Angelina Jolie, despite the fact that she was not a nominee, was the talk of the Academy Awards. There was the whole Leg Thrusting Debacle — the actress was quite dramatic about using the high slit on her dress to display her right leg — but the blogosphere was also exploding with comments and questions about her weight. Namely, that she looked “gaunt,” “too skinny,” and “shrinking,” with many crowing that she should “eat a cheeseburger” and “put a lil’ more meat on those bones.”
I will admit to being one of those people who commented on her being too thin. I’ve been thinking about that reaction though, and am disappointed in myself for snarking on her weight.
While my instinct is to be, as many have described themselves, “concerned” about what her thinness might indicate about her health, I also know that “concern” is a poor excuse for passing judgment about the health of someone I don’t even know. After all, I am hardly losing sleep over the well-being of Angelina Jolie. And her health — the details of which I know zip, zero, nada about — at the end of the day, is definitely not my business. Perhaps I would be more justified in casually discussing her weight if Jolie had made, I don’t know, her weight loss tips the subject of a magazine article, like Jessica Simpson, whose weight struggles have been sold to and then complained about in the press. But Jolie hasn’t done that.
There are a couple of problems with discussing on Jolie’s weight, whether its swaddled in faux concern or nasty snark, and they have little to do with Jolie herself. (My hunch is that Jolie doesn’t really give a shit what people are saying about her body and, again, I’m not going to pretend I’m concerned about her at all, including concerned about her feelings.) The real impact of snarking on anyone’s weight who’s in the public eye is the message that snark sends the average person. Snarking on Angelina’s thinness as unattractive or expressing “concern” for it being unhealthy-looking tells naturally thin people they are unattractive and unhealthy-looking. But even more bothersome, to me at least, is that comments about how Jolie should “eat a cheeseburger” make light of the difficulty people with anorexia have with the seemingly simple task of eating. This is the part that makes me most disappointed in myself, because I should know better.
Melanie* is my best friend from childhood. We were as close as sisters until junior high when she transferred schools, made new friends, and we grew apart. We got back in touch again in our early-20s and, as luck would have it, were both going to be in Washington, D.C. for an event. I was super excited to see her in person. That day, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turning around, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t able to hide the shock from my face. The friend whose tall, strong dancer’s body I once envied for its grace and limberness looked little like the woman standing in front of me. We hugged tightly and I felt how frail she was. To say that her weight loss was noticeable would be an understatement. We didn’t discuss her health at all that day, but it was, at least to me, the elephant in the room. I didn’t know what to say — to ask her what had happened seemed incredibly inappropriate and rude. And to tell her that she needed to eat a cheeseburger? That would have been outrageously cruel.
A few years later, after dancing around the issue during occasional phone conversation, she confessed that she had anorexia and our reunion that day came just a few months before she checked into an eating disorder clinic and spent the first month on a feeding tube. I truly cannot grasp how eating could be such an impossible concept that one would “choose” to be force-fed nutrients instead; but since then I have tried to be mindful of not being so arrogant as to think I could even understand it without living in her shoes. Melanie is in recovery and has developed a healthier relationship with food, but it is and probably always will be a struggle for her to simply “eat a cheeseburger.”
So, for that reason — and the fact that I have no idea what Angelina Jolie’s cheeseburger intake is and can’t honestly justify internet chatter on the subject as “concern” — I pledge to be more diligent about not snarking on anyone’s body, no matter their size. Because I know better than to assume I know anything.
* Name has been changed.