Angelina Jolie looked extremely thin on the red carpet last night, and headlines about her “look” at the Oscars are, invariably, followed by comment sections filled with remarks about her weight. One of the most common refrains is some variation on the imperative to “eat a cheeseburger,” often paired with musings about her anorexia. But in honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I think we need to stop: Even if we knew more about the state of her health or body image, telling someone who you suspect has an eating disorder to eat more just isn’t body positive, and it’s not helping Jolie or anyone else.
Criticism of Jolie’s weight isn’t new; after this year’s Golden Globes, she also caught flak for being too skinny. Oscar commenters echoed the sentiments, claiming concern over her possible struggles with anorexia, or simply issuing snarky comments instructing her to eat more, like singer Bonnie McKee did on twitter:
When the New York Times asked Facebook “What do you think of her look?” commenters echoed similar sentiments. The vast majority posted negative comments about her pale skin and gaunt frame…and yes, told her to eat something. Here are just a few:
“ eat some lasagne or something”
“holy crap! she needs to eat some cheeseburgers and gravy for a while. She looks like a Aushwitz Jew!! yuck”
“ Face—beautiful. Body—needs a couple of cheeseburgers. Dress—way too heavy and bulky..looks like she is counting on dress to add some pounds. Slit in dress about 3″ too high. Looks like she is trying too hard.”
“she looks terrible. Eat a sandwich or something”
Mixed in with snarky comments are some intelligent ruminations about what actresses like Jolie really teach us about beauty and body image. One such comment gets at the heart of why I think so many of us are perturbed by her weight:
“She is a great role model for her humanitarian work, but not for body image. If the camera adds 10 pounds, oh my! What does she look like in person. It’s sad. I don’t want my daughter to think looking like that is beautiful. There were a couple of women last night that were sickly looking.”
We love it when celebrities and media speak out about Hollywood’s harsh body standards, and it’s encouraging to see commenters do the same. But criticizing someone’s body for being too thin isn’t the way to do it.
Many feel that Jolie’s celebrity comes with the responsibility to be a healthy role model, and being extremely thin isn’t the way to do it. This is a fair concern, but remember: Jolie isn’t touting diet tips or workout routines. Ultimately, what influences us the most is a media that sets a very narrow definition of beauty, and—as seen in the case of Jolie as much as in the case of actresses who are too old or thin—bashes women who stray from their “norm.”
The truth is that we don’t know whether she’s struggling with an eating disorder or other health issues, and until she wants to speak publicly about her body, no one’s really in the position to comment on what she should eat or weigh from the stance of real concern for her health.
As one wise commenter on the New York Times page put it:
Would you be so critical of someone who is a little too fat? Stop. Focus on the ways she has worked to alleviate suffering in this world instead of on her knees. Are you all perfect? Women deserve better, esp from other women.
Snarky comments to eat junk food don’t help anyone—not Jolie, or young women who struggle with an eating disorder and look to Jolie for ‘thinspiration.’ If you want to encourage better body image and healthier ideas about beauty, then encourage more diversity in movies, on the red carpet and in magazines. But bashing women is hateful no matter why you’re doing it, or how funny you think it is to tell thin women to “eat something.”