Fat jokes: How often do Hollywood movies body shame?

The study, 'Weighing in on Movies,' analyzed 1,223 film scripts since 1925 and found that comedies tipped the scales on derogatory remarks about weight and body image.

Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
Rebel Wilson arrives at the World Premiere of 'Pitch Perfect 2' held at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live in Los Angeles in May 2015. She plays the character of 'Fat Amy' in the movie.

On Groundhog Day, actor Bill Murray tops the list of Hollywood actors for the highest number of body shaming remarks made in films over the past 90 years, according to a new body image study.

The study, “Weighing in on Movies,” analyzed 1,223 film scripts since 1925 and found that comedies tipped the scales on derogatory remarks about weight and body image.

“Didn’t we do this yesterday?” Mr. Murray’s character Phil Connors demands of a man which the IMDB film database references as “CHUBBY MAN” when he first begins to realize that Feb. 2 has repeated itself. “Don’t mess with me, porkchop! What day is this?”

The study was performed by researchers at Bulimia.com, a for-profit marketing platform that seeks to connect those diagnosed with eating disorders with treatment options. The study takes aim at Hollywood’s influence on how American society views body image.

“Body issue and weight are emotionally charged issues in our culture right now, as exemplified by Barbie changing her look to be more sensitive to the impact on the culture,” says Erin Hogg a member of the marketing team that sought to promote Bulimia.com, in a phone interview.

The study comes at a time when there are efforts underway that reflect a shift in concepts of idealized Western beauty and body size. Plus-size models, including Tess Holliday last year, have emerged as a niche within the fashion industry. Pop singer Meghan Trainor's hit song “All About that Bass” became an anthem of the movement to embrace beauty in all sizes. And one of Hollywood's brightest stars, Jennifer Lawrence, said she has struggled with an industry norm that initially expected her to be thinner. Last summer, Ms. Lawrence indicated that she's become successful enough that she's no longer shamed by producers or directors:

"I had a conversation with somebody about the struggles with weight in the industry - I know that's something I talk nonstop about," Lawrence said. "And they were saying, 'All of the main movie stars aren't very underweight.' I said, 'Yeah, because once you get to a certain place [in your career], people will hire you. They just want you to be in the movie, so they don't care.' It's more about the struggle for the actors and actresses who haven't made it to a certain place."

But her comments also imply what the study found: It's still an issue for Hollywood.

The Bulimia.com study looks at which movies and genres mention weight the most. It also looked at which actors most frequently appear in these films or play characters with weight-related names like “Fat Lou” and “Chubby Man.”

Overall, the study finds that comedies have the most weight-related mentions with 23.86 percent of weight-related remarks. On average, the study finds, Bill Murray remarks on someone’s weight eight times per film throughout his career. “There is a very fat pair of pants hanging on the flagpole this morning,” Murray says as Tripper in 1979’s “Meatballs.”

Remarks tallied in the study may also be self-deprecating like those made by actresses Rebel Wilson who famously played “Fat Amy” in the Pitch Perfect movies.

“It’s kinda sad when you have characters with names like ‘Fat Amy’ who calls herself ‘Fat Amy’ so people won’t call her that first,’ says Ms. Hogg. “It’s no laughing matter.”

Comedienne Sarah Silverman told Time.com: “That’s the reason people become funny is to overcome pain. The most basic is the fat kid making the fat joke first.”

Adrienne Ressler, vice president of the Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders, says in a phone interview,  “People will often make fat references and jokes about themselves and it’s defensive.”

“Despite political correctness, it just seems that laughing at fat people or making fun of fat people just hasn’t made the cut there [in Hollywood],” Ms. Ressler adds. “They’re [Hollywood’s] just not getting the message.”  

After comedies, action films are a close second holding 23.51 precent of mentions of weight.

Nicolas Cage’s 2011 action film “Drive Angry” mentions weight the most out of all movies: characters referred to weight 31 times during the 104-minute-long film.

Hogg says she hopes Hollywood gets the message, “We need to raise awareness and gets people thinking about how body weight and body image are talked about in pop culture. It’s an interesting time, especially for kids, who are being fed a lot of messages. A lot of the stuff out there is just unrealistic.”

But, as recently as Monday, Hollywood’s Central Casting Agency drew fire on Facebook for a casting call for background players that critics say flies in the face of the movement against unrealistic body images.

Central Casting’s Facebook post reads: “We are looking for men, 6’2” or taller-NOBODY shorter, that have abs for days. I’m talking about washboard abs, a defined 6 pack! (please don’t waste your time submitting, if I cannot use your abs to wash laundry on.)”

The post concludes, “You will be shirtless… Please include a picture of your abs!” Central Casting did not respond to request for comment.

“That is a part of compartmentalizing your body,” says Ressler. “That’s one of the things, in terms of body image, that really keeps people from seeing themselves as a whole or complete. They’re just a series of body parts. What’s interesting is that this is for background players, not even lead players. It’s like everything is reinforcing that image here and there’s no escape.”

"Give me a break! Central Casting is looking for smaller and smaller sizes, like they come from a magazine," ubiquitous film and television Background Performer Cliff Redding posted on Facebook in response. “They’re not looking for real people. It's all about the perception of reality...”

In an interview Mr. Redding adds, “Size definitely matters. Working as a background actor in Hollywood, the emphasis on weight and size can either make or break you. Many times, production teams ask for specific sizes when casting background players, and — if you aren’t careful — you can, literally, eat yourself out of a job.”

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