Howard Stern is a jerk—with a point to ponder

Gabourey Sidibe isn’t exactly on the road to becoming an “American Cinderella”

Howard Stern can be a nasty bastard—but he’s also often the only one willing to voice unpleasant truths others won’t. So it was this week when the Sirius shock jock unleashed a tirade against the future prospects for Gabourey Sidibe, the Best Actress nominee for her role in Precious. “There’s the most enormous, fat black chick I’ve ever seen,” Stern proclaimed the day after the Academy Awards. He went on to slam Oprah Winfrey’s tribute to Sidibe during the telecast in which she called the actress “a true American Cinderella on the threshold of a brilliant new career.” Stern was having none of it: “Everyone’s pretending she’s a part of show business and she’s never going to be in another movie. She should have gotten the Best Actress award because she’s never going to have another shot. What movie is she gonna be in?”

Stern was pilloried for being racist. He was also attacked for getting his facts wrong: Sidibe has been cast in the new Showtime comedy The C Word and the upcoming movie Yelling To The Sky, though neither are leading roles. The C Word stars Laura Linney; in Yelling to the Sky Sidibe plays a bully, which is safe to say not a role Halle Barry turned down.

On Wednesday, Stern defended his comments, taking on the role of compassionate health crusader. He compared Sidibe to his co-star Artie Lange, who recently attempted to commit suicide: “Like, I kind of don’t see a difference between what our Artie did—Artie tried to kill himself. And I feel this girl, in a slower way…she’s gonna kill herself.”

Stern being Stern, he couldn’t leave it there. He went on to deride the newcomer’s acting ability, calling her a “prop” in Precious, which suggests he didn’t see the movie or slept through it. His sidekick Robin Quivers chimed in with another inaccuracy: “You don’t have to be unhealthy to do that part,” she said. But any actress playing Precious, a 16-year-old girl monstrously abused by her parents, did have to be seriously overweight. The character’s only comfort comes from scarfing down tubs of fried chicken. Her excess flesh is not only a salient class indicator but also protective armour.

Off the screen, the 26-year-old is also creating buzz for showing no indication of signing up for a celebrity weight-loss reality show. On Oprah, she revealed she has battled her weight all of her life; it wasn’t until she was in her early 20s that she finally became comfortable in her own skin, she said. That was evident on the Oscar red carpet where she was joy to watch—exuberant, confident, loving every second, very much in the character of Precious who sustained herself with fantasies of being a celebrity. The actress ordered a camera to pan back to get her entire cobalt blue Marchesa gown in the frame and told Ryan Seacrest: “If fashion was porn, this dress would be the money shot.”

Watching, one couldn’t help wish for Sidibe to luxuriate in every second because deep-down we know Stern is right: Precious was a unique role; the odds of her transitioning into an American Cinderella—at least the Cinderella created by Disney who is slender and white—are nil in today’s Hollywood where women are valued for their youth, beauty and willingness to aspire to invisibility size-wise. “Plus-sized” or “full-figured” actresses (read: anyone over size six) have a tough enough time of it. Consider Nikki Blonsky who received high praise for her performance in Hairspray but hasn’t been heard from since. The verdict remains out on Jennifer Hudson, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Dreamgirls; she just dropped 60 pounds to play Winnie Mandela in a bio-pic.

The double-standard is so ingrained, it’s tedious: when Renée Zellweger gained 20 pounds to play Bridget Jones it was a major news story (and one suspects part of the reason she won an Oscar). Yet when Jeff Bridges packed on 25 pounds for his Oscar-winning role as washed-up country singer Bad Blake, no one asked for his weight-loss secrets. Male actors can get soft and paunchy and age and still get work—and the girl. Jack Black is allowed to play romantic lead against Kate Winslet. And nobody’s complaining that Philip Seymour Hoffman isn’t buff.

But Sidibe isn’t just “full-figured,” she’s obese—which, as Stern points out, is a hot-button topic in the U.S. and also a serious health risk. In Hollywood, morbid obesity is cheap-laugh fodder—slap a fat suit on Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal) or Eddie Murphy (The Nutty Professor/Norbit) and let the pathetic yucks begin. The 500-pound Darlene Cates who starred in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993 is an exception: she went on a few other roles, all of which hinged on her weight.

People went overboard rooting for Sidibe, Stern argues, “because she’s a big fat lady.” Maybe he’s right again. Consider it the Susan Boyle effect—the righteous pleasure of being so broad-minded to see that talent can come in different-sized packages. But the craving for change, evidenced in the first U.S. Black president, is deeper than that. Hollywood is taking tiny steps: Kathryn Bigelow broke through the male Best Director Oscar barrier. Meryl Streep is hotter at age 60 than she’s ever been. Helen Mirren is an inspiration. And non-stick figure Queen Latifah is playing a romantic lead in the upcoming movie Just Wright.

Fat, however, is more impenetrable, reflected in Stern mocking Sidibe’s for saying “I’m going to hit a Chick-fil-A,” a L.A. fast-food chain, after the awards. “That’s so sad,” he said. Of course, when the slender Best Actress winner Sandra Bullock expressed similar sentiment, it was heralded as a sign of how down to earth she is: “I just want to eat!” Bullock told the press room. “I just want to sit down and take my shoes off, and take my dress off, and eat a burger—and not worry that my dress is going to bust open.” Nobody, even Howard Stern, sees anything wrong with that picture.

Howard Stern is a jerk—with a point to ponder

  1. Please don't degrade Canada's top magazine by defending & validating Howard Stern & his mean spirited comments. The fact that there may have some truth in his comments is besides the point. Everyone already knows the odds of show business success are stacked against her. That's why her being nominated for an Oscar was such a triumph and why he is such a lowlife for raining on her parade in such a cruel way.

    • Hey there. Web editor here. I was having trouble striking the right tone with the headline, and I've since updated it. I think it better reflects Anne's thoughts now. Thanks for reading!

      • I really don't like your headline.

      • Howard Stern deserves universal unequivocal condemnation for publicly humiliating this wonderful and courageous young woman on what should have been the greatest week of her life. Instead your writer seems to be almost praising him for having the courage to speak the truth. What point does he have to ponder? She's overweight and black; maybe her opportunities will be limited. Well very brilliant Howard! Where would we be without your penetrating candid insight! Part of the reason overweight women are so marginalized in the first place is because of comments like Stern's and articles like this one.

  2. Howard Stern Should be fired like Imus!!! Howard Stern does not have a point. Howard Stern, is a vile, putrid, pestilent, individual! I hope he gets fired just like Imus! And Robin she's the worst, she should've defend her people. A minority woman just got a nomination, well deserved, I might add!! These guys disgust me. And Gabourey Sidibe s way more good looking than them both, combined. He is just being a freggin hypocrite b/c he knows he can get fired like Imus. so he put some stupid excuse that he is concerned about her health. Don't slap me with a bag of bull. If we look at natural female bodies a woman with meat on her bones can be justified more than a man. Women's bodies are genetically made to bear children. Men have no excuse for being overweight. I am not condoning an unhealthy lifestyle. I just find hollywood bigotry, just unbearable. I hate that if a woman dates a younger man she has a label, "cougar" When willwomen truly be free? Disgusting!!!

      • This is at test to see if my intense debate account registered against my primary email is 'working'. That is, do I have restricted permissions on this blog or am I free to comment using the third party software 'Intense Debate'. Will my comment be auto-deleted or has Maclean's removed the restrictions on my account. Let me press 'Submit Comment' and find out!

    • And you are soooo much better than him (and the rest of us)

  3. Maybe he went about it in the wrong way – when has he ever – but I'm pretty sure Stern is right, she's not going to be the next big thing (I love a good pun).

    People want to watch attractive people in movies – especially the mainstream movies. At best, she plays prominent roles in indie movies, which is quite an accomplishment in its own right, but she is not the next Cinderella.

  4. She's really fat.

  5. Howard Stern's comments about this actress's weight and future acting career are blunt and very in your face, just as her weight is. Yet, she is honored for her weight and he is hated for his comments. Don't we all remember the saying "sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never kill you"? I believe it is statistical that obesity does kill. We should pick our battles and expressing hate towards Howard really is just expressing hate on ourselves. Lastly, there is another saying we should remember “don't kill the messenger” (This goes for the writer of this article, Howard Stern, and anyone else who dares to “speak up”.)

  6. It's really a statement about priorities, when someone 'accepts' such an unhealthy and over-indulgent lifestyle. I guess the morbidly obeses are still people, and just because their condition is self imposed does not mean that they should not receive sympathy. However, it is more a statement on this lady's personality when at 26 she acknowledges her so-called struggle with weight and has decided to 'accept' her situation. In this context "accepted" sounds a lot like "gave up". Gave up exercising, and gave up healthy food. Her size sets a dangerous example for her peers, and is a disgusting reminder to millions, possibly even billions, of people worldwide whose source of food is not guaranteed.

    • Yeah, because she was the least healthy person in that theatre…

  7. I'm sure none of the commentators are actual SiriusXM Stern listeners, so you only rely on the headlines that come from his 5 hour stream of consciousness. That said, Howard is as blunt as others are as negligent in acknowledging the double standard we have say with anorexics and the morbidly obese. Sure he is harsh to the non-Stern world, but that's what it takes to get noticed, as evidenced by even Macleans talking about it. Maybe then we can begin to address the tsunami of health claims of the massively overweight (North) American population.

  8. Bunch of sickos to treat a human being this way instead of just accepting talent for what it is.

  9. Howard Rules

  10. Who's Howard Stern? Is he some "bitter stick-like white d*ck" by any chance?
    Did you hear Monique talking about weight loss and health recently? She's so classy!!

  11. Howie is doing what he's paid to do, which is to attract listeners and attention and commentary. Monique is overweight as are a solid majority of Americans – who all prefer to watch slender women in the movies where they learn to hate their shape and fuel a billion dollar diet industry. And what planet do they shoot television shows on? Do women ever protest and STOP WATCHING?! No, they watch Desperate Housewives and the babes on LOST, afternoon soaps, and lament Oprah's yo-yo diets and then sign up for her tips. It costs a few million dollars to make a feature movie, and investors aren't interested enough in furthering the social agenda to risk their money. They'll invest in Howie, and encourage him to keep saying outrageous things.

  12. Howard Stern said what he did, the way he did, in order to gain attention, there is no doubt about that. If he was truly only concerned about her health, he could have framed his comments in a totally different (and constructive) tone.

    Having said that, he is not wrong about Gabourey being an unhealthy size. She is morbidly obese. That is a fact, whether or not she in particular should have been picked to be the new "whipping boy" for the subject is another story. I initially thought it was unfair to single her out, however, since this "controversy" began, I've seen an interview given to an entertainment show by her mother, who states there is "nothing wrong" with the way Gabby is and read that Gabby is "comfortable" with her size. That is unfortunate, and equivalent to someone saying they are "comfortable" or "fine" with their child's drug addiction, even praising them for it for being in a successful movie despite it. Perhaps now that the issue is out there, it can spurn public health messaging and discussion. This young woman IS at risk for diabetes and heart disease and she WILL suffer health consequences as a result of her size. That is not hypothetical, it is true to everything we know about medicine. For anyone; colleagues, family or fans of Ms. Sidibe, or even Gabourey herself to be "comfortable" with her health risks, is unfortunate.

    Everytime someone counters Stern's comments with statements like "big is beautiful" is setting back health initiatives. "Morbidly obese" is not beautiful on the inside of your body. Morbid obesity and poor eating patterns cause insulin resistance, hypertension, and can snowball into renal failure and CAD. Am I stating that Gabourey should shrink away from social events and not be proud of her acting accomplishments? Absolutely not. But should she use her exposure on the red carpet and on entertainment shows to reiterate over and over that being "big" is ok? Abosutely not.

  13. Well at least Howard lives in a country where he can say what he wants! Try that in Canada now!

    • yeah i remember when a Montreal station was running Stern and the government was all over him for saying Quebec only produces hockey players and wh*res. now he is free to say whatever he wants on sattelite radio . he has the best job in the world

  14. the last stats i read said 2/3s of americans are overweight. robin quivers can be a touch overweight at times. artie on the other hand went from average size into a Lada. he was killing himself with booze, drugs and food. this lady i believe is killing herself with food. so when howard says this he is telling the truth..obesitiy is a bigger killer than drugs or alcohol by far

  15. Howard Stern is one to talk. He looks like the product of a botched sex change.

    It is true that women get too few roles in Hollywood that have to do with something other than being eye-candy, but many have had successful careers that did not hinge on their looks. They tend to turn up as character actors, rather than front-and-centre stars, but are important to film nonetheless. Frankly I don't much care for the model types – often they suck at acting, add nothing to the plot, and are not interesting characters. Indeed their looks tend to make them more unrealistic characters.

  16. One other point, to those that have tried to make this a "health issue". Lots of things are unhealthy – we all make trade-offs between things we enjoy that are bad for us, and the possibility that those vices will knock a few years off of our life expectancy. When the issue is smoking or drug use (as long as you aren't Amy Winehouse), celebrities get a pass. Yet somehow having one fat actress will give kids a bad role model and make them all catch "the fat". Clearly the current strategy of portraying nothing but anorexics has succeeded in the war with obesity.

    There is a reason people care about obesity, and it ain't health. It is about looks. This has a number of pernicious effects that actually help drive the obesity epidemic. It means that people try to "lose weight" or "diet" instead of "trying to lead a healthy lifestyle". Diets are not long-term solutions, which is why they usually fail. Indeed, people gain weight from dieting because their body goes into starvation mode and retains more calories. It also means that for those that are fat, putting on tight gym clothes and doing jumping jacks in a crowded room isn't going to happen (and doing group-related exercises is more effective because it increases the social pressure to keep going to the gym).

    People who are unashamed of their bodies – whether fat, medium or thin, are far more likely to be able to make life choices based on the fundamentals of preserving their health. We shouldn't pity the obese, indeed that is part of the problem. Rather we should treat them as people, no worse and no better than the rest of us.

  17. I like Howard Stern – he tells it like it is….I wish he was running this country!

    The politicians, that continue to abuse us by adding new taxes or simply increasing them are the real jerks and idiots!

    Yup, she is a fat chick!

  18. Just because Howard Stern exercises his freedom to say it, doesn't necessarily mean he should. Every soul including Gabourey Sidibe is aware that she is a big girl. Now everyone is again reminded that Howard Stern is a big jerk.

  19. Howard Stern is not even worth commenting on!

    He should have been fired a long time ago like Imus–for being a sexist and a racist. Stern is a dysfunctional product of a dysfunctional entertainment culture where a pornographer is mistaken for a ‘pundit’!

    Stern is not a ‘jerk’. Stern is not even human so this word would elevate this “human” garbage somewhat…

    • Stern is a reflection and a voice of the unwashed masses. No bullshit, just what the average person is thinking. The morbidly obese are a huge drain on the health care system. Smokers are treated worse and are taxed to "help with thier extra health costs." Buy a new ford and listen to Stern if you really want to know what the average joe is thinking.

  20. For those that actually listen to Stern know that he is a very smart man who says it like it is!

    Oh Yeah, Bobaboey!!!!!!

  21. Baba Booey!

    People who don't listen to Stern really can't understand his role in the American media or his enormous significance. When Stern goes off, like he did on Precious, he starts a conversation. While part of the conversation is about what a jerk Stern can be, the other half of the conversation invites the public to analyze the nature of the film industry, the perception of beauty in our culture, the plague of obesity in North America and the dangers inherent in the western diet. Its true Stern can be cruel but really we already know that, so its not a news story. People are using Stern conversation as a path to several, more significant topics and that's where the story lies.

  22. Baba Booey!!! Howard Stern has a point of view, while not popular it is valid. I listened to his comments, they were
    articulate and well reasoned. A great deal of those that have posted their sanctimonious have not listened to the Howard's comments, they are reacting to second hand reports.

  23. The verdict remains out on Jennifer Hudson, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Dreamgirls; she just dropped 60 pounds to play Winnie Mandela in a bio-pic.

  24. I prefer Simon over Stern.
    It can't be helped as that bloody b@sT@rd's way of doing things is great.
    He doesn't insult to hurt your feelings, he does it to tell you the truth in the most…I don't know how to describe it manner.
    Replace Simon with Stern? No way!
    Replace that Kara girl or Ellen with Stern, okay!

  25. I don't think I'm jealous but I will ponder the possibility just to be sure. …
    of talk show or something at one point or was that a nightmare I had? …
    Apropos of nothing I heard Donny Osmond on the Howard Stern show once, …..
    first husband — some kind of athlete, I believe) was a real jerk. …

  26. I really agree with Iggy.

    Howard Stern Should be fired like Imus!!! Howard Stern does not have a point. Howard Stern, is a vile, putrid, pestilent, individual! I hope he gets fired just like Imus! And Robin she's the worst, she should've defend her people. A minority woman just got a nomination, well deserved, I might add!! These guys disgust me. And Gabourey Sidibe s way more good looking than them both, combined. He is just being a freggin hypocrite b/c he knows he can get fired like Imus. so he put some stupid excuse that he is concerned about her health. Don't slap me with a bag of bull. If we look at natural female bodies a woman with meat on her bones can be justified more than a man. Women's bodies are genetically made to bear children. Men have no excuse for being overweight. I am not condoning an unhealthy lifestyle. I just find hollywood bigotry, just unbearable. I hate that if a woman dates a younger man she has a label, "cougar" When willwomen truly be free? Disgusting!!!

  27. Howard Stern can be a nasty bastard—but he's also often the only one willing to voice unpleasant truths others won't. So it was this week when the Sirius shock jock unleashed a tirade against the future prospects for Gabourey Sidibe, the Best Actress nominee for her role in Precious. “There's the most enormous, fat black chick I've ever seen,” Stern proclaimed the day after the Academy Awards.

    Awesome way to express what you are trying to say.

  28. Maybe he went about it in the wrong way – when has he ever – but I'm pretty sure Stern is right, she's not going to be the next big thing (I love a good pun).

    People want to watch attractive people in movies – especially the mainstream movies. At best, she plays prominent roles in indie movies, which is quite an accomplishment in its own right, but she is not the next Cinderella.

    Great Mark.That was excellent.

  29. Well at least Howard lives in a country where he can say what he wants! Try that in Canada now!

    Yeah Rob you're right.

  30. Since you have kinda VALUE, even you are a jerk – people gonna get you.

  31. Howard Stern can be a nasty bastard—but he's also often the only one willing to voice unpleasant truths others won't.

    That was awesome.

  32. Someone fire him… Or just kill him now

Sign in to comment.