Against all odds, young actor Ricki Lake got some movie roles after Hairspray despite being overweight. But portraying an obese teen in a specific role where obesity was part of the plot was one thing, and being an obese adult actor going out for general auditions turned out to be a whole different thing. Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News left off with Lake losing 105 pounds over a period of a year and a half. After devoting all her energy to this endeavor, she described to People magazine a minor emotional meltdown — but a positive one: “The first time I went shopping at this size, I started weeping in the dressing room because I could not believe a medium fit me.”
In 1992, Lake said for the record, “It’s the most gratifying change in my life,” but she still aimed to lose at least another 20 pounds. Speaking of her motivation, she made a remark that might have been deadly serious, or might have been just one of those things a celebrity says to make an interview sparkle. Either way, she implied a weight-based rivalry with a perpetually slender Hollywood star: “I will get to the point where it’s, ‘Hey, Winona Ryder — look out!’ ”
So Lake got down to 130 pounds, having essentially made close to half of her highest-weight self disappear. The hard work paid off, career-wise, and in 1993 Lake started hosting a TV talk show that lasted 11 years. She also told a reporter that she could not believe she’d been a fat person for most of her life. In addition, Lake pointed out that she still was not thin by Hollywood standards, only normal by general demographic standards. Then she went on to spark controversy by stating her gratitude for having sons, because with daughters, weight issues are “that much harder.”
The blog Big Fat Deal bills itself as focusing on both the positive and negative portrayals of weight in pop culture. Its writer, disturbed by Lake’s differentiation between male and female children, asked:
Couldn’t her emphasis on staying thin make her boys grow up believing that the only attractive women are thin ones? Isn’t that also damaging to them, and the girls around them?
A reader named Lisa-Marie was able to relate, and played off the “I can’t believe I was a fat person” remark to comment, “I can’t believe I let myself get fat in the first place, let alone that I’m STILL fat!” Several comments noted that Lake would not have been famous in the first place if not for her size, because her career-making movie role was written specifically for an overweight teen. Some readers seemed to feel that Lake was not sufficiently grateful for the obesity that had brought her to the public eye. Commenter Lisa wrote:
When I was a to-be adolescent, I saw the original movie Hairspray and I have to say I was inspired. Tracy Turnblad was like me. She was a big girl, wasn’t afraid to let people know, and loved to dance. That was wonderful for a fat 10 year old girl to know. That there was a possibility to be happy.
The fictional Tracy Turnblad was popular, loved and happy, despite her obesity. The make-believe girl definitely inspired other overweight young women to believe that their lives were not worthless. But another reader astutely noted that the real Lake was not necessarily the character she played in the film. And a reader called Quiconque declared:
Newsflash: you are the SAME person, and your personhood is not inextricably tied to your fatness, and everything you hate about your fat self is still going to haunt your thin self if you don’t acknowledge that.
When interviewed by ABC News in 2011, Lake had sustained her considerable weight loss for 15 years, which is pretty impressive. She even went on to slim down more after the birth of her second son and achieved a size 4, eventually appearing on the cover of Us Weekly in a bathing suit — although they had not wanted her at the quite reasonable size 8.
In 2013, the still-slim Lake was hired as a talk show host for British TV. She admitted to a reporter that her problem foods were bread and chocolate, and her method of dealing with them was moderation. Her feeling at that time was, “My weight has also made me who I am and it is something I have managed to conquer too, which I think is rare.”
Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “Cutting Herself Down to Size,” People.com, 11/16/92
Source: “”I Can’t Believe I Was A Fat Person,” Says Ricki Lake,” BFDBlog.com, 12/02/08
Source: “Ricki Lake: From Size 24 to Skinny,” ABCNews.go.com, 01/05/11
Source: “”I still have food vices”: Ricki Lake on shedding 11 stone and her return to British TV screens,” Mirror.co.uk, 02/21/13
Image by Mirror.co.uk