The new CW show may be marketing an unhealthy image to its young audience
You’d think it would take something big to steal our attention from the highly anticipated reunion of Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty on the new 90210. Actually, it was something small — too small. Almost without exception, the young actresses on The CW’s spin-off are alarmingly thin, with arms that seem thickest at the wrists, and legs that look, well, like arms. As we watched Kansas transplant Annie Wilson (Shenae Grimes) graze on a side salad as her lunch entrée one question lingered: Are we the only ones overreacting to these skinny minnies? The answer, as it turns out, is no.
”Everyone says television adds five or ten pounds, so if you’re watching and someone looks like they haven’t eaten in forever, what must they look like in person?” asks a Hollywood insider who works with young actresses on popular series (nearly everyone asked about this subject preferred to remain anonymous). ”Why doesn’t someone on set or a producer or a studio head say, ‘This is not okay’?” According to a source close to the show, the network has. Calls went out to representatives of the show’s stars (Grimes, Jessica Stroup, and AnnaLynne McCord) suggesting they address the weight issue with the ladies. McCord’s publicist Gary Mantoosh denies receiving such notice, and insists that his client chows down on ”whatever she wants,” including hamburgers. But one report estimates that none of the stars weighs more than 110 pounds, and 90210 insiders quietly admit that they know there’s a problem.
Of course, no one is pointing accusatory fingers at three actresses barely out of their teens. One casting agent who works frequently with The CW turns a critical eye on the network itself. ”I know in discussions at ABC and CBS that ‘too skinny’ is no good. They talk about it as a minus point,” says the agent. ”But at The CW it’s a different story. They’re trying to pull in the Gossip Girl audience and that’s the image: hyper-skinny models.” (The network declined to comment for this article.) Still, The CW hardly stands alone in holding Hollywood actresses to an impossible standard when it comes to weight: Be thin, really really thin — but not too thin! Which leaves actresses with, oh, roughly eight ounces of wiggle room. This isn’t new: 10 years ago, after Calista Flockhart, Portia de Rossi, and Lara Flynn Boyle first became household names, Ally McBeal confronted the controversy face-to-emaciated-face when Boyle guest-starred in a 1998 episode and sneered to Flockhart, ”Maybe you could eat a cookie.” Flockhart snapped back, ”Maybe we could share it.” But all eating-disorder jokes aside, those were grown women in a show marketed to adults. The CW, on the other hand, celebrates the fact that 90210 beats every other network on Tuesday nights in females 12-34. Besides, weight-related pressure is trickling down to the youngest of girls: The National Eating Disorders Association cites data from the 1990s in which 42 percent of girls in grades 1-3 reported a desire to be thinner. Says the association’s CEO Lynn S. Grefe, ”There’s no doubt it’s gotten worse.”
Even a cursory glance at pop culture bears Grefe out. In its Sept. 22 issue, People magazine (which, like EW, is owned by Time Warner) sized up the girls of 90210 next to those lanky Gossip Girl stars, declaring that the GG actresses were ”curvy.” The implication being, says the Hollywood insider, that ”if Leighton [Meester] is curvy then anyone above that is fat.” And where on the tube are women of substance celebrated? On the 1960s ad drama Mad Men, the exaggerated hourglass of Christina Hendricks is the very definition of sexy. But, alas, her curves are another prop of the era, just like an Eames chair.
The sad truth is that falling outside the standard deviation for weight in the entertainment industry is what feeds the media frenzy. But, hey, at least something’s getting fed. — with additional reporting by Vanessa Juarez, Lindsay Soll, and Lynette Rice
See what readers had to say — and weigh in on the issue — on our PopWatch blog!