Gemma Arterton’s ’emergency’ exemplifies our weight problem

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Even the most beautiful women in the world are made to feel faulty. The body-shaming that is common to Hollywood and reflective of a big issue we all face, is a sure-fire way to make our weight issues worse.

In a podcast titled “It’s a Man’s World”, British actor Gemma Arterton revealed the “traumatic” time a producer deemed her weight an “emergency” during a film shoot.

“There was one film that I was on and we were out in Morocco and a couple of weeks went past and they literally were like, ‘We need a personal trainer – stat.’

“And they flew someone out overnight that gave up their whole life to be with me and be my personal trainer,” the 31-year-old told Guilty Feminist. 

“You know when it’s like ‘Is it that f—ing bad that I need an emergency?’ … [it was as if they were] like on speed dial, ‘Get that trainer out here now’. It was so traumatic at the time.”

The size-10 former Bond Girl added: “They’d measure me and they’d call up the personal trainer at like nine at night going: ‘Is she in the gym? And if she isn’t, why isn’t she in the gym?’

“And then they’d get me in the gym and film me in the gym and they’d have to know that I was there.”

To add insult to injury, she recalled an incident on set when she was ordered not to eat.

“They have like snacks on set, and I went to get some apricots, some dried apricots,” Arterton explained, “and the man went, this big, fat, obese producer went: ‘I hope you’re not going to eat that.'”

She did what most sane people in the same situation would do and ate more. “I said: ‘Do you know what? I’m going to eat about all 20 [apricots], then I’m going to go home and eat all the stuff in the mini bar.'” 

Although Arterton did not reveal the movie’s name, she did film The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in Morocco in 2010 and has previously spoken about being asked to lose weight for her role as a Hindu princess.

“When I got that part they really tried to transform me,” she said. “They sent me to a personal trainer, wanted to get my teeth done, hair extensions, make me look like somebody else.”

Lack of diversity is an enduring issue in Hollywood, where in rare events “plus-size actresses” are given a central role in a film that is heralded as proof that the culture is changing. Soon enough, however, that same actress is, as the New York Times points out in a new feature, “slowly but surely pushed into bit parts, many of which are defined by weight”.

While they are magnified in the microcosm, body-shaming and pressure to be uniform are not issues unique to Hollywood. 

Hollywood’s distinct lack of diversity has also not failed to stem the rising obesity epidemic and, while we all feel the pressure, body-shaming does not work, as study after study has shown. 

Putting “social pressure” on people about their weight is, as Yale and East Carolina University experts pointed out in one op-ed, a “failed and ethically dubious strategy”.

Why?

“There is consistent evidence that individuals exposed to weight stigmatisation are vulnerable to numerous adverse health consequences, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, and avoidance of health care,” said public health ethicist Daniel Goldberg and Rebecca Puhl, now the deputy director of the Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity. 

“They also tend to eat in an unhealthy way, consuming lots of calories and indulging in binge-eating, and they do not engage in physical activity, which can reinforce weight gain and impair weight-loss efforts.”

Rather, they argue that instead of stigmatising anyone – size-10 Hollywood actress, ‘plus-size’ model, or average overweight Joe – encouraging “specific eating or exercise behaviours” without focusing on weight can help prevent or reduce shame and, in doing so, prevent or reduce obesity.

This is the conclusion Suzanne Carroll, an assistant professor at the University of Canberra, came to in an article last week tackling the fine line between fat-shaming and healthy weight advice.

“Population-wide strategies are needed,” Carroll wrote, calling for affordable and convenient health foods and means for physical activity.

This means making active transport easy, changing food pricing, placement and promotion. It means helping each other, not judging each other.

The problem is less in the weight than in our attitude towards it. As Carroll said: “We should all be respectful of diversity, at whichever end of the spectrum.”

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