Pretty Ugly: Black Swan Actresses Snag Praise for Their Skeletal Bodies

Would this flick have been unrealistic had the actresses been allowed to maintain their already svelte figures?

Two girls make a pact to lose weight. Each desperately wants to get under 100 pounds and over the course of a year through hours of exercise and severe diet they finally reach their goal. With visible chest bones and protruding hips, they are proud of themselves but how does the world react to them? Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman are now being rewarded with fame, fortune and talk of a possible Oscar for their portrayal of troubled ballerinas in new movie, Black Swan.

Certainly, these ladies are not the first actors to lose an extreme amount of weight for a role.  Tom Hanks did it for Philadelphia and Christian Bale became famously skeletal for his role in The Machinist. Two things you might notice about that list: 1) They were all playing sick people and 2) They are all men. 

Does this mean that women never have to lose weight for a plum movie role?  I would assert that rather, all women are pressured to lose weight for a part, so much so that it's only newsworthy when they go to such extreme measures like Portman and Kunis.  Portman describes working out 8 hours a day, 6 days a week and eating only carrots and almonds to drop the 20 pounds required saying, "It is a ballet dancer's life, where you don't drink, you don't go out with your friends, you don't have much food, you are constantly putting your body through extreme pain - and you get that sort of understanding of the self-flagellation of a ballet dancer."

On one hand Portman says that she knows "the whole thing, I'm aware that it's sick" but then she adds that she feels like she was in "the best shape of her life" for the role.  Kunis, who got equally thin, says she was very impressed with how her "skin-and-bones appearance" looked on film.

Portman and Kunis' words come at an interesting time. Just this month, New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay lambasted New York City Ballet dancer Jennifer Ringer performance in The Nutcracker saying she looked as if she had "eaten one sugar plum too many." Macaulay, unapologetic in the aftermath, stands by his words. In a recent follow-up piece, he attempted to justify himself by saying, "If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career. The body in ballet becomes a subject of the most intense discussion. I am severe — but ballet, as dancers know, is more so."

And what was Ringer's response? The ballerina, who admitted she once strugged with eating disorders, said Macaulay's words stung. "It made me feel bad," she said. "I had to tell myself that was one person’s opinion.... As a dancer, I do put myself out there to be criticized, and my body is part of my art form. At the same time, I am not overweight.”

The outpouring of sympathy expressed for Ringer's situation has been overwhelming. And I can't help but wonder: Would Black Swan have been an unrealistic movie had the actresses been allowed to maintain their already svelte figures?  Would their acting have been less real without the extreme dieting?

What do you think of Portman and Kunis' extreme weight loss for the movie Black Swan? Is it praiseworthy? Chime in below!

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