Photo: REX USA/Stewart Cook.
Rebel Wilson is hilarious. She is crass, brazen, quick-witted, and fearless. Of course, the honest truth is that if you had to describe to a friend who was only vaguely familiar with her work, you probably wouldn't use any of those aforementioned descriptors; you would probably say, "Remember? She was the fat girl in Pitch Perfect." Would that bother Rebel Wilson? We don't know, but we do get the feeling that she's the kind of person who would be very much okay with owning the word — a body-positive way of thinking that we've previously discussed at length.
The other uncomfortable truth is that in coverage of Wilson, including articles on this site, you're probably not going to get through the page without some kind of discussion about how she is a great role model for young girls, or how she's changing the way we think about beauty, or how she is — as Lynn Hirschberg puts it in this recent article for New York — "the American sitcom's first genuine outcast." That's because we're a country that is largely obsessed with body image, for better or for worse. The article is ostensibly a cerebral look at her career, her future, her innate comedic ability and the niche market she occupies with such success.
That is, at least, what one would expect in a profile about a successful comedic actress with a headline asking whether or not she has the chops to pull off a potentially history-making show. But, it unfortunately devolves into an indulgent discussion about how she does not look like her Hollywood co-stars. The subtext here is probably something along the lines of, "she looks like one of those rap guys' girlfriends" (thanks, Sir Mix-a-Lot). Gawker has already done a spot-on takedown of some of the more ridiculous moments which highlight the trouble with this type of conversation, but we have just a few more things to add.
Photo: REX USA/David Fisher.
It's not that Wilson is refusing to participate in this conversation. She talks openly about her weight and regularly relies on a certain, somewhat meta brand of "fat joke" in her comedy. Because, she is a rare sight in Hollywood, and it is natural that people will look to her as an inspiration. But, with Wilson, we get the feeling that she doesn't want or need to be a champion of a cause. Wilson told Hirschberg in the article that she has a Post-It note carrying a sort of artist's statement, which she looks at whenever she's tired or down. It reads like this: “The bigger purpose in all of this is to inspire girls who don’t think they’re socially all that — who don’t think they’re pretty and popular. To let them know they can have fun and exciting lives.” So, no, it's not about making fat girls or ugly girls or weirdos feel beautiful. It's about reminding them that beauty is not everything, that fine features and a defined waist will not automatically deliver a life of glamour and adventure.
All told, Hirschberg's article is almost entirely about Wilson's weight. And yet, if one were to read only Wilson's quotes without the editorializing, the lasting impression would have almost nothing to do with that. It's not that she doesn't talk about her weight, or that she refuses to address it — quite the opposite, in fact. She talks about it naturally, openly, and hilariously — and you never get the feeling that she's compensating for some repressed feeling of self-loathing. The good news here is that Wilson's quotes are often so ridiculously awesome that she — her persona, as it includes but is not defined by, her size — still shines brightest.