Size Matters: Celebrity Schadenfreude

Tasha Fierce
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Tasha Fierce is a writer living in the occupied Tongva territory known as Los Angeles. You can follow them on Twitter at @tashajfierce and read more of their work on their website.


Celebrities who have the “misfortune” of gaining a few pounds usually find pictures of themselves looking “fat” on the cover of a tabloid rag at some point. Americans, at least, seem to derive pleasure from this, as if gaining weight is some kind of comeuppance for celebrities, knocking them off their pedestal and showing the world they aren’t so perfect after all. The attitude is that getting fat is a punishment for vanity, or just something generally bad that we can wish on beautiful thin people we feel envious of or don’t like for some reason. Getting fat ranks up there with botched plastic surgery as far as reasons to ridicule celebrities endlessly. We want them to be perfect, and when they’re proven to be just like you and me, fat and all, our lives are turned upside down. Well, some people’s lives.

A few years ago, Tyra Banks made the tabloids after someone shot an “unflattering” series of pictures of her in a bathing suit. Ty Ty came out blazing, getting the cover of People with the headline “You call this fat??” She also did a segment on her talk show decrying the pictures and then tried to tie her plight to the plight of other women everywhere who have been called fat unfairly. Because, you know, calling someone fat is really cruel. Every time a celebrity decides to come out and defend their nonfat honor, it reinforces the idea that fat is negative, something to be avoided at all costs.

VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club is a veritable jackpot of celebrity schadenfreude. The premise is that we get to watch faded stars who’ve gained weight go through a “boot camp” led by Harvey Walden IV, an ex-Marine personal trainer, to get thin again, but mostly just make excuses about why they gained weight instead of losing this week. Being celebs, they often skip boot camp meetings (they get to go home in between the sessions) because they supposedly had something more important to do, such as Bobby Brown claiming he had some show in Europe to do. (Bobby, we know you are not doing any type of shows right now. Give it up.) Or they show up drugged out like Daniel Baldwin (who spent most of the first season like that, actually) and have general rage attacks. The point being, ha ha look at these fat celebs, their lives are all out of control and they eat to take the pain away. Obviously, this is not a positive move towards fat acceptance. The shame train is chugging along and Harvey Walden IV is the conductor.

Jessica Simpson has repeatedly been skewered by the media for her weight gain. Although she has embraced her newfound “curves” and says she is at peace with her body, that apparently just hypes up the fat shaming, since there’s no way we’re going to let her off the hook that easily. A celebrity being okay with gaining 10 pounds? Oh hell no. Even articles that support Simpson’s body acceptance have to throw in a little jab about her dress being too tight. Personally, I never had much respect for Jessica Simpson before I saw her attitude about gaining weight. The way she’s handling it it is basically the polar opposite of the way Tyra handled it.

It’s doubtful that the public’s fascination with celebrity weight schadenfreude will wane as long as the general societal climate is tilted towards fat being a Bad Thing. One can only hope, however, that more celebrities will begin to handle shade being thrown at them over gaining a few pounds as gracefully as Simpson.

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28 Comments Have Been Posted

OMG, but being fat is like

OMG, but being fat is like the worst thing ever!!!! Can't you just say "plus-sized?"

Seriously, I really can't stand how awful we are to celebrities. Are we putting them on these pedestals just so we can knock them down? I'm not like, a big apologist for everyone in Hollywood but the whole schadenfreude thing gets me down. I don't understand how the tabloids stay in business when I've never purchased one.

Thank you

Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

The second link you provide discusses a show Simpson made recently called "The Price of Beauty." Did you (or any of the readers out there) see the show? It seems like a very interesting concept.

I found another article about her just now, which she discusses the show and her concept of beauty. Here's the link -- -- and here's an excerpt:

Now, however, she said she loves her curves and is ready to expose the world's ideas of beauty on her new reality show, "The Price of Beauty," set for a March 15 debut. "I'm interested in learning more about myself and what I value in myself and letting that be the beautiful part of me, rather than putting on the makeup or wearing the right designer," she said. "It really is about the heart of a woman that makes her beautiful."

Calling the pressure from the media to be thin "disgusting," she said that's why she decided to make the show. She added that her strength comes from her family. "I have an incredible family. They are my backbone," she said. "And then I have my best friends that I surround myself with. I just try to journal and try to discover how I can fight this on my own, as well.

"Nobody else can [define] beauty but myself," she continued. "Nobody's words, nobody's compliments, nobody's love, none of that. ... It's all what I have within myself. Every day will continue to be a journey. Every day, we'll find something new out about ourselves that is authentic and is unique, but I really just finally relaxed. I don't care what people have to say about my weight. I really don't, because I think I look great."

Sigh, Jessica Simpson...

<p>I was in J.Simp's corner, body acceptance–wise, until I got an eyeful of her VH1 show, The Price of Beauty. Did anyone else watch that? (And by &quot;watch,&quot; I mean, &quot;steal horrified peeks between your fingers while simultaneously trying to protect your ears against the sound of Jesscia and her buddies screeching at top volume&quot;?) It was just the definition of Ugly American, with Jessica, her hairstylist, and her pal CaCee traveling to &quot;exotic&quot; places in a supposed effort to see what's defined as beautiful in other countries, but really making a lot of comments that were clueless at best, culturally insensitive/offensive at worst. I get that the idea was to expand the definition of &quot;beauty&quot; for the youth of America and all that, but it was a cringefest all around.  </p><p>In other news, I'm anxiously awaiting my new issue of Elle magazine, with Gabourey Sidibe on the cover.   </p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>____________
<b>Andi Zeisler, cofounder and editorial/creative director</b>

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Aw, that's a shame. It

Aw, that's a shame. It seemed like an interesting concept in and of itself, but one that would have to be handled with care, for the reasons you point out (the potential for cultural insensitivity and offensiveness).


I am so disappointed to see that <i>Elle</i> cover! I was looking forward to some awesome Sidibe pics, but it looks like they decided to go the offensive/awkward route instead.
<b>Kelsey Wallace, web editor</b>

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No surprise, unfortunately.

Before clicking that link, I thought to myself, "Let me guess, it's basically a headshot." I clicked it and saw that I was correct, but I had neglected to predict that they would lighten her skin as well. As if anyone who wants to read the article about her hasn't seen Precious, wasn't pulling for her at the Oscars, and didn't already know what she looks like. And maybe (gasp!) likes how she looks, as well as her attitude regarding her appearance. Give us more credit, Elle!

Agreed on that for sure.

I had hopes (okay, it was VH1 so not *high* hopes, but hopes) for TPOB until I saw my first and last episode, where J and crew went to Thailand. They went to get massages, and J was acting squeamish and a bit flippant to the masseuses. Then, J.Simp made some crack about how she wondered if the massage had a happy ending. I threw up in my mouth and flipped the channel.

I don't know if she personally connects self-acceptance with accepting others, or if that whole TPOB was just for show (after all, she was pretty successful with that whole Newlyweds thing) and in hopes of having a hit. The whole thing was overessentialized from the first second of the first preview, but I had hoped it wouldn't be so blatantly wrong.

I think I saw an episode of

I think I saw an episode of that "The Price of Beauty" show, and yeah, I remember it being pretty bad. I'm not particularly a fan of Jessica's music or her in general but I definitely appreciate her not freaking out over gaining weight.

That Elle cover of Gabby is a hot mess. They lightened her and stuck her in a bad weave/wig. It's awful.

I am not a huge fan of

I am not a huge fan of Jessica Simpson and believe that she only became popular because of her looks. She was everywhere wearing skimpy clothes especially when she was in Dukes of Hazzard. I think most people would agree that she isn't a great singer and won't even be in the public eye had she not become famous just for being super skinny and pretty. She fit into the very strict definition of hot and leveraged it to become a celebrity. She wanted all the attention for her looks before and received endless amount of positive attention and now on the flip side, she is getting all the attention for not living up to her old image.

I wonder if her weight gain would have been ignored if she was actually talented and used that to become famous rather than just her looks.


Jessica Simpson was (and barely still is?) a singer who first came around about the same time as Britney Spears (about 1999). Suffice it to say, all she is is a prop nowadays, all because of that awful MTV reality show she did with her ex Nick Lechay (anyone remember "Nick and Jessica?" "Is this Chicken or tunafish?") and even more so that god-awful "Dukes of Hazzard" movie that made her out to be nothing short of pornographic eye-candy for 10 year old boys. Just another sad case of irrelevant untalented objectification, if you ask me. I don't need her, much more so than John Mayer (ewww ...) ever did.

Jessica Simpson

Um, yeah, I think Jessica Simpson was quoted as saying her jeans in that photo were a size 4 or 6, by the way. When THAT's "fat," what hopes do us double-digits have? My sister and I are 6' and 6'4; when I was at my skinniest ever (in high school) I was an 8/10, and I was a STICK. She was a 12 - and an athlete in fantastic shape. But nevertheless I remember the ridicule and embarrassment shopping with my friends who were all 0-4's (and 5'4" or so) when I was buying 10's at the mall. There were these trendy stores that only sold sizes 0-3 that my friends would go in and I would just try to blend in, hanging around and waiting, as not one thing in the store would even fit on my calf. Fourteen years later and at a size 14, I'm the same size women like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield were, yet I am treated as basically obese. I keep hearing that normal-sized women are finally becoming "in" - a la the famous Glamour magazine picture, but those of us in the real world are still "weighting."

Just one thing about identification

"Because, you know, calling someone fat is really cruel. Every time a celebrity decides to come out and defend their nonfat honor, it reinforces the idea that fat is negative, something to be avoided at all costs."

If Tyra Banks doesn't think she's fat, what's wrong with her saying that? And besides, that tabloid cover calling her fat was a jab at her, saying "ooohh look at this ex-model, look at how fat she is!" (they made it into an insult, using fat as a negative word). Tyra Banks does not identify as fat, or any other kind of euphemism for it. By her saying she doesn't think she's fat, that's not saying she thinks being fat is bad, it's her saying "That's not me." She DID go on to say how she loves her body, and just because she isn't identifying as fat doesn't mean you can say that she's saying that fat is bad. It seems as though she is being shamed for not identifying as fat. It's her body, let her identify how she wants. Not everyone who is called fat identifies as fat.

So a question is, what should have Tyra Banks said? "Yes I am fat" even though she doesn't view herself that way? or should she have ignored it?

Anywho, I applaud Jessica Simpson. I get so sick and tired of the media picking on her and magnifying every single pound she gains. Let the woman be happy. I think it's sad how fixated the media is on the weights of celebrities (even men) and it really reflects society's obsession with weight, weight loss, and weight gain.


I have a grudging respect for Tyra Banks because I think she does have a fairly progressive outlook when it comes to beauty. The problem is even when fighting for something good she often gets caught within the flawed system; it a prime example of how it doesn't matter how you play you cannot win.
In this case what I got from watching the show was that Tyra was mad that anyone would fault her for gaining a few pounds after she quit modeling. Her slim figure was a part of her job and now that it was over she could relax and enjoy her retirement. I think think that was a great way to look at it; the slim model figure reduced to a work requirement like uniforms or no visible tattoos not, as the tabloids seemed to think, a constant goal to strive for above all else. But then she gets caught in the system because shifting the norm into something more common still imposes the idea that there is a normal way to look and those outside of it are freaks. I see Tyra hovering on the edges of a truly progressive awakening and I hope someday she'll meet someone or something that can knock her over because then she'd be really awesome.

But you can't hold her to

But you can't hold her to someone else's standards. Some people are simply more sensitive about their weights than others, so you can't fault her for getting upset over tabloids calling her fat. I just don't think it's fair to expect her to not care about what the tabloid printed.

A campaign not a statement

But Tyra didn't just say "I'm not fat". She spent an entire show of hers in that swimsuit to "prove" how not-fat she is. She was on the cover of a magazine to "prove" how not-fat she is. That's not just saying "Hey, I'm not fat," and moving on. That's a campaign.

But like I said above, some

But like I said above, some people feel differently about their bodies than others. Some people are higher up on the body acceptance ladder. Everyone reacts differently to being called fat, especially when it's used as an insult (and I can only imagine how Tyra Banks feels, since she spent so many years of her life where her body was such an emphasis).

Part of the thing I think she was getting at was the tabloids beating up female (and male) celebrities for their bodies, even possibly photoshopping them (which I think they did with Tyra Banks) and then plaster them on covers, and say how fat they are. I read Crystal Renn's memoir about overcoming an eating disorder and becoming a plus model and she talks about how awful her agency was to her, how they critiqued her body and told her to lose weight (imagine, telling an anorexic to lose weight!) and how her thighs were too big, etc. I don't know what Tyra Banks went through, if she faced the same criticisms, but they can have lasting effects.

Unfortunately the FA movement still has a long way to go in terms of changing how people view "fat" and not using it or taking it as an insult. As long as people still use it as an insult, it's going to be unfortunately taken as an insult. I wish I could be more matter-of-fact about it (and I'm feeling a lot better about it) and I am working on it, and I bet you anything, so is Tyra Banks.

my two cents....

I think Tyra is just being used as an example of how fatphobia and fat-shaming are reinforced through vocal celebrities and weight-loss television shows. Tyra's own self-image shouldn't be discounted (and I certainly don't know how she feels about her body), but I think in terms of this post it's important to zoom out a little from Tyra Banks' personal experience and examine what broader social impacts and messages about fatness these campaigns contain for the rest of us.
<b>Kjerstin Johnson, Web content manager</b>
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Of course, and I do think

Of course, and I do think that the emphasis on weight-loss shoes and how they negatively impact society. And I can see how her words have a negative impact. Frankly, I'm sick of how many celebrities (men and women) who lose weight, but are then signed on to contracts with Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, etc, and talk about how they lost weight that way (which they most likely didn't). If people want to lose weight, good for them, but putting it on display is another. And these companies use these people to their own gain, because society is so obsessed with celebrity, and they know how much influence celebrities (sadly) have over consumers. It's why celebrities are now on fashion magazine covers instead of models, and it's why celebrities endorse beauty products instead of models.

It reminds me of that Oprah episode (I encountered it on a list of her biggest moments) where she showed off her body after losing 67 lbs, wheeling a cart of "fat" behind her, to show how much she lost, which was through an unhealthy liquid-only diet.

However, what I do appreciate about Tyra Banks is her willingness to say that she does love her body, and that she doesn't feel that it's necessary to lose weight or endorse weight-loss products. It always disappoints me to see a celebrity who has lost weight endorse weight-loss programs or products.

Kjerstin and Shelly have it.

Kjerstin and Shelly have it.

Hey now, that's not cool

Hey now, that's not cool hating on thin women. There are men (and women) who are attracted to thin women and everyone has a different standard of attractiveness.

"Remember stay healthy but do not cave in to the misconception that so called super models are attractive , certainly not the thin ones."

I get what you're saying, but you're bringing other people down to make others feel good. not the best thing to say.

but I think we can all agree

but I think we can all agree Tyran Banks is not fat, or what society-at-large denotes as "fat," so this isn't about personal identity or semantics. By going on a "campaign" (I agree with Anna), Banks just reinforced the tabloid's negative use of the word fat. You say she's comfortable with her own body, but she's obviously not comfortable with fat bodies to have to prove so hard that she is not that, and to distance herself from that label.

It's really hard dealing

It's really hard dealing with someone lobbing an adjective at you when you can tell a) that it's being lobbed mostly as an insult; and b) you don't feel it describes you well enough to own it.

I remember being in middle school and being teased for being queer, and really not being sure what to do with that because as much as I wanted to turn it around and say, "no, I'm not," as I was pretty sure was the case, it also felt like it was validating that as an insult. Sometimes, I wanted to say, "yeah, so what if I am?" but it wouldn't quite be owning it enough to get them to shut up. In fact, largely the opposite. So, option three, which I took, was, apparently, to curl up into a ball and wait, very quietly, to graduate, which was also problematic in its own way. When I was older, I got involved with queer activism on the logic that if the same ridicule had been used as a weapon against me, it was my problem, too.

I think there's a lot of this in the fat-shaming of size 6 women, who aren't quite part of it enough to own it. And I guess this could go on to be license to help that not be an insult the same way, but that is more difficult than it sounds.

Thanks for another great

Thanks for another great post, Tasha! I'm really loving this series. I'm completely guilty of feeling good about shamed celebrities and am realizing that there's so much more tied up in there than poking fun at the lives of the rich and famous.


<cite> realizing that there's so much more tied up in there than poking fun at the lives of the rich and famous.</cite>

Is what it's all about. Simply put. Right on.


It is so easy for the media to pick out the smallest "negative" aspects of a celebrity. I can't help but wonder if Jessica Simpson has done anything recently that made her feel good about herself. Perhaps she wrote a really touching short story, or maybe she has been experimenting with watercolours. It's disturbing to think that all we, as a society, care about is someone's appearance and their downfalls in that area. I don't like Jessica Simpson, and I won't pretend to...but I can't deny that even after gaining weight, she's still a beautiful woman. In the end, if I'm going to pay attention to her, she needs to have done something special....everybody gains and loses weight. It's just not that exciting.

The young male perspective on Size Matters/Jessica Simpson

I have read the whole discussion as well as all of your comments and opinions specifically regarding Jessica Simpson and her views on "weight gain" and her new surely world-changing television show. As a young male I am interested in Jessica Simpson's career and what she is currently up to but from the responses of most you apparently her television show is another "Look at me! I'm out of the spotlight for a little bit and now I'm back with a new found sense of activism and world changing views!".. I am disappointed that a high profile woman who is supposed to be a role model to young girls is consistently putting herself in a position to look ignorant and completely insensitive to personal struggles that "normal" women deal with.

As one post implied they refer to her traveling to "exotic" destinations in order to educate herself on what is beautiful in other cultures, when in most likely "exotic" destinations to her include tourist locations. It is unfortunate that a woman who has been given every gift physically and financially continues to be so self-unaware (not sure if that is a word) and I continue to express publically that models, musicians, actresses, athletes, etc. are not role models in which we need to continue to gravitate towards for deep, thought provoking personal issues such as weight management or self-image. The women who need to be viewed as role models are the ones who are actively engage in expanding awareness of what is healthy and beautiful, even if that woman has some curves on her body.

I have run out of ideas for this rant and hopefully my point of view from a 22 year old male is something different and possibly refreshing as not all men are as concerned with "a few extra pounds" or how women have "let themselves go" because their body physiology changed.

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