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, pictured, left) 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, soif you’re watching and someone looks like they haven’t eaten inforever, what must they look like in person?" asks a Hollywood insiderwho works with young actresses on popular series (nearly everyone askedabout this subject preferred to remain anonymous). "Why doesn’t someoneon 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 wentout to representatives of the show’s stars (Grimes, Jessica Stroup, pictured right, andAnnaLynne McCord) suggesting they address the weight issue with theladies. 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 starsweighs more than 110 pounds, and 90210 insiders quietly admit that theyknow there’s a problem.
Of course, no one is pointing accusatory fingers atthree actresses barely out of their teens. One casting agent who worksfrequently with The CW turns a critical eye on the network itself. "Iknow in discussions at ABC and CBS that ‘too skinny’ is no good. Theytalk about it as a minus point," says the agent. "But at The CW it’s adifferent story. They’re trying to pull in the Gossip Girl audience andthat’s the image: hyper-skinny models." (The network declined tocomment for this article.) Still, The CW hardly stands alone in holdingHollywood actresses to an impossible standard when it comes to weight:Be thin, really really thin–but not too thin! Which leaves actresseswith, oh, roughly eight ounces of wiggle room.
This isn’t new: 10 yearsago, after Calista Flockhart, Portia de Rossi, and Lara Flynn Boylefirst became household names, Ally McBeal confronted the controversyface-to-emaciated-face when Boyle guest-starred in a 1998 episode andsneered to Flockhart, "Maybe you could eat a cookie." Flockhart snappedback, "Maybe we could share it." But all eating-disorder jokes aside,those were grown women in a show marketed to adults. The CW, on theother hand, celebrates the fact that 90210 beats every other network onTuesday nights in females 12-34. Besides, weight-related pressure istrickling down to the youngest of girls: The National Eating DisordersAssociation cites data from the 1990s in which 42 percent of girls ingrades 1-3 reported a desire to be thinner. Says the association’s CEOLynn 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 byTime Warner) sized up the girls of 90210 next to those lanky GossipGirl stars, declaring that the GG actresses were "curvy." Theimplication being, says the Hollywood insider, that "if Leighton[Meester] is curvy then anyone above that is fat." And where on thetube are women of substance celebrated? On the 1960s ad drama Mad Men,the exaggerated hourglass of Christina Hendricks is the verydefinition 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 standarddeviation for weight in the entertainment industry is what feeds themedia frenzy. But, hey, at least something’s getting fed. –AlyndaWheat, with additional reporting by Vanessa Juarez, Lindsay Soll, andLynette Rice
What do you think about the ladies of 90210? Are they too skinny? Are there any shows outside Mad Men that you think promote a healthy body image? For related stories, check out EW’s recent 90210 cover story, Ken Tucker’s review of the show’s pilot episode, Michael Ausiello’s casting scoop, and our PopWatch posts on the show’s Spring Awakening connection and controversial family-hour oral sex scene.