THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE are everywhere. They are on the movie posters, the red carpets, the covers of magazines. Marvel actor Jacob Batalon—who was cast at 19 to play Spider-Man’s best friend, Ned Leeds, and later became one of Spider-Man portrayer Tom Holland’s actual best friends—says he’s not one of them. Not during photo shoots with his Adonis-like castmates. Not when he watches himself on Jimmy Kimmel. Not when he and Tom are filming a car commercial and FaceTiming Robert Downey Jr., who is on a yacht, and RDJ says, “Bro, Jacob, what the fuck’s up, man? Everyone knows your fucking name now.” Not even then.
And especially not now, a day before his photo shoot for this magazine—even though the 25-year-old is 50 pounds lighter than he was when he joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“I’m honestly pretty nervous,” Batalon says. “I feel like every time I watch a Men’s Health video, everyone in the video is already pretty jacked. I wish this was right at the peak of when I was working out super-duper hard, because I looked way better.” He says he’s anxious about the Men’s Health photo shoot because he’s always hated photo shoots. He was in L.A. in early 2020, shooting a cover for Teen Vogue. Beforehand, he looked in the mirror and thought, This is not good. When his picture from the shoot came out, he says he felt embarrassed by his weight.
Batalon adds that he was damaging his health for years. “As a kid, you don’t really know how to process,” he says, explaining how food became a remedy for private stressors within his family. “I never really fixed that trauma. Until now, food was that [fix] for me.” That is, until Batalon started to exercise. Now his workouts have turned into his therapy, he says.
The actor’s weight-loss journey contains all the familiar beats. He stopped eating junk. He started eating fewer, smaller meals and focused on lean protein and vegetables. He exercised six days a week, sometimes doing nontraditional workouts in his backyard, with a medicine ball and a bench, that “looked like I was humping the ground.” He dropped five pounds, and then he thought, Why not another five? So he did that until it was another ten, and then fifteen, and you get it.
But what's different about Batalon's story is how the Internet responded. “Being a fat person, you’re only ever the butt of the joke,” he says. “You can never win everyone’s love.” He says he’s tried hard to represent every community to which he belongs, but “I don’t want to get back to where I was. And I literally cannot consciously tell people to not be healthy.” In an ironic twist, Batalon recently scored his first lead role, in a TV adaptation of the Fat Vampire novel series. So he had to gain some weight back. And fans who once thought he was too heavy to play a Marvel sidekick now wrote, Hey, you’re too skinny to play a fat vampire.
Batalon says he’s returned to his diet after wrapping Reginald the Vampire, but keeping the weight off will be his ongoing struggle—physically and mentally.
“You want to love yourself, love your body,” he says. “But you also want to treat your body like you love it. And feeding it shit—that’s not loving your body. That’s not loving yourself.”
At the end of the day, Batalon says, as much as you want to love yourself, it’s hard to face cameras for photo shoots and actually feel worthy. And so he is nervous for his photo shoot—and not just because it’s for a brand whose videos he watched while trying to lose weight. He says he knows the journey isn’t over yet. He’s still reevaluating his relationship with food. But he has a response for whoever wants to guess just why he did what he did: Ultimately, he did it for himself—no one else. “Yeah, I lost a fucking shit ton of weight,” he says with a Tony Stark–confident grin,“because I’m a fucking G.”
This story appears in the January/February issue of Men's Health US.
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