Melissa McCarthy’s new starring role, in Tammy, and the fact that she’s more of a household name than ever mean she’s garnered quite a bit of press recently. While not purposefully malicious, some coverage can be insensitive about her weight in a particularly ignorant way. To call an actress whose last several films have earned over $100 million at the box office “America’s plus-size sweetheart” instead of merely “America’s sweetheart” fixates on her differences, despite the intended compliment.
“It’s like I’m managing to achieve all this success in spite of my affliction,” McCarthy recently told People of the tagline. “Would you ever put that in the headline for a male star?”
I wish I could simply urge the media to treat Melissa McCarthy just like any other female actress, but that’s precisely the problem: we nitpick women’s bodies in the celebrity press — even in publications of “quality.” Lena Dunham gets called fat by Howard Stern and Joan Rivers, on top of reviewers calling her “blobby” and suggesting that someone who looks like her could never snag a guy as hot at Patrick Wilson. I can only imagine the reaction if McCarthy’s TV show, Mike & Molly, required her to wear anything skimpier than a cardigan and slacks. And yet, the press still finds cringe-worthy ways to bring up her weight, beyond the (annoying and unnecessary) “curvy” euphemism.
If you’re writing about McCarthy or any other celebrity whose body falls outside Hollywood’s typical size-zero-to-four spectrum, consider the following a guide to how not to discuss their physique, if you absolutely must. The takeaway: stop focusing on what makes McCarthy different physically, and stop asking her about it in interviews (though kudos to her for routinely making the response humorous). There’s more to say about what makes her unique as an actor and a comedian. And if Louie didn’t convince you of this, allow me to reiterate: if you’re an overweight woman, you are all too aware that society defines you by that fact — no size reminder necessary. People didn’t suddenly forget what Melissa McCarthy looks like, so it’s really OK if you skip that bit.
The New York Observer: Rex Reed’s infamous review of 2013’s Identity Thief described the actress as the “cacophonous, tractor-sized Melissa McCarthy” and noted, “She beats him up, steals his wallet, wrecks his rental car and leaves him stranded on the highway in a pair of pants stolen from a dead hobo.”
This is the review McCarthy is constantly asked about in interviews, though tamer variations on this language are found from time to time in reviews for McCarthy’s films. “Melissa McCarthy as the large-format Megan,” said The Hollywood Reporter; “very overweight” the Denver Post felt the need to point out.
The New York Post: “Melissa McCarthy Revs Up Her Hot Big-Gal Look for Rolling Stone.” If “big-gal” is anywhere in your story — let alone the headline — rethink everything
Rolling Stone: In an otherwise insightful cover story from June, there are a few unnecessary phrases from writer Erik Hedegaard. “She’s a plus-size winner,” “…her bid to become America’s plus-size sweetheart.”
GQ: The problem isn’t even with anything they said, but here’s a picture of McCarthy, uh, eating her husband, Ben Falcone. Come on, think about how this looks.
Good Housekeeping: Their tame cover story dedicates a sizable portion to discussing McCarthy’s weight and fitness/food habits, under headings like “Happy At Any Size,” and including transitions like, “McCarthy doesn’t dwell on the numbers on the scale.” Not terribly offensive, but do we really need to inadvertently body-shame McCarthy by making her justify her size in every interview?
Elle: McCarthy has said she selected the now-infamous, oversize cashmere coat during her Elle cover shoot. But the fashion mag chose it for the cover, while many of the other actresses covering Elle for their Women in Hollywood issue wore skin-baring outfits. Hey, at least it wasn’t a headshot!