In a partially-released interview with Marie Claire, Zooey Deschanel reveals that she was bullied as a young girl. She says she had no idea why, but her response was to spend the next year adjusting her personality and losing 30 pounds (which is quite a lot for a 12-year-old). The story is dramatized by editors, to be sure, but this isn’t the first time she’s issued comments on her weight in a magazine while staying noticeably mum when it comes to the real take-aways about body image or health. Which makes me wonder: Is she just using weight as part of her polarizing schtick?
Deschanel’s interview will be printed in the May issue of Marie Claire (coming out later this month); most of what they’ve released online is just an intro (in which she admits that she “doesn’t do well with direct questions”), but they do offer a little story from her past:
At 12 she was “chubby,” which made her a target of bullies. “I was ridiculed,” she says. The low point came when a mean girl spit in her face. “I really don’t know why she spit at me,” Deschanel says. “I just talked to her. I guess I wasn’t allowed to talk to her. I remember I couldn’t believe it.”
The moment was searing, scarring, but ultimately transformative. It inspired Deschanel to reimagine herself, and over the next year, she carefully, painstakingly recast her persona, becoming more open, more empathic, less “stubborn.”
She also shed 30 pounds.
“All of a sudden,” she says, “everybody treated me differently.”
There’s a tinge of pain in her voice as she describes the metamorphosis. The new girl sounds like an old soul. There’s also a touch of triumph when she mentions the popular kids who once ruled her world. “I don’t even know where they are now.”
Deschanel alluded to the same stories in the February issue of Allure (“Girls [would] spit in my face,” she said of her high school days. “People were so mean to me, I’d cry every day.”) and she also discussed her weight in similarly vague terms: “Some people around me, they’re like 89 pounds,” she says. “I’m not going to say I’m a big girl. I’m a very small person, but I’m a healthy weight. That might be a little weird for Hollywood.”
The stories at once invoke sympathy and align Deschanel with some of the hottest topics of the last year (which is probably why nearly every female celebrity seems to be coming out with stories of when they were bullied or fat). But they also feed into her oddball schtick, which either makes her seem weak and self-deprecating or funny and relatable, depending on who you talk to.
But what actually bothers me the most is how her comments about weight that are neither here nor there: Deschanel is smart to protect herself from open criticism of her body—or body negativity—by staying safely ambiguous. But if you’re not really saying anything, then why say anything? Because she (and her publicists) know that the subject is bound to get her press.
Now, there’s been a lot of debate on this site over whether celebs deserve criticism for talking about their body image and weight, and many of you feel that they don’t. But even if you believe that it’s great to get real about insecurities and unhealthy habits (because not every female celebrity can or should be an ideal role model in the realm of body image and health), Deschanel’s comments are disappointing. That’s because she’s not “getting real” about anything: Thus far, she’s mostly uttered contrived, intentionally unclear statements that beg for audience sympathy (because she used to be fat, and even now she’s not quite as thin as other women in Hollywood), without taking a real stand on weight, body image or even health.
The onus isn’t on Deschanel to talk about body image issues (or have them in the first place); she could easily shrug off the subject (as she adroitly managed when the subject of her divorce came up in the same Marie Claire interview). But talking about being fat (or “chubby,” or having a “weird” body) without offering any real take-aways about body image, self-esteem, or health doesn’t deserve anyone’s applause; there are enough actresses in Hollywood using their bodies as their schtick.