On top of being perfectly coiffed, made-up and dressed, women on television working in front of the camera have to be thin to knock ‘em out on the screen. A common saying has it that “the camera adds 10 pounds” to your appearance, presenting a distorted image of already-slim professionals. This only results in conveying an unattainable feminine body image ideal, one already sold by other medias that present us with female celebrities with unrealistic proportions.
By Anders Turgeon
This thinness ideal has wormed its way in to the consciousness of most Québec women. According to a study carried out by the polling firm of Ipsos-Reid for the Milk Producers of Canada in 2008, fully 73% of Québec women want to lose weight. Among this number, 56% weigh within healthy body-mass index (BMI) limits. Moreover, 62% of female Quebecers feel social pressure to lose weight.
“Thinness has become an essential part of beauty. We associate being slender with sporty healthiness: on the job market, a flat stomach is a symbol of career success,” says Lili Boisvert, journalist. “Thinness is highly valued. We’ve got a social distortion at that level. We’ve married the ideas of thinness and femininity.”
Revenge of the Ugly
As a consequence, female TV personalities, like actress Bianca Gervais, have had considerable difficulty living up to the physical demands of their profession. In the book La revanche des moches (Revenge of the Ugly), Gervais confides to Léa Clermont-Dion: “I gained about 10 pounds (after a trip to Italy). I couldn’t get into my jeans anymore. My dresser told me: ‘What are we going to do with your ten pounds? Either lose it, or we’ll have to buy you new clothes.’ At that point, I didn’t feel fat, I felt like a blue whale.”
She goes on to say: “(Being an actress) is a trade where there’s no sensitivity towards other people’s bodies.”
This lack of consideration for actress’ physique doesn’t just affect actresses, but all women who work in front of the television camera. Whereas only 5% of women have an unhealthily low BMI weight among the general population, that proportion is six times higher among women on TV. This, according to a study conducted by Bradley S. Greenberg, a retired University of Michigan communications professor, in 2003. Sadly, no such statistics for TV professionals in Québec exist.
Nonetheless, this statistic surprises Marie-Claude Savard, a former TV sports journalist and presenter. She refutes the idea that this reality permeates the Québec media. “I think that in Québec, we’re pretty open … Being thin isn’t necessarily part of the (hiring) criteria. I’ve even heard a lot of decision-makers say that curvier women get public sympathy more easily.”
This doesn’t prevent recognizing that presenters may be worried by the “10 pounds” that the camera adds.
Being thin is also associated with an ideal of professionalism and dynamism. And that has an influence on how TV viewers see their own weight. Paradoxically, viewers can be harsh with announcers, actresses and journalists who ignore these weight standards.
Reacting to a private comment she’d received about her weight, Saskia Thuot, the host of Décore ta vie (Decorate Your Life) on Canal Vie, wrote on her Facebook page March 13th, 2014: “Someone has written me: ‘You haven’t gotten any thinner, my beauty!’… I don’t want to see any more of this type of comment. I know that my body doesn’t conform to modern standards of beauty … With each nasty comment, I’ve got the impression that I have to rebuild the foundations of my self-esteem, and at age 41, I just want to be well.”
This anecdote illustrates the consequences of the pressure on professionals of the small screen to keep their weight down. They may even go under the knife to remedy what is considered a problem. That goes for pressures surrounding aging as well.