You Can Call a Man Fat But You Can’t Fat-Shame Him

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Photo: Splash News

When a male contact sent me a 14-slide New York Post slideshow of paparazzi beach photos Leonardo DiCaprio under the headline “The Great Fatsby?” I felt a pang of empathy unprecedented in my relations with A-list actors. Poor Leo, of all people: carelessly frolicking in the Bora Bora surf, his hair in a man-bun and a 22-year-old in his arms, without the faintest idea that his body would soon be served up for our evaluation. He was oblivious to his appearance, yes, but even so, his body hardly seemed to qualify as fat. No question mark!

“I look like that,” my friend said. He was actually a little bit hurt, I think.

For women, this is a familiar experience, of course. How many times have I read earnest reports that impossibly, exquisitely sculpted women like Jennifer Aniston were looking a little round lately (possibly preggers?) and contemplating how I compared. But even though the tabloid sport of body-snarking has gone co-ed in recent years, it’s still somehow impossible to fat-shame a man, especially a rich and powerful one.

Back in 2010, when tabloids were tittering at photos of a suddenly less-than-Spartan Gerard Butler, Brian Moylan predicted that, finally, “male celebrities will be held to the same impossible body standards as their female counterparts.” If only. Instead, Butler and DiCaprio’s minor weight fluctuations have come to represent a distinctly male freedom not to care about their appearances. In DiCaprio’s case, it is mirrored in other aspects of his self-presentation: cargo shorts, goatee, one now famous Coachella high kick. This is off-duty Leo, whose look does not hinder his ability to later credibly portray J. Edgar Hoover.

If being in shape is part of an actor’s job, only men truly get to take a vacation. While women stay thin for the fashion magazine covers they will need to appear on in order to promote the movie, Esquire waxes poetic about Vince Vaughn’s “great golden acreage,” which, Chris Jones noted, has “probably been kissed by Jennifer Aniston.”

“The man doesn't just occupy airspace,” Jones wrote, “he fills it.”

Less literary outlets have not been so appreciative of the physiques of aging heartthrobs — the Keanu Reeveses and Val Kilmers of the world. But there’s still something waggish and unbarbed about the remarks, as if their unflattering photographs were merely an occasion for tabloid writers to offload some puns. “What isn’t Gilbert Grape eating?” TMZ wondered of “Leolardo DiFlabrio.”

At any rate, none of these men later break their silence about the emotional suffering the media scrutiny had caused them, as female celebrities so often do — albeit after they’ve quietly lost the weight, either with canyon hikes and lean protein or a name-brand program they’re now promoting. For famous women, weight gain is still on some level a moral failure, sometimes offset by the moral victory of childbirth.

In fact, the more tabloids comment on men and women’s weight in equal measure, the more they underscore the shame gap between them. On DiCaprio, extra pounds are incidental to his identity, no more or less damning than the hideous graphic T-shirts and newsboy caps he wears. For women like, say, Jessica Simpson, being photographed at a higher weight is so humiliating and intimate, it necessitates an emotional “weight loss journey,” to be sensitively discussed on a talk show couch later. (I think this is related to the phenomenon of men using social media to hold them publicly accountable to their diet and exercise plans, while my female friends maintain secret Fitblrs and diet Pinterest boards.)

Maybe increasing male body scrutiny will eventually cause men to share women’s body shame. I would rather women aspired to the utter shamelessness of Jason Trawick, a C-list celebrity and ex of Britney Spears. When TMZ mocked him for gaining weight on pizza and Popeye's, he tweeted back a slovenly, bare-belly selfie. “Thanks @tmz I needed this,” he wrote. “Started by diet/workout program today. C u in a month!”