The Oscars is more than just an awards ceremony for my family. It is our equivalent of Super Bowl Sunday. We gather around the television and stretch out on the floor, clutching our dinner (often a bowl of vegetarian chili). We laugh and banter over who we think will win, who should actually win, and what we think of the acceptance speeches. We don’t just like the Oscars – we love it.
Sometimes, however, we can get somewhat picky, critiquing the show as if we ourselves are producing the event. Some of us roll our eyes at jumbled acceptance speeches, and others groan at the predictable jokes. Normally, I would argue that this should be expected of a family involved in the film and media industry. This is business for us, I reason as I partake in the analysis. For us, the show is a production study case; we analyze because we love it.
Recently, however, I’ve become aware of more serious criticism of these awards shows. So many people involved in the film industry are terribly underrepresented, simply because of their skin color or gender, or in many times both. These awards shows present an extremely limited view of those in front of and behind the screen. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director, and that was only in 2010. This year, people of color were so underrepresented that a person of color would most likely not have gotten an award if Lupita Nyong’o and 12 Years a Slave hadn’t won. But this isn’t new, and yet I have only recently become fully aware of the extent of this issue. While the Academy should be held responsible for this lack of inclusion, the film industry itself isn’t much better. Dallas Buyers Club received a lot of criticism for casting Jared Leto as Rayon, a trans woman. Fallon Fox, a Mixed Martial Arts Fighter, wrote for Time: “I just couldn’t understand why another film had been created with a trans character that had no trans actor in that role.” Many people think that the issue of marginalization can be solved as long as the honorary marginalized person has been acknowledged. As long as a woman of color has won something, then the Oscars are not sexist or racist.
It was through this lens that I looked at this year’s Oscars. As a body image blogger, I was already on the look out for something to review, but these intersecting issues made me realize just how much the film industry needs to be held accountable for. Or really, what us as an audience should be aware of. When I explained my search to family and friends, they smiled and lamented the fact that I had missed Seth MacFarlane’s infamous boob song by only a year (which, let’s be honest, would have been perfect for this blog). It wasn’t until Gabourey Sidibe entered the stage with Anna Kendrick that the topic was raised again. A friend turned to me and said, “There’s your body image.”
I froze, stunned. There, on screen, was an actress so radiant and so happy that she was embodying the idea of being comfortable in one’s own skin. Sidibe has always been very outspoken about her positive body image. But that wasn’t her message that night of the Oscars; she was there to present an award, and she looked delighted doing so. The fact that Sidibe was the only plus-size woman depicted on screen doesn’t mean she should be the subject of my piece on body image. Yes, Sidibe has a very positive body image and she is an inspiration for many people, but she wasn’t speaking about that at the Oscars. Seeing a plus size woman on screen shouldn’t be our honorary nod to universal body acceptance. As Sidibe said in an interview with Parade, her career isn’t about physical appearance: “I don’t care whether or not people will find me attractive on screen. That’s not why I became an actor.”
To me, the true body image issue of the night was how us as an audience treated the other women on screen that night. As my family and friends watched the Oscars, we marveled at how young Bette Midler looked, and then cringed at Kim Novak’s plastic surgery. The moment Angelina Jolie hit the stage, there were comments about how she had gotten too skinny. All of this commentary was justified as business talk or expressions of concern. People who get plastic surgery have to be careful about who their doctors are, and actors in particular need to be wary since they are constantly on display. And people who are too skinny, well, we are simply too concerned with their health. No one said anything about how young or old Sidney Poitier looked, or how dramatic Christian Bale’s constant weight change is. We only talked about the women.
By relying on an honorary nod to a social issue, both the film industry and the audience assume that the issue has been properly addressed. As long as there is one woman with an unconventional body type included, then the subject of body image is covered. No one can accuse the film industry of judging women by their looks or weight. But it isn’t just the industry that should be held responsible; we as an audience have become complacent. We are so focused on the social issue spokesperson that we are oblivious to how we are perpetuating the issue. Including Gabourey Sidibe doesn’t mean the Oscars was body positive – we have to stop judging everyone.