Can We Talk About Something Other Than Octavia Spencer’s Weight, Please?

January 31, 2012  |  

I can think of a million things I would want to talk about the night I won a SAG Award but my weight would not be one of them. For Octavia Spencer it was. When PEOPLE talked to the Best Supporting Actress Winner Sunday night that seemed to be all that was on her mind—or all they cared to ask.

She told the magazine:

“I am not healthy at this weight. Any time you have too much around the middle, then there is a problem. [And] when you reach a certain weight, you are less valuable.”

I’m not sure if Octavia’s comment was a knock to the entertainment industry or a tactic to ensure more roles for herself down the line; either way, the timing was interesting, and that quote, interestingly, is the one most publications are running to sum up her award-winning night.

Octavia’s made it clear that she doesn’t plan on taking any more backseat stereotypical roles like the one she played in “The Help” and I wonder if the mainstream media’s way of asking about weight is equivalent to the black community’s discussion about race as it relates to her role in Hollywood. The black community at large seems to be saying congratulations, but why did she have to get it this way, referring to her character Minnie Jackson. And the white community, dismissive of the barriers of race in the industry (see Charlize Theron) is using weight to explain why Octavia hasn’t been prominent on the Hollywood scene.

Octavia obviously embodies two of the least-represented types of people in the industry—overweight women and African Americans—but what I would have to liked to see in her post-SAG discussions was more about who she is, and less playing into Hollywood’s anti-plus-size hands. There absolutely isn’t anything wrong with Octavia wanting to lose 15 pounds, as she later stated, and wanting to get healthier but just as there is more to her than her race, there is more to her than her weight. Her comments don’t necessarily challenge the status quo, but rather they validate them by her admission to conform. Octavia shouldn’t be expected to carry the burden of plus-size Hollywood success but what I would hate to see happen after she loses weight is for the attention to still linger on her weight with a smaller figure, much in the way it has for Jennifer Hudson, and continue to overshadow the talent that made her famous in the first place.

At the end of the day, Octavia obviously wants to be a mainstay in the industry and ride her Golden Globe, SAG, and possibly even Oscar success, and I think she knows slimming down can increase her chances of doing so. But I think in the way that she said she will push for better roles that don’t reduce her to black stereotypes, she should also push for interviews and discussions that settle on who she is as an actress and entertainment talent and that don’t pigeonhole her into being the face of overweight, black women in Hollywood.

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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