The Academy Awards may officially be long over but the unofficial award ceremony is really just wrapping up now.
This is the one which follows on the Oscars as surely as dessert follows dinner: the much more important (and absorbing) task of rating the stars’ wardrobes and figures -- female stars only, of course -- for who shocks us the most.
And the winner this year is, in an impressive double sweep, Angelina Jolie for both gown and current weight. The door prize goes, in a surprise move, goes to Grammy winner Adele, for the audacity of winning a whole bunch of top awards while still being unfashionably overweight and (how bold!) not giving a damn.
One too fat, one too thin -- together framing a problem which must be a kind of living hell for all women in the spotlight. Even top politicians, like Hillary Clinton, who surely have much more important things to think about, have to contend with the constant pressure.
For some female celebrities -- think Oprah or Kirstie Alley -- getting to and staying in in the tiny (and ever shrinking) zone of acceptable weight and high style is an obvious struggle. Don’t assume though, that the ones who always seem to dress precisely on trend and whose scales never seem to stray from the authorized zone of perfection aren’t also feeling the heat.
It’s hard work for most women to keep weight off- these women at least get some praise for their backstage efforts. But you only need to watch how quickly they feel obliged to lose the extra weight gained in pregnancy -- the one time you’d think even celebrities would be cut some slack -- to know how heavily this expectation sits on their shoulders too.
Then there are the other ones, the Angelinas, who get dinged for having apparently done the job too well. Too fat, too thin -- fall off that tiny perch and you become instant grist for the gossip mill.
Curiously, the story isn’t always exactly the same: we love and are inspired by Kirstie Alley thin but revile her fat. Yet fat or thin, we always love Oprah. So what’s the rationale behind that?
One way or the other, we always, always love the opportunity to speculate and judge the stars at the outer edges of the spectrum. Look at Angelina’s arms -- is she anorexic? Can you believe how much food Kirstie ate on her last vacation? Is Courtney Cox exercising too much? And did you see how dumpy Hillary looked at that last state dinner?
So many questions based on so few facts and with such tiny odds of being answered correctly. Maybe Angelina’s thinness is just a by-product of trying to keep a hectic career and family life on track. Maybe some of this year’s wackier Oscar presenters just chose the wrong stylist. But in the midst of all this the real question is … why do we care?
Are we all so perfect that we feel justified in judging these public figures? Or do we forget, in the moment of judgment, the less than perfect reality we face in the mirror every day?
This last one may be more to the point than it appears at first glance. You can make the argument that these celebrities get paid outrageous amounts of money for what they do and being in the public eye is just part of the gig. But keep in mind that performers tend to be rather sensitive types, approval seekers who quite likely find themselves unprepared for this very different kind of attention.
And that means that, sadly, we are doing exactly what humans tend to do—singling out the most exposed and therefore most vulnerable among us (big paydays or not) as a kind of offset- - in this case, for the crazy-making pressure most women feel to live up to an impossible standard of “beauty”.
So essentially we are making these stars our fashion scapegoats -- put on a pedestal so we can just pull them down.
Given all this, I have extra admiration for celebrities like Adele who do flout convention and seem truly comfortable with that choice, though whether this resolve will hold in the long run is another question. If she goes that way, certainly she wouldn’t be the first to cave as, in the face of growing success, the pressure also grew.
In the end, though, this really is about us. The pressure we place on celebrities finds its source in the pressure under which we ourselves have been placed. And our eagerness to dump it onto someone else only emphasizes how hard we find that pressure to bear.
Are we ready to consider this? Or even to challenge it? Given that we rarely give up coping strategies until they completely fail us and given that there are always starlets waiting in the wings ready, however inadvertently, to bear the load, we have
to say not likely.
Certainly not as long as the power to decide what is “just right” lays in someone else’s