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When Rebel Wilson began her dramatic weight-loss journey two years ago, she did so because she knew that her "emotional eating was unhealthy," she explained recently. She added: "I did it for myself."
But as it turns out, Wilson, as a public figure, was not the only one affected by her bodily transformation, which brought out the ire and disappointment of many of her fans.
@RebelWilson I kind of wish you didn’t lose all that weight. People think you need to be skinny to be successful. Society will change the narrative if celebrities don’t give in to it. Showing you’re happy in your skin while overweight is something we need to see more of.
— Nichole Baird (@Nichole05829408) January 14, 2022
The Thicc Appreciation Delegation is sadden to announce the loss of another Thicc HOF. Rebel Wilson has joined Adele & Jennifer Hudson in the skinny camp. As always we thank her for her years of service & hope her change makes her happy. https://t.co/Mc1Yb5MD4j
— I Will @ The Fuck Out Of You (@Tempiwmf) January 10, 2022
I pray Lizzo doesn’t jump on the whole “getting skinny after fame” trend. We lost Adele, Rebel Wilson, Meghan Trainer, and Melissa McCarthy.
— Mallory Saladen (@MallorySaladen) January 1, 2022
The reaction to Wilson was similar, as the above tweets point out, as it was for other famous women — Adele, Jennifer Hudson, Melissa McCarthy among them — who rose to fame in bigger bodies only to shed pounds (or announce they were dieting, as Lizzo did) at the height of their careers. (Celebrity men who get thin, meanwhile, tend to get shrugs or high-fives.)
In fact, for many who looked up to these stars for being comfortable in their skin — and for learning to love their own larger bodies as a result — watching them go on to shed weight can feel like the ultimate betrayal.
NGL, Skinny Adele feels like a betrayal.
— Thomas J. Henny (@yungpopovich) January 17, 2022
"I can definitely relate to feeling betrayed when celebrities do that," Katelyn Baker, a psychologist and life coach specializing in women's self-esteem and eating disorders, and a social influencer known as "that fat doctor," tells Yahoo Life, adding that it can also feel like "a slap in the face."
"My initial gut reaction is that it almost feels like a hero is no longer a hero," she says, "and I think it's due to this idea of representation, and how powerful it can be."
Many studies have found that, for various minority populations, such representation — seeing one's self reflected back at them through pop culture and media — is a vital element to having a "stronger sense of their identity and pride in that identity," because "it's being shown as something that's OK," Baker says.
Virgie Tovar, body-positive influencer, activist and author of books including The Self-Love Revolution: Radical Body Positivity for Girls of Color, also understands the power of such representation.
"When you're in a larger body and you're hearing for the first time that there's nothing wrong with you, that you aren't inherently unhealthy, that your body is beautiful, you really, really want to believe it," she tells Yahoo Life. "This idea is so radical and so nascent, however, that the instinct is to look for evidence of others adopting this belief. This is where larger-bodied celebrities come in."
They become the "evidence" so many people are "craving," Tovar says. "They become our heroes, our models and our mentors because most of us need heroes and models and mentors when we are doing something scary and big and vulnerable and counter-cultural." Then, she explains, "When we experience a moment where someone fat shames us, we may call to mind that plus-size celebrity to give us a little strength and a little moxie. When we have a moment where someone doesn't want to date us because we're fat, we may put on that one song by a plus-size artist that turns our tears into a battle-cry that helps us move on."
But then, Tovar says, "When that person who has been a hero or mentor ends up losing weight it can feel like a deep loss. More than that, it might feel like a betrayal."
Adele provided that battle cry for Baker, who says she was an ardent supporter from the very start of her career. "I think there are a lot of people similar to me who became hardcore fans because she did represent us — and part of who she is in her fame … is because the body-positive community was instrumental in her getting to where she is." That's why it felt "a little harmful" when the pop star spoke harshly about pushback to her weight-loss in her recent interview with Oprah — whose own journey with weight has both captivated and infuriated fans for decades now.
Adele addressed the pushback during the sit-down, telling her, "I was body-positive then and I'm body-positive now. It's not my job to validate how people feel about their bodies." She added, "I feel bad that it's made anyone feel horrible about themselves — but that's not my job. I'm trying to sort my own life out. I can't add another worry."
Regarding the comments, Baker explains, "I am happy for her if she is happy and living her best life … but she maybe could've been handled it a bit more gently just because of what her size meant to [so many people] — as unrelated to her as that actually is." Similarly, she remembers when many of her followers were upset about Lizzo announcing she was trying a smoothie diet, and says she fully understands the pushback over Wilson — "especially because her most well-known role is 'Fat Amy,' which, despite much of the humor being "derogatory," was "a phenomenon" of mainstream representation.
"I was like, 'I love her. She looks like me,'" Baker recalls. Now, she says, "It hurts."
As for feelings of anger that tend to surface, Tovar believes it could be "when there's a sense that a celebrity rose to prominence or benefited professionally in some way through invoking body-positive or fat-positive ideology or aesthetics," adding, "I think anger might come up if someone feels they've experienced what might be called fat-baiting," or using fat imagery or body-positivity speak as a marketing tactic that turns out to be hollow.
Says Tovar, "I think there is a fatphobic belief that no fat person would choose to be fat if they had the so-called 'right' amount of resources. So, when plus-size celebrities reach a certain level of fame and begin to lose weight, it can confirm for some people that this harmful belief is actually true." She stresses that plus-size people are "acutely stigmatized" in aspects of society from healthcare to fashion, and that weight discrimination is legal in 49 of 50 states, so "the intensity of the reaction to celebrity weight shifts is truly a product of that."
And only when mindsets change, Tovar believes, will we "begin to see a shift away from relying so much on celebrities for our sense of well-being and rightness as fat people."
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