(Content warning: dieting, over exercising, body image/body abuse, etc.)
Actress Andra Day reported earlier last week that she “abused” her body in order to “get in the headspace” of Billie Holiday for her new role. Day began to drink, smoke, and force her body into losing over 40+ pounds to fit into the standards of Hollywood and thus, into Billie Holiday.
Day wanted to feel all of the pain that Holiday once felt, in order to accurately portray the role in The United States VS Billie Holiday. However, the mental and physical experiences Day put her body through affected her friends and family, as well. In order to connect with the spirit of Holiday, Day caused harm to her body, and hurt those who cared for her in the process. Day’s actions show us that the end result is never worth the self harm. But it’s a lesson that seems to be easily cast aside in the pursuit of perfection.
This is not a new concept. Other examples come to mind, including Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. Hathaway abused her body in a similar way for the role; she was forced to excessively eat to make her body appear “fat” and then to exhaust her body to lose the weight when her character transitions from “ugly” to “pretty.” Yuck yuck yuck.
It’s important to note that this is not exclusively a female issue. A 2020 Screenrant.com article estimates that actor Christian Bale has lost and gained approximately 610 pounds in his career, as he drastically adjusted his weight for movies such as The Machinist, American Hustle and Vice.
So, why do performers feel pressured to subject their bodies to harm in order to land (and star in) certain roles? Why do we, as viewers and fans, accept this and believe that it’s a sign of “commitment”? Method acting is a noble pursuit, but where do we draw the line?
Even if we were to take the callous approach of not considering the effects of these “transformations” on the celebrities who embark on them, there are other downsides. By forcing her body into a major weight loss that may not have even been right for her body type, Day also sent the message out to fans that excessive drinking, smoking, and undereating is fine, as long as it gets you into the headspace for your new role. Young girls everywhere could be influenced by Day’s abusive decisions. Day was already cast for the role; why take the method acting to this level of abuse?
“I put my family through it; I put myself through it,” Day said in an interview. “I went from 163 pounds to 124 pounds. I would talk like her and I don’t drink or smoke, but I started smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Not that I recommend people do this; I was just desperate because this is my first role.”
I was just desperate because this is my first role… that speaks volumes about how the media industry operates. Day is a talented young woman, whose talent landed her the role of the iconic Billie Holiday. Yet, Day still felt pressured to force her body into harm’s way. We set unrealistic standards for women and in doing so, women around the world feel like they have to force themselves to lose weight, to fit a perfect image of what a woman “should be.”
This is a direct example of how no one in Hollywood (or the rest of the world, really) will be free of fatphobia and diet culture. Celebrities that achieve the “perfect” body or set new “perfect” standards, like the Kardashians, are still always trying to lose weight. It’s almost as if they are compelled to shrink in order to satisfy the needs of society. What does this say to the average person about body image? What does it tell young people about their body image and self worth?
Despite the never ending battle with diet culture and fatphobia in the realm of acting, some organizations are getting it right. The Broadway Body Positivity Project ensures that actors/actresses of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and backgrounds are welcome in the theater. The organization makes theater equitable for all humans to be a part of, and we love to see it!
In an interview with Bold, Stephanie Lexis from The Broadway Body Positivity Project said, “I don’t believe that layers of fat (or lack thereof) affect ability to tell stories. Most scripts don’t reference body size or shape but we perpetuate the idea that one must be slim in order to play roles – and with that, we’re promoting the idea that slim equals beautiful, likeable, worth of love.”
You are beautiful exactly as you are. Day is beautiful exactly how she is. No one should ever feel like they need to be abusive to their bodies in any way just to fit an impossible standard. Not only that, but no one needs to hurt their bodies to fit a role; their talent speaks for themselves, just as Day’s does. Forcing yourself to lose weight, for any reason, can be harmful to your mental and physical health. Always remember that you are allowed to take up space, exactly how you are.
You are loved. You are safe. You are beautiful. You are bold.