Anne T. Donahue On What We're Really Saying When We Say Jonah Hill Looks Good

Yes, he looks different and yes, our culture has been conditioned to celebrate thinness. But thinness is not better, and being fat isn’t bad

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Jonah Hill looks very slim in a tank top in this photo, which has sparked a lot of conversation of his work
(Photo: CPR / BACKGRID)

This week, Jonah Hill got the media’s attention after losing the weight he gained for War Dogs. He earned comparisons to Patrick Dempsey, inspired the hashtag #goals (ugh), and he also drummed up worries that he may not be as funny in the wake of his new physique. Ultimately, everybody had a lot to say about the way Jonah Hill now looks—even though it’s really not anybody’s business.

Of course, Jonah is a famous actor, which means that his face and his body factor into his work. But between his current look and the weight he lost a few years back, there seems to have been a lot say about Hill’s capacity for physical transformation. Like Tom Hanks and Christian Bale, Hill has changed his appearance for the sake of his art, but at some point—unlike his contemporaries—it became headline-making when his weight began to fluctuate. His body became fodder for public and media scrutiny, and a very specific argument began to take shape: any/all weight gain was cause for concern, and loss was cause for celebration. And while no publication overtly said so, there seemed to be an underlying current to the most recent Jonah Hill photos: his new body was “good.”

Which is an incredibly dangerous message to send, especially since fatphobia is an infinite source of discrimination, harassment and abuse. Just last week, author and academic Roxane Gay was subjected to a particularly cruel brand of humiliation after podcast host Mia Freedman posted her “concerns” that came with accommodating Gay in-studio. Currently promoting Hunger, a memoir about her body and the way she saw it in the wake of trauma she suffered at age 12, she’s used her press tour to very patiently convey the way people feel entitled to discuss her size.

“I believe in fat positivity and body positivity, and I try to have that outlook as often as possible,” she told Vogue. “But I have bad days, where, for example, a woman in Australia decides to humiliate me on the international stage. I’m allowed to feel bad about that. It’s not self-loathing that I feel, but I’m allowed to say, ‘Jesus Christ, if I just got my shit together, I wouldn’t be in this position,’ while also recognizing that my body is not a problem. How people respond to my body is the problem.”

And the way that we’ve been responding to Jonah Hill—or any celebrity who is noticeably either thinner or bigger than the last time we saw them—is wrong. Yes, they look different and yes, our culture has been conditioned to celebrate thinness. But thinness is not better, and being fat isn’t bad. So when we make comments about how great someone looks in the wake of weight loss we send the very loud message that “fat” is only used as a pejorative. We also don’t usually know the story behind it, as we gleaned from Lena Dunham’s recent clapback at the widespread celebration over her own weight loss.  

Which is even more frustrating, because we know better. We know it’s wrong. We know that body and fat-shaming leads to disordered eating, among many other things. We know the psychological, emotional and physical damage that stems from being told that your body is unacceptable. We know that discriminating based on size is humiliating and cruel and all sorts of fucked up. We know that no one body is better; that third-party fears about another person’s “health” are bullshit (note: when you say you’re “worried” about someone in the wake of weight gain, you’re not helping —you’re being a dick), and that this problem has been decades in the making and we’re still all contributing to it now.

Which we do when we celebrate and compare the body of an actor we do not know.

If Jonah Hill is now a fitness fan and has found joy through working out and eating boneless, skinless chicken breasts, then congratulations to him. He, like all of us, deserves happiness, and I wish him well. But if he shows up in a month looking differently—bigger, smaller, whatever-the-hell—he will still be Jonah Hill, an actor whose work we know and whose body is absolutely none of our business. Frankly, how dare we claim his thinness is better or suggest that as a fat person, he wasn’t as worthy a subject of conversation. How dare we compare and contrast and make him a meme, as though he in his old body was unworthy.

In fact, Gay actually said it best last week: “Fat is not an insult. It is a descriptor. And when you interpret it as an insult, you reveal yourself and what you fear most.”

More from Anne:
Anne T. Donahue on Consent and Bachelor in Paradise
Anne T. Donahue on Miley Cyrus and the Erasure of Self
Anne T. Donahue on the Problem with “Girlboss” & “Boss Babe”

 

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