Two girls make a pact to lose weight together. Each desperately wants to get under 100 pounds and over the course of a year through hours and hours of exercise and severe diet restriction they reach their goal. With visible chest bones and protruding hips and bony knees, they are proud of themselves but how does the world react to them? Surely they are carted off to eating disorder therapy as their loved ones worry and onlookers whisper what a shame. Not so for Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman who did just that and are being rewarded with fame, fortune and talk of a possible Oscar.
The already tiny actresses lost the weight for their roles as ballerinas in the dance-horror-psychosexual-thriller Black Swan
, a feat which is being praised almost as much as their brilliant portrayal of the troubled dancers. Certainly they are not the first actors to lose an extreme amount of weight for a role
. Tom Hanks did it for Philadelphia
, Rapper 50 Cent recently did it for Things Fall Apart
and Christian Bale became famously skeletal for his role in The Machinist
. Two things you might notice about that list: 1) They were all playing sick people (AIDS, cancer and chronic insomnia, respectively) and 2) They are all men.
Does this mean that women never have to lose weight for a plum movie role? I would assert that rather,
all women are pressured to lose weight for a part, so much so that it’s only news when they go to such extreme measures like Portman and Kunis. Portman describes
working out 5 hours a day 6 days a week and cutting out carbs to drop the 20 pounds required saying
, “It is a ballet dancer’s life, where you don’t drink, you don’t go out with your friends, you don’t have much food, you are constantly putting your body through extreme pain – and you get that sort of understanding of the self-flagellation of a ballet dancer.”
On one hand Portman says that she knows
“the whole thing, I’m aware that it’s sick” but then she adds
that she feels like she was in the best shape of her life for the role. Kunis, who got equally thin, says
that while “in real life I looked disgusting” she was very impressed with how her “skin-and-bones appearance” looked on film and in pictures. While both actresses gained some of the weight back quickly after the movie wrapped, both reported further disordered eating by binging on pasta and fast food.
Portman and Kunis’ words come at an interesting time. Just this month, New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay lambasted
New York City Ballet dancer Jennifer Ringer performance in The Nutcracker saying she looked as if she had “eaten one sugar plum too many.” Macaulay, unapologetic in the aftermath
, stands by his words. In a recent follow-up piece, he attempted to justify himself by saying, “If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career. The body in ballet becomes a subject of the most intense discussion. I am severe — but ballet, as dancers know, is more so.”
And what was Ringer’s response
? The ballerina, who admitted she once strugged with eating disorders, said Macaulay’s words stung. “It made me feel bad,” she said. “I had to tell myself that was one person’s opinion…. As a dancer, I do put myself out there to be criticized, and my body is part of my art form. At the same time, I am not overweight.”
The outpouring of sympathy expressed for Ringer’s situation has been overwhelming and yet, in the same breath, Portman and Kunis are praised for their “dedication” and “strength” in what for many others is a disease and a weakness is particularly enraging. Would Black Swan have been an unrealistic movie had the actresses been allowed to maintain their already svelte figures? Would their acting have been less real without the dieting? Does it make a difference if someone practices disordered eating for a creative pursuit instead of just to get thin?
(Don’t ask me: I still think Renee Zellweger looked much better at her Bridget Jones weight.)