“Hairspray”: Bringing big and beautiful back?

Hairspray sang and danced its way onto the big screen this past weekend to great reviews and strong box office (No. 3 behind I Now Pronounce You Dumb & Dumber Chuck & Larry and Harry Potter, with the largest opening take for a musical on record). And, according to the Associated Press, its filmmakers hope its success will herald a new acceptance of plus-size women in Hollywood. You hear that, aspiring starlets? You can all stop gorging yourself on ice cubes and Diet Coke, because big is back. If only.

As welcome as the notion may be, I sincerely doubt that Hollywood will begin embracing its Rubenesque side anytime soon. While Nikki Blonsky and Queen Latifah are Hairspray’s beautiful
bombshells, they are the curvaceous exceptions to the rule right now.

Heck, even when a role calls for someone with more size, moviemakers often just ask thin actresses to bulk up (à la Charlize Theron in Monster and Renee Zellweger in the Bridget Jones films).

And then there are the wholesale slim jobs they do on other roles, like in 1991 when Michelle Pfeiffer was cast in Frankie and Johnny over Kathy Bates, who originated the role on stage.

Certainly, Hollywood hasn’t always been a land of stick-figure leading ladies. Marilyn Monroe had more curves than Cameron Diaz, Keira Knightley and Nicole Kidman have combined. But over the years, the standards of beauty have thinned — so much so that when I was recently saw the iconic, sexy
shot of Catherine Deneuve’s perfect hourglass figure from Belle de Jour again, I had the uncomfortable realization that today they would airbrush her back to about half its size. If you think I’m exaggerating, just ask Faith Hill’s left elbow.

Still, while I appreciate the AP article’s sentiment, even its packaging is a sign that the industry isn’t close to hopping on the “big is beautiful” bandwagon. To illustrate the story, the AP sent along three images: Hairspray stars Blonsky and Latifah and recent Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson. Never mind that Hudson isn’t mentioned anywhere in the article. I guess they couldn’t think of a third successful plus-size actress working in film today. Can you?