Weighing in on Hal
Such scenes have led to uncomfortable laughter and outright anger in some viewers, despite the defensive protests of its female star. "When you actually read the script," says Paltrow, who donned a 25-lb. latex fat suit for a few of the movie's scenes (others were played by 300-lb. body double Ivy Snitzer—see page 64), "it is so sweet and so not offensive."
Not so, says the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, which urged its 2,500 members to boycott Hal. The film opened Nov. 9 and grossed $41.3 million in its first ten days. Says NAAFA spokeswoman Sally E. Smith: "It certainly makes us the brunt of jokes, something we've experienced all our lives and don't appreciate."
Should plus-size people feel amused or abused by Hal? PEOPLE turned to three celebrities who have publicly battled weight issues—singer Carnie Wilson, 33, who has gone from 299 lbs. to 144 since stomach-reduction surgery in 1999, Tony-winning actress Jennifer Holliday (Dreamgirls), 41, who underwent the same surgery in 1991 and has gone from almost 400 lbs. to 135 today, and model Emme, 38, who has made a career showing off her 200-lb. figure as a large-size mannequin and as host of E! Entertainment Television's Fashion Emergency. Emme joined Holliday and PEOPLE correspondents Rachel Felder and Natasha Stoynoff in Manhattan, while Wilson spoke with correspondent Alison Singh Gee in Los Angeles. They discussed the movie, its message and the memories it evoked.
How did you feel watching the film?
Holliday: It was hard. I wasn't going to see it, just like I very seldom look at old pictures or videos of myself. Not out of shame, but because of the painful memories. When they would show the bigger Rosemary, I had a hard time looking at her.
Wilson: It was such a drastic thing to go from Gwyneth's body to the heavy body. It was like saying, "Here's a grape and here's an orange. Do they look the same?" Visually it's shocking. The movie made fun of fat people the whole time.
Emme: Fat is the last acceptable prejudice. People still think they can talk openly about fat people in a derogatory sense.
Wilson: Right—can you imagine if it was a black woman and there were racial jokes throughout the movie and her inner beauty was white? Then they said, "Okay, you're not hypnotized anymore. Black is beautiful." It would be shocking, wouldn't it? Well, this movie is shocking to me.
Which scenes were particularly distressing to watch?
Emme: When Rosemary cut off that piece of cake and said, "Oh, I'll just take a slice," and then she took half a cake. Very few people I know would do that.
Wilson: At the end of the movie they had to throw in that last joke about her hopping into the Volkswagen and making it bounce down. What was that for? And when she broke the restaurant booth and chair, I felt like that person, because I've had a plastic chair break under me. That made me cry.
Emme: But you don't break metal chairs!
Holliday: Thank you! They really don't break. And the booth in the restaurant? It doesn't happen like that. And if it does, you certainly don't want to get up and eat more. You want to leave.
Emme: She was very well-adjusted for a very obese person.
Holliday: Too well-adjusted. Twenty years ago when I was in Dreamgirls, I was always a joke because I was huge. I went out once to a birthday gathering for me, and the New York Post wrote that I had broken the chair because I was so big. Well, I didn't break the chair; it was just really wobbly. But the humiliation was terrible.
Aren't there positive aspects to Rosemary, like how she didn't hide her body but instead wore bikinis and short shorts?
Holliday: I didn't see it as a positive because they were always showing it in the context of getting laughs. It was like, "Hey, look, she's a hippopotamus but he doesn't see it." They weren't showing it as someone embracing her body but as something ugly and hilarious.
Wilson: In a way it was cool that if she was hungry she ate and didn't care what anyone thought. But thin or fat, she wasn't portrayed as healthy.
Holliday: And Rosemary never had a moment in the film when she talked to somebody about what it felt like to be fat. Even after I lost weight, I was still the same person I'd been at almost 400 lbs., so I was sensitive to a lot of things. There's this movie where the character loses weight and comes back and kills everybody. I wanted to do that so bad! Just have sex with men and kill them, because they had hurt me so much.
Was there anything in the movie that made you laugh?
Emme: When the kid ended up in the tree after Rosemary did a cannonball into the pool, that was pretty funny. When I was a kid, my cannonballs were big too, and I was very proud that the other kids would go, "Em, Em, do the cannonball!"
Holliday: I didn't think anything was so hilarious, especially if you're someone who has been there. The reality is when you're a big person and you go on the diving board, people step out of the pool to be safe. It was never a great feeling for me.
What will it take for society—and Hollywood—to start viewing overweight people differently?
Emme: If we as women start standing up and using our voices, I think we can change those perceptions. It takes a lot of work for us not to buy into a $50 billion diet-related industry. If we start saying, "I want to be happy with myself and whatever shape I was given at birth," I think it's going to change.
Holliday: But women themselves are prejudiced. When I lost weight, a lot of my girlfriends quit me, because when I walked into a room, men weren't staring at me to laugh at me, they were wanting to take me out. A lot of my friends didn't want me that way, because I wasn't helpless and pitiful.
Emme: You see other women look at a very thin woman and say nasty things. Maybe it's because our collective self-esteem isn't good. Why can't we support other women? We have to work on that.
How did this movie make you feel about your own body?
Emme: I am who I am, and there's no way of changing it. God knows I've tried. But I'm very happy with myself. I try to do something physical every day, and I eat well to have energy. The weight and height charts say I'm obese, but I don't care about the number on the scale.
Holliday: I still work day and night to be thin, because that's who I want to be. I have a personal trainer three to five times a week, so I can eat anything I want, but I admit I feel that all food is out to get me.
Wilson: I feel better about myself physically, but I still have skin that's just hanging because I lost 155 lbs. So that makes me uncomfortable. And now that I'm smaller, I'm more vulnerable. I don't have my shield that I've had all my life.
Do you think there is anything redeeming about Shallow Hal?
Holliday: I don't see anything positive in it for fuller-figured people.
Wilson: The end message was good. But I don't think the movie overall puts fat people in a good light.
Emme: We have to see the bigger picture. There's communication going on about it and how women are perceived. We have to change how we perceive ourselves. This film isn't the best way to see larger women, but from these kinds of films, change can come.
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