“I might look a bit different from the last time you guys saw me here,” Rebel Wilson joked as she hosted the Baftas on Sunday evening. Behind her, a photo of herself two years ago flashed up on the screen, and the crowd cheered at the transformation. Wilson’s speech made me uncomfortable, not because of that cheer, or Emma Watson’s grimace as she joked about getting more roles now she’d lost weight, but because behind her jokes sits the bigger issue — that women, both on and off-screen, feel the need to justify their weight to the world.
Wilson lost 77 pounds during her ‘Year of Health’, by eating better and exercising more. From squatting using a wombat instead of a kettlebell to going out on hour-long hikes with a great podcast, the actor documented her journey on Instagram. She said she did this to inspire others, but also to be honest about her struggles, both with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) — a hormonal disorder that can cause menstrual irregularity, excess hair growth, acne, and obesity — and her unhealthy relationship with food.
Speaking to BBC News (opens in new tab), Wilson said, “I was still very confident being bigger and you know I loved myself. I would rock a red carpet and was probably double the size and sometimes triple the weight of other actresses, but like I still felt confident in that. But I knew deep down inside some of the emotional eating behaviors I was doing was not healthy. Like I did not need a tub of ice cream every night... That was me, kind of numbing emotions using food, which wasn't the healthiest thing."
I too underwent a similarly dramatic health transformation. At 18, weighing 70 pounds- nothing, I was deep in the grasps of anorexia and body dysmorphia. While not on remotely the same scale as Wilson, I received criticism from just about everyone for how I looked — my dentist, my teachers at school, guys in bars, and women in clothes shops would all gawp and whisper about my weight. And while being dramatically underweight is as dangerous from a health perspective as being significantly overweight, I minded that people felt they had the right to comment. As I slowly gained weight, the comments and sideways glances stopped, and people rushed to tell me how great I looked, as I began to exist in a frame that was more acceptable to societal standards.
On The Morning Crew with Hughesy, Ed and Erin (opens in new tab), Wilson commented on the shift in behavior people around her showed to her weight loss. "I liked to think I looked good at all sizes and stuff, and I've always been quite confident, so it's not like I wasn't confident and now I'm super confident…I think what's been really interesting is how other people treat you. Sometimes being bigger, people didn't necessarily look twice at you," Wilson said. "Now that I'm in good shape, people offer to carry my groceries to the car and hold doors open for you."
The sadder issue remains that perhaps there is some truth in Wilson’s words. In an interview with Hollywood Reporter (opens in new tab) she said different roles have come her way since losing weight. “I found that with the British drama The Almond and the Seahorse — I’m not sure I would have been cast in that when I was a bigger girl because they kind of stereotype you a bit more when you’re bigger,” she said.
Like 18-year-old me, Wilson questioned why the world was so fixated with the number on her weighing scale. "Why are people so obsessed with it?” she asked in an interview with BBC News (opens in new tab), “With women, in particular, about their looks. I know what it’s like to be a woman who was essentially invisible to most people because of not being seen as traditionally beautiful or whatever. It's crazy to try to fit that. It's just better to be the healthiest version."
Whatever Wilson’s reasons for losing weight, the bigger question is, as Wilson so rightly asks, why do we care? As a health and fitness editor, and as a female who has spent the past ten years coming to terms with what health means, I know ‘healthy’ isn’t one particular dress size, or figure on the scale. Perhaps instead of celebrating Wilson’s weight loss, we should be celebrating the fact she feels healthier and happier in herself — something often forgotten in the media scrutiny of her new lifestyle.