Why magazines won’t tell you how much stars weigh

The offending cover line: 'Zoe Saldana 115 pounds of grit and heartache.'

The offending cover line: 'Zoe Saldana 115 pounds of grit and heartache.'

Last week there was a medium level of controversy online over the weight of Zoe Saldana - not because there wasn't much of it (though that is true too) - but because it was printed, in bold - on the cover of Allure magazine. And as much as the heavily photoshopped covers of magazines regularly tout impossible promises of instant weight loss and erasing body flaws – a line had been crossed.

Because, in recent memory, no one can recall a celebrity’s weight explicitly being mentioned on a cover. It was the truth and a taboo. But there it was, “Zoe Saldana: 115 pounds of grit and heartache.”

So why do women’s magazines – who are generally willing to serve you up a whole host of mixed messages about diet, weight loss and self-esteem – avoid discussing the “number”? Well, because from up-market glossies like Allure to weekly celebrity titles, there’s a general understanding, an occasional-code-of-ethics if you will, that rumours, exaggerations and guesses about most topics are OK but you never mention the exact weight of stars.

Zoe Saldana's cover of Allure.

Zoe Saldana's cover of Allure.

Of course this is because like Saldana (at 170 cm tall and 51 kg), most celebrities’ weight will  end up being firmly in the underweight category according to the Body Mass Index calculator. Further normalising that this kind of figure is normal, desirable and possible for the average woman or girl.

Though Allure missed the memo, magazines tend to omit this one detail about the lives of celebrities as some kind of service to their female readers.  Screaming “dangerously thin” from the roof tops is cool, but mentioning the actual number is distasteful – so goes the thinking.

One could easily argue that a number is not any more damaging than being surrounded by images of painfully thin models and actresses – a far more tangible way for impressionable young women to understand what being ‘thin enough’ to be ‘beautiful’ might look like.

As someone who is genetically blessed and working in an industry where starving yourself is normalised Saldana was clearly comfortable with her weight being published. (One assumes they asked her the question, lest they did a weigh-in before the shoot began). So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised she can’t get her head around what all the fuss is about. She told E! News at the Cannes Film Festival,

 "It's not the first time that people have said, for such a delicate-looking person, you're very tough. And I think that was the idea that they wanted to get across as a compliment to what they saw in me."

She continued, somewhat less eloquently, "I don't understand it sometimes. It almost felt like you were just looking for a reason to just be upset at the fact that I allowed myself to be very free and collaborating with a magazine that is known for collaborating with the subjects." 

I don’t think anyone is deluded enough to expect women’s magazines to be leaders in changing the way we discuss women’s bodies or pioneering a new style of body-positive reporting. The response from consumers on their Facebook page reflects this. There’s not a lot of surprise and anger for what one might call a minor misstep for a magazine that exists soley to teach readers how to slavishly following beauty trends –  a mission that’s probably a lot more troubling than printing somebody’s weight.

It would appear, after this kerfuffle, that magazines will go back to stories about extreme weight loss/gain and dropping a dress size rather than printing the actual numerics of a star’s weight.  More than anything, I think Saldana’s scandal is a timely reminder of what many actresses and models need to do to fit a mould that will allow them to work in front of cameras. Printing Zoe Saldana’s weight was ill-thought out and probably irresponsible, but it was also the hard truth. In Hollywood, a 34-year-old woman is expected to not only to look as young as a teenager but to weigh as much as one too. Being shielded from the exact figure isn’t a huge service – though printing it proudly is certainly a precarious step backwards.

 

22 comments

  • Zoe is a tad shorter than me, and a whole 10kg less. (I am a USA size 4, so slim enough with still enough to pinch) In real life, Zoe must be scary thin. I had a friend who was those same stats and everyday of her life strangers and family told her 'my god, you are so SKINNY, eat something.' Everyday. My point is Zoe looks slim, but not scary skinny, like my friend. Cameras really must make you look that much fatter on TV and the big screen. It's making me thing 2 things:
    1. How scary skinny are most women in Hollywood?
    2. How fat would I look on the big screen?

    Commenter
    Butterball37
    Date and time
    May 27, 2013, 1:03AM
    • Butterball, it sounds like Zoe and myself have a similar frame. I'm in no way 'scary thin.' I'm very petite and have a very small bone structure, but beyond that I eat well (and lots!) and am quite toned because I love exercise (truly!). My point is, you can't make assumptions about how scary skinny people are just based on a number, because everyone's body carries weight so differently!

      Commenter
      kermit
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 9:53AM
    • I have similar stats to Zoe - I'm 167cm tall and weigh 53kg (size 6-8 or 0-2 in US sizing). I'm not "scarily thin" and actually have curves and a nice butt too. I used to get the "OMG you're so skinny" comments a lot but haven't for a while now.

      Maybe it's not that skinny people should eat more, but obese people should be eating a lot less. And maybe walking further than the fridge once in a while too.

      I especially hate the accusing looks I get from people when eating a substantial lunch while the morbidly obese expect me to believe they got that way from munching on Salada crackers or a can of tuna so small it would leave a cat starving.

      Yes, I eat. I eat very well. I'm having a yummy lunch of roast chicken, rice and vegies for lunch today, in fact. But I also keep active. Maybe others should try it sometime, before making claims about my health, or lack of.

      Commenter
      Cimbom
      Location
      Real World
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 9:55AM
  • Zoe Saldana is an ex ballet dancer, so I'm not surprised she's only 51kg. That's still way to thin for her height. A normal weight for her is in the 65 - 70 kg range. But the camera does add heaps of weight on your frame so I'm not surprised that actresses try to get as skinny as possible for the camera. Ultimately, if she feels healthy and happy, it's up to her.

    I'm a curvy gal and in real life I look healthy and normal but when I see photos of myself, I look fat and frumpy and I realise just how much weight I'd have to lose to look slim on camera. Thank goodness I'm not looking to be an actress any time soon.

    Commenter
    Audra Blue
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    May 27, 2013, 9:26AM
    • I'm 175cm and approx 60kgs (fluctuate between 59 and 61). My weight is perfect for my frame, and even though on the BMI i sit near near the underweight line, I am not underweight. If I exercised and ate healthily I would be able to easily drop 5kgs and still be healthy weight for my frame. Saying someone who is shorter than me should weigh more than I do is ludicrous. All bodies are different.

      Commenter
      om
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 10:45AM
    • Are you serious? I'm 167cm and I "should" weigh 70kg? That would make me look well and truly obese - not a very flattering size at all. Just because being overweight is common, it doesn't make it healthy, normal or desireable.

      Commenter
      Cimbom
      Location
      Real World
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 10:58AM
    • @Cimbom, I'm 170cm and 70kg. I exercise three times a week, sometimes more, and eat all my vegies, yet I don't even have love handles! I think perhaps you need to double check what the 'obese' weight ranges are, because I feel a bit awful for being a regular size now. 70kg on a 167cm might make them a little more curvy but I'd be hard-pressed to say that was overweight (although it does depend on frame, muscle mass, and all those other factors).

      Commenter
      Siobhan A
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 11:59AM
    • Siobhan, you may have a larger frame than me and be able to carry that weight well. With my frame, I don't think I could be that weight and not look obese. Everyone is different.

      Commenter
      Cimbom
      Location
      Real World
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 12:20PM
    • I'm 170cms and normally 62kgs. A few years ago I was unwell and dropped to 56kgs and I was very thin particularly my upper body. If I had dropped to 51kgs I would have been very underweight for my body type. I then had some surgery but was unable to exercise and found myself at 68 kgs. Certainly not obese but I do feel uncomfortable with the extra weight and have been able to start exercising again. Will feel better physically when I'm at my usual easy to maintain 62kgs again.

      It's about being healthy and not weight but some people just don't get this.

      Commenter
      Ripley
      Location
      Hunting Aliens
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 12:39PM
    • The idea that the "camera adds ten pounds" (which is only around 5 kilos anyway) is largely a myth. Perhaps the way you really look and the way you perceive yourself are different. I know I have that issue too.

      Commenter
      missminute
      Date and time
      May 27, 2013, 12:45PM

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