In one of my many summer trips to Blockbuster, I rented "Snatch." The movie was good -- funny in parts, and somehow interesting just because it was British -- but the film's glory came when Brad Pitt took off his shirt for his character's fight scenes.
His arm muscles looked like ropes dipped in concrete, and his abs flexed in about a hundred different little sections whenever he moved. During these parts of the movie I kept thinking two things -- Brad Pitt is a god, and the hard work he invested in his body helps to make up for all those starving actresses and inane articles about what they weigh these days.
In general, demands about looks seem unbalanced for actors and actresses. Women in their 50s and 60s almost never play romantic leads, while men the same age (Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford) do all the time. Furthermore, the most famous actresses are rail-thin (Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow), while the most famous actors, though often good-looking, aren't necessarily even particularly muscular (Ben Affleck, Leonardo DiCaprio).
The June issue of Glamour (UK edition), features an article about a woman named Nancy Kennedy who helps Hollywood clients stay in shape. She talks about meeting Kelly Preston, who said she'd eaten bread and pasta the night before. Kennedy told Preston, "you can't have it."
The August issue of People reports that Preston's husband, John Travolta, lost weight for his role in "Swordfish" by simply cutting his portions in half. "I can still eat cheeseburgers," he said. Granted, Travolta and Preston chose their own diet plans, but what gave them such different perspectives about food?
In addition to the different expectations for actors and actresses, the media tends to frequently critique women's bodies and rarely consider men's.
Discussion about Renee Zellweger's weight gain for "Bridget Jones' Diary" seemed to accompany every mention of the movie as if it were so fascinating that an actress could choose to become a size eight, a size smaller than most American women.
When Kate Winslet starred in "Titanic," critics raved about seeing a normal-sized woman play a romantic lead, not understanding the consequences of treating an average-sized woman as an aberration.
Conversely, magazines and quasi-news programs love to criticize skinny stars such as Calista Flockhart and Victoria Beckham to lament our society's obsession with thinness. First of all, if these women weighed 20 pounds more, they'd be considered overweight. Secondly, it doesn't help anyone to momentarily stop berating overweight women in order to scold another group of women for being too thin.
Perhaps Brad Pitt's body represents increasing demands upon male actors to look perfect. Half of me certainly hopes so. Of course, new standards would probably eliminate a lot of good actors, damage the psyches of homelier actors and depress the ordinary men who watched them and realized that without a personal trainer they could never look so good.
That said, it would help to level the playing field. Male and female actors would both spend ridiculous amounts of time and money to look gorgeous, and male
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