There are plenty of valid critiques of Melissa McCarthy’s comedic brand, even some that have to do with her weight. I, for instance, might wonder if she should take parts that encourage audiences to think of heavier people as obnoxious or stupid and their sex lives as hilarious. But New York Observer film critic Rex Reed was not making a thoughtful critique when, in his February review of The Identity Thief, he went after McCarthy’s body rather than her acting. He called her “tractor-sized,” referred to her as a “hippo,” and suggested that McCarthy “has devoted her short career to being obese and obnoxious with equal success,” as if her weight was a career choice.
McCarthy’s taken her time in responding to Reed, but in an interview with the New York Times last week, she got at why remarks like Reed’s are so hurtful and so effective at discouraging women who don’t look like the Hollywood norm to persist in trying to create new niches for themselves:
Had this occurred when she was 20, Ms. McCarthy said, “it may have crushed me.” But now, as a mother raising two young daughters in “a strange epidemic of body image and body dysmorphia,” she said articles like that “just add to all those younger girls, that are not in a place in their life where they can say, ‘That doesn’t reflect on me.’ ”
“That makes it more true,” she said. “It means you don’t actually look good enough.”
It’s one thing for Reed, or any other critic, to dislike a comedian’s physical humor because it’s ineffective (i.e., not funny). It’s another for Reed to treat his personal distaste for McCarthy’s size as if it’s a legitimate aesthetic issue and to suggest that being that size disqualifies an actor—or much more frequently, an actress—from being sexual, funny, charming, or heroic, regardless of skill.
McCarthy could have blown off Reed’s remarks, but I’m glad she didn’t. Her success is a rare exception to the Hollywood rule, and her remarks are a reminder of how much talent we might miss out on because critics such as Reed want to be spared seeing the bodies that happen to be the vehicles for it.