The Price of Fey-m

Sexy Tina FeyThere's a lot to love about Tina Fey's sexy-geek image. For instance, "Geeks can be sexy!" is an awesome message, as is "Sexy women can be geeks!" (Okay, maybe there are only two things to love.) I think it's safe to say we get it: She's hot. She's smart. She's hot, yet smart. And vice-versa.

But Fey's sex appeal is no accident — it's the price she paid for fame. In January's Vanity Fair feature, Maureen Dowd gushes about "how a tweezer, cream rinse, a diet, and a Teutonic will transformed a mousy brain into a brainy glamour-puss." Dowd thrills at the success of the makeover that made Fey fit for the camera, and her enthusiasm for weight loss and designer clothes is unsettling. No one wants to picture Liz Lemon doing Weight Watchers...

Fey's usually portrayed as an idiosyncratic sex symbol (retro poses and vintage leotards , oh my!), but her hotness is hardly happenstance. Our beloved Lemon simply wouldn't exist if Fey didn't work to maintain her girlish figure. As Fey put it, "I like to look goofy, but I also don't want to get cancelled because of my big old butt."

I had always puzzled when, on 30 Rock, Fey's Liz Lemon alter ego obsessed about junk food or just gleefully shoved it into her mouth. I told myself that Fey was probably just one of those people who ate and ate and never gained a pound, but it was wishful thinking. Fey's love of junk food is for real (as evidenced by her Twitter page) but she doesn't get to enjoy it like she used to. When she was writing for SNL she was 5'4" and weighed 150 pounds. She went to Weight Watchers and slimmed down significantly to be an anchor on "Weekend Update" (the second female anchor since Jane Curtin left the show in 1980). Now Fey stays thin in order to play a woman who eats and eats.

For the record, I admire Tina Fey, and her portrayal of Liz Lemon totally lights up my Thursday night. I wouldn't want Lemon to stop eating just so her lifestyle matched her figure, and I wouldn't want Fey to be less than sensationally successful. It's just sad that a woman with Fey's talent isn't allowed to be on TV unless she's conforming to a very specific standard of size. And it's sad that Liz Lemon can say she loves food but can't look like she loves food.

So yeah, geeks can be sexy. And if they're geeky women on TV, they have to be sexy. And no woman on TV can be sexy without being unrealistically thin. Sigh, I need a cookie.


[Now published at]

by Juliana Tringali
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21 Comments Have Been Posted

All sizes are real for some women- even the skinny ones...

... I'm 35, and just have a very fast metabolism. I also was raised on hippie food... so just don't crave super greasy or sugary food, and by habit, never bought soda or junk food from the grocery store.

The only times I've tried to watch my weight, are when I've gotten dangerously gaunt from not eating, when I've been overworked and over-stressed. In those situations I have to force myself to eat, and deliberately eat fatty foods.

I know I'm a minority- and I do get disgusted with the homo-erotic, anorexic-androgynous image of women that couture fashion magazines present... the portrayed reality on TV that everyone who works in a hospital or in forensic-law is young, thin, and beautiful... that pregnant women only have big tummies and giant boobs, with thin ankles, small butts and thighs... and that gunshot entry-wounds are clean, never produce exit-wounds, and that death by gunshot is always somehow either quick or poignantly graceful.

I'm a minority, but I'm also a real woman. I'm a natural woman who lives as she choses, and it has gotten me frustratingly body-conscious, seeing every slender celebrity throughout my life, demonized in the media as likely being a fame-whore for suffering for her figure. I don't suffer- this is just my genetics. Please, gimme a break, and do lighten-up on the constant demonizing of **all** thin women.

Likewise, I'm a proud gun-owner and love to blow shit up... but I participate in peace rallies, am vehemently against the war, and strongly believe in the power of kindness over the power of hate.

Stereotypes suck. Please, let's stop perpetuating them. Perhaps the best form of dissent against the “pressure to be thin,” is to just stop talking about it... and focus on more under-discussed subjects?

If you're going to miss the point... might as well miss it by a lot!

Sorta kinda

"And no woman on TV can be sexy without being unrealistically thin. Sigh, I need a cookie. " So if Nina naturally has Tina Fey's TV figure why would Nina be "unrealistically thin" and her concerns about the post be unwarrented?

Just to clarify

What I meant by "unrealistic" is that Tina Fey can't have that body without constantly dieting, yet Liz Lemon is constantly eating. That's unrealistic.
Obviously some people are naturally thin without ever trying, but Tina Fey isn't one of them.

yes but

I understand your point however I also understand nina's position since you did not say "Tina Tey," you generically said "... no woman (not just Tina Fey but everyone) on TV can be sexy without being unrealistically thin." Thus my understanding for nina.

I liked the article, but...

I think nina makes an excellent point of constructive criticism.



Great post! I was so weirded out by the Dowd's focus on Tina Fey's weight loss and makeover. It's like she couldn't figure out enough ways to say that Fey wouldn't be famous if she hadn't lost 30 pounds. We get it!

Speaking of, have you seen this? <a href=" of Tina Fey pre-makeover</a> (and probably what Liz Lemon would look like in real life, too).

I heard Top Chef's Padma

I heard Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi on the radio the other day. She was asked how she stays model thin given her job. She replied pretty straightforwardly that she exercises all the time and turns down food. She went on to explain that the food she turns down is given to her by chefs, a common practice among colleagues who are trying to show their respect for one another or impress each other. I found this to be a far more interesting tid bit about her life, than say, how many squats she does each day.
Why when two women (Dowd and Fey) talk about celebrity and weight does it have to turn into this pseudo-girl talk "girl, don't you hate your thighs" bullshit? Vanity Fair gets on my nerves.


The line " but her hotness is hardly happenstance" is unquestionably the best thing I've read all day. Nice post!

There's Even More to Dislike About This Article

While I agree with you completely, there was more that disappointed me about this article than just the fat-phobia. Dowd attributes all of Fey's success to a makeover, despite the fact that all the quotes (oddly enough, Fey herself is rarely quoted in the article itself, leaving most of the commentary on her to the men in her life. A few women, yes, but by and large men.) suggest that it was her raw talent that got her where she was--the media just wouldn't let her on tv unless she conformed to their standards. That the standards exist is completely tragic, and, while part of me is sad/disappointed that she ended up conforming, I find it difficult to completely blame her for it either. But what's really inexcusable is to let that aspect of her overshadow the intelligence and drive that made her a success. Also, Dowd asks her some truly bizarre questions (”Did she ever use the Sarah Palin voice to entice her own First Dude?”). I'd go on, but I literally just wrote a huge analysis of the article on my blog. XD

I think the version of sexy

I think the version of sexy they give her is anachronistic, not idiosyncratic. I don't understand how retro = singular. Regardless, it's annoying that she's still got to look a certain way to be on TV. But looking that way has presented this hot-geek-nerd-career-woman to a much larger audience. I guess we should be grateful to fight one stereotype at a time?

Maureen Dowd

By coincidence, Dowd is also geek-sexy.

I HATED this article! I love

I HATED this article!

I love 30 Rock and most of the time thoroughly enjoy Maureen Dowd, but this article was just too much. The 4000 words on "she used to be fat, but now she's not, therefore her life is sooooooooo much better" (of course, Fey doesn't really say as much, nor does she provide any real insight in this article) was almost laughably appalling. It was the equivalent of a ridiculously long, better-articulated Cosmopolitan or FHM article.

Gag me.

How to make it in Hollywood

The Tina Fey post reminds me of an interview I heard yesterday morning with Joan Rivers on NPR. I have always thought of Rivers as being kind of funny-looking and abrasive as part of her comic routine, but she points out that investing in plenty of cosmetic surgery is the only way that Hollywood has let her keep performing for all these years. She notes that, if she hadn't been willing to spring for all the facelifts and whatnot, she *maybe* would have been able to make it as a writer?

I was initially highly disturbed by the interview, but the fact that Rivers was so up-front about it did give me a little perspective. Just like you invest in expensive suits if you are a lawyer or good boots if you are a mountaineer, people invest in strict diets and waxes and surgeries to be on the silver screen. There's a million levels of unfair to it, but also to the expensive lawyer suits I suppose. You'd think, though, that at the very least, female *comedians* would be allowed to look funny?

My problem with this article ...

... was that it reeked of Maureen Dowd's complete disdain of feminism through and through. Anyone who considers her a feminist should read her god-awful book <i>Are Men Necessary?</i> Worst book on gender issues I ever read.

As for Fey, I have been watching her since her <i>Saturday Night Live</i> "Weekend Update" days and I don't recall ever seeing any ounce of fat, let alone significant "curves" on her, except for the time she was pregnant on the show. It would have been different if (for example) someone like Conchata Farrell of <i>Two and a Half Men</i> went through a drastic "Swan" makeover and it was gushed about all over. Fey's "makeover" had me noticing very little change/difference about her, other than air-brushing. My main problem was that the un-feminist Dowd wrote the piece, the misogynistic/ego-centric editors of <i>Vanity Fair</i> put it in the magazine, and that Fey indeed deserved to have more of her own voice featured in it. It boiled down to being another NYT editorial by Dowd herself.

Tina? Meh.

I've never cared much about Tina Fey.

I've never found her to be funny or terribly talented, in my opinion. I'm sure she's a nice person, but with all that fame and intelligence I'd imagine she'd have half a wit to say "no" to many of of the sexualized pictorials one constantly sees her in. Though, if she truly was a funny, talented comedian she wouldn't need to use her physical beauty as a crutch to hold up her career.

Fey is always described as " and (geek adjective here)" which doesn't bode well for her to begin with. While there's nothing wrong with being sexy; I'm a little sorry to say that her career seems to ride on that alone, while her talent lags far, far behind. It's not her fault that so much emphasis is placed on her attractiveness (pop-culture at large thrives on beauty), but it <i>is</i> her fault for not attempting to move beyond it.

Perhaps, they won't let her? Perhaps, she doesn't care.

Oh, I think she cares ...

She was on the Golden Globes last night, and <a href=" is what she had to say regarding her cyber critics.

So ... Tina critics ... beware!

However ... I hope that she considers this magazine/website the exception. <i>Bitch</i>, to me, is not about "sacred cows," and I hope that it never, ever is.

The Wrong Critique

Kudos to Fey for telling cyber critiques to...uh "...suck it," I guess. Perhaps she had a more witty retort that wasn't printed?

Any who, while I'm sure she's addressed ridiculous critiques (concerning gender and weight), she's not redressed her own willingness to participate in emphasizing her "sexiness"; {shrugs} it helps to sell her talent I suppose.

Again, there is nothing wrong with being sexy {cracks whips}, but it's troubling when one with "talent" uses that aspect to carry their career. In every interview I've read about her the same adjective is always used, "sexy", and not always in an empowering context. Especially when accompanied by photos in which she's dressed in burlesque, bending over down to her toes to type, and smiling coyly (I always seem to find her in such photo). No, that was not in Playboy, but in BUST. Is that what female readers want to see? Powerful women dressed down to make them less threatening and more conquerable? I'm sure some guys enjoy it, some ladies don't care, but it leaves me a bit cold.

I may not see her as funny, but I do wish her all the best and hope she moves beyond exploiting her physical appearance, or rather, allowing others to exploit it.

It drives me nuts that so

It drives me nuts that so many thin, healthy female characters on TV are portrayed as being obsessed with junk food. In Tina Fey's case, the relationship between her character's food intake and body is clearly not very realistic, though technically possible (as a previous commenter seems to suggest, although the argument that someone who doesn't eat junk food is thin because of genetics is a bit iffy--and anyway are we to believe that all thin female characters on TV are in this minority?). Another example is Ainsley Hayes on The West Wing. One of Ainsley's only personality traits--besides being a Republican feminist--is that she eats everything available at all times. I think that actors use eating as their small way to distinguish and add to a character that's already written, but I also think that TV shows try to act like women who aren't concerned about what they eat are stronger, more sensible, and more feminist, which is just not true. All Americans should be somewhat concerned about eating healthfully, and most actors are overly concerned with it. You just can't separate an actor's body from their character's personality and eating and exercise habits, and even if you try, you shouldn't pass it off as empowered.

the receptionist on ugly

the receptionist on ugly betty, who is constantly mocking betty's weight, often by suggesting betty is hungry, is also really obsessed with junk food. i think this is possibly purposeful, because betty herself is never portrayed as being food obsessed.

i think the real tragedy is

i think the real tragedy is that 'fat' tina fey was 5'4'' and 150 pounds. not that there is anything wrong with being thinner than that (or fatter) but that is a really really normal size. it's always so upsetting to me to see what weights people think of as fat. i heard all that hoopla about zellweger's weight gain for that movie and then when i read the first page of the book (it was on someone's table, yes, i had to specify i didn't intend to read it) and she's like, 'weight 126' i almost threw up. even a 5 foot tall woman at 126 doesn't really look fat.

there is so much wrong with the world.

i like tina fey. i think she could have been heavier and on tv, based on those photos, she really had a terrible haircut. really terrible.

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