Give me the curves of Shirley Jones in that top picture any day. Or, better still, Judy Garland when she was healthy and happy!

  2. So true. Film's definition of beautiful just keeps getting thinner and thinner. Judy always looked (and performed) better when she was at a healthy weight... if MGM had realized that, maybe her demons wouldn't have been as damaging.