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Precious – Gabourey Sidibe and fat acceptance

Precious - Gabourey Sidibe and fat acceptance
Precious - Gabourey Sidibe and fat acceptance
Precious – Gabourey Sidibe and fat acceptance

The following is a transcript of a reporter doing research and interviewing Celebrity Life Coach and Human Behavior Expert, Patrick Wanis Ph.D. about actress Gabourey Sidibe, her portrayal of Precious and whether or not Hollywood and the public can truly accept a 350-pound obese woman and actress.

Q.  This article is about Miss Sidibe. You said that you lived in West Africa. How was that?

Patrick Wanis:  It was a great experience. I lived in The Gambia. And The Gambia is almost completely surrounded by Senegal, except on the west where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The country of The Gambia is a very small vertical shape that runs along The Gambia River.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  So, I knew a lot of Senegalese people and they’re very strong people. They’re very emotional. They’re very passionate people; quite different from The Gambian people who are very quiet, shy and very peaceful.

Q.  So people from Senegal are like this young actress?

Patrick Wanis:  Well, she was born in Brooklyn but her father was from Senegal.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  And her mother is a gospel singer. The other thing that’s very interesting is that her father left, I think, when she was quite young, which I’m sure had an effect on her as well.

Q.  Yeah. But he left her or did they just divorce – her father and mother?

Patrick Wanis:  I use the expression “he left her” because when a husband and wife divorce, the child subconsciously believes that the parent left them, abandoned them or deserted them.

In fact, just today, I’ve started working with a new client who is suddenly having panic and anxiety attacks. She doesn’t know why but we uncovered that when she was 11, her father had cheated on her mother.

Q.  Yeah?

Patrick Wanis:  And the child then also thinks, “My father betrayed my mother. He also betrayed me because I loved him and trusted him, too.”  So what I’m saying to you is that there is an effect; whatever your parents do, will affect you in one way or another. And when parents divorce, the child often thinks, “Maybe, there is something wrong with me.”

Q.  Yeah. And you say that was very important for her, like how do you think this affected her and the way she reacts to life and to being famous right now?

Patrick Wanis:  It’s not something that’s obvious because this woman, Gabourey Sidibe has a beautiful soul, a beautiful spirit. She has lots of outward confidence. She seems very comfortable in her skin. But, she’s also 350 pounds.

So, she either has a medical condition or she has some other emotional condition that maybe she’s not in touch with. And even the movie producer, Lee Daniels, said something poignant.

Q.  The director, I think.

Patrick Wanis:  Yes, Lee Daniels is the director and producer. Apparently, Gabourey’s parents split when she was young. And to quote one website – “Daniels, who saw hundreds of audition tapes from across the country – 350-pound actresses don’t grow on trees – was blown away by Sidibe.”  And Daniels said, “She is unequivocally comfortable in her body in a very bizarre way. Either she’s in a state of denial or she’s so elevated that she’s on another level.” Lee Daniels also says, “I had no doubt in my mind that she had four or five boyfriends easily.”

Q.  Yeah, I read that. She said that she has had four or five boyfriends, right?

Patrick Wanis:  Yes. So what Lee Daniels is saying is that outwardly she obviously has a lot of confidence; she’s a strong woman and she is a Taurus; Taureans are strong and resilient. She’s very grounded. But if she weighs 350 pounds, then that means that, at some stage, and preferably soon, she, has to look at her health.

And this has got nothing to do with vanity or Hollywood. If you’re 350 pounds, it’s very dangerous to your health. That’s the only point I’m making there.

Q.  Yeah. So, the director says that her response is bizarre or that it’s even denial or she’s on another level. What do you think it is?  Do you think she’s in denial?  Do you think she’s on another level?  Do you think she’s getting so used to her condition that she is comfortable – really comfortable with it?

Patrick Wanis:  Well, she’s still very young. So, the real pain may have not come up yet. What usually occurs is that one day, something will happen that will trigger the pain. Also, if we tend to push down the emotion, it’s like a spring and it one day jumps right back up.

I’m not going to say that she is in denial or not in denial. She might not be aware of the pain. It could be something subconscious. But there is a reason that she’s 350 pounds. And usually, when someone is that size – if they do not have a medical condition – then they have some other deeply painful, emotional condition that is causing this weight. Even if she is simply eating poorly, then she is not looking after her body and health, and that relates to self-love, self-esteem and thus, to emotional issues. When we love and care about ourselves, we make a conscious choice to not eat food that is dangerous to our health.

And as a result of the studies and research that I’ve done, I teach that in almost every case, being overweight – and I’m not even talking about being obese, but being overweight, comes from negative emotions and stress.

Q.  From stress?

Patrick Wanis:  Yeah. Stress will change your entire hormone system. It will change your metabolism; it will lead to Adrenal Exhaustion and low Thyroid function. It affects your digestion; it affects your absorption, sleep and usually causes the body to store fat. So it’s very easy to become either extremely skinny or extremely overweight from stress. And I have written about this at length. I have a three CD audio program called “The Secrets to Losing Weight, Being Thin, and Loving Your Body”.

The beauty right now with Gabby is that she is still sending a positive message to women to love and accept yourself as you are and where you are right now in life because if you start with that, then you can say to yourself, “Okay. Instead of hating myself, do I want to change my body?  Do I want to make sure that I’m healthy?”

Yes, and it’s important to remember that Gabby is more than just the woman who, for example, has a big skeletal structure. There are some women, like some Brazilian women, who are very tall and very big. Dutch women are the same. They’re generally very big women. But Gabby’s situation isn’t just about her being tall, or being big. She is obese. And that means she is very, very overweight. And that’s very dangerous health-wise.

Q.  But do you think the message she is sending to all these women about accepting the way they are is harmful in a way because all those women can interpret the message as, “Okay. I can be a overweight or obese.”?

Patrick Wanis:  No. I don’t think it’s harmful because I don’t think the intention of her message is to say, “It’s okay to be 350 pounds.”

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  I think the intention of her message is – and she says this really beautifully – to love and accept yourself. Gabourey has said, “Look, you know, I wake, I go to sleep the way that I am. I wake up the way that I am. If I don’t like who I am then why should I live life?”

And I think that the intention behind the messages is good –  when one says to all women, “love and accept yourself the way you are.”  Now, I would also add to that by saying: “Remember that you have the ability and the power to change certain things about yourself.”

And what I am talking about, as I mention in my audio book “The Secrets to Losing Weight, Being Thin, and Loving Your Body” is that there is a difference between your body type and your body shape. Your body type is what you are born with; your body shape is the result of your thoughts, your feelings, your attitudes, your beliefs, your behaviors, your Thyroid, your hormones, your food, your diet, et cetera.

Q.  Yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  But I think her message is still a very positive message which is very similar in some ways to the character she played in the movie, Precious. Gabby’s not an unhappy person in life but she has a very positive outlook on life both at the end of the movie and in real life;  meaning that she believes in hope and hope is very important for everyone in the world. It is hope that keeps us going when we think we cannot keep going anymore.

Q.  But the other message in the movie is that you’re saying right now, keep going; you can be in the worst condition but if you look for help, if you work on yourself, you can be in a better condition.

So that’s another message people around America are receiving, right?  They are feeling like they can identify with her story and they are kind of using it to have a better life. Am I right?

Patrick Wanis:  The message is very powerful, Diego. First, what you also see in the movie is the way her character Precious evolves. In the beginning, you see her very alone; she is being abused by her mother, she is being raped by her father, the people at school make fun of her but progressively, you see her changing as she receives support from other people and also taps into her inner power and learns to believe in herself and stand up for herself. Precious also becomes more realistic and accountable; she accepts responsibility for her life. However, Precious, is only able to truly evolve and grow by first allowing others to support her which then gives her the strength to find her inner power and to become self-reliant – even at the tender young age of seventeen, in the movie.

And that theme of support is a really powerful message because what it shows in the movie is that she is allowing people to help her: Precious is allowing herself to be loved. When her teacher, Miss Bain (played by Paula Patton) says to Precious “Your baby loves you. I love you” and when she’s saying that to her – to Precious – the message is also to allow yourself to receive, allow yourself to be supported, allow yourself to be lifted, to be raised up, to be helped by other people. This is a critically powerful message because there are many people in life who refuse to be helped, whether it’s because of fear or inability to to trust, or whether it’s due to false pride or ego.

In most cases, it’s really just fear. The fear of “If I let you help me, something will go wrong or you’ll betray me.” So I think it’s a positive message in the movie that says be thankful for your gifts, hold on to hope, and allow others to support you.

Q.  I’ve read some people from different organizations and individuals saying that the story in the movie and Gabby’s own story have changed the way they saw the way they were helping people. And, that a lot of people are coming to them, telling them, “Look, I’m here because I saw the movie” or because “I just want to live my life as this actress lived her life. She’s 350 pounds. She is obese, as you say, and she lives happy, and she is giving the interviews, and she’s not afraid of life.”

Do you think this is possible, that as a result of the movie industry and movies such as “Precious” that it will change the way people treat their lives, treat their bodies, the way people live with themselves?

Patrick Wanis:  Well, unfortunately, yes. And I used the word “unfortunately” because most of the movies are often trying to tell us we’re not good enough and we need to lose weight, and we need to be better looking, and we need to be smarter, and sexier and younger and have better skin, and straighter hair, etc.

And the reason that this movie has really touched a nerve, as we say in English, resonated with people, connected with people is because it’s so different. You know, recently, I was giving another interview about the actress Heidi Montag.

Heidi Montag is the extreme opposite to Gabby Sidibe. Heidi Montag is the actress that comes out and says, “I’m obsessed with plastic surgery. I have to have more and more operations.”  And Heidi Montag is indirectly telling the world: See?  I’m still not good enough. I still need to have more operations. I still need to do more because I don’t think I’m good enough. I need to be more beautiful. I need to be sexier.”

And remember that Heidi Montag is a white, blonde woman. And yet, now you have the extreme opposite. You have Gabby who is an African-American woman, a black woman, from a poor neighborhood, Brooklyn, who is not at the same level as Heidi Montag – and yet she’s saying “Oh, but I’m happy even though I’m obese.”

And the reason that connects and resonates with so many people is because women, generally, are never ever happy with their body.

Q.  Of course, that’s true.

Patrick Wanis:  You know, you can talk to almost any woman and she’ll always find one thing she doesn’t like about her body. Maybe it’s her hair. Maybe it’s her skin. Maybe it’s her waist. Maybe it’s her hips. Maybe it’s her eye color. It’s always something.

Q.  Maybe it’s everything.

Patrick Wanis:  Sometimes, it’s everything.

Q.  Yeah, yeah.

Patrick Wanis:  So this message is loud because it’s different. But you’re right: movies do have the power to affect people and to affect the way that we might live our lives, or the way we might view ourselves.

A successful, powerful movie will affect people in a positive way, not in a negative way. And, you know, unlike most of the movie stars that have come along who try to tell you all the time that you’ve got to be better; you’ve got to be sexier; you’ve got to be younger, Gabby has really connected with the average person because she’s not about glamour; she’s not about glitz; she’s not being fake, artificial, or vain.

She’s very real, she’s very down to earth, and she expresses a very deep emotion that every one of us can understand, which, is the emotion of pain – of some time or some event or moment in our life when we have felt invisible, unloved, or not good enough.

At some time in our life we’ve felt that there’s something wrong with us, and life isn’t worth living, or “I don’t know why I’m here.”  For example, I remember working with a client who’d been abused as a child and she never received any love from her mother. And she said this to me; she said, “I don’t even know why I’m on this earth. I don’t know why I’m here.”  And she said, “I don’t know why anyone would love me or why anyone would be nice to me.”  And she was crying as she said this. And this is a girl who was a stripper. She was a stripper because she never liked herself.

Q.  Yeah?

Patrick Wanis:  She’d been abused as a child. She’d been sexually abused. Her mother abused her so she didn’t like anything about herself and wondered why she’s here. I think everyone of us, even the very successful people have had a moment in their life when they and we have said “Am I good?  Am I worthy?  Do I have anything to offer this world?  Am I valuable?”

So my point Diego, is that I think everyone of us can relate to this movie even if we’re not a 350-pound, 16-year-old; a girl that’s being abused by her mother and raped by her father.

I think we can always relate to some of the common aspects of human nature which are: compassion, sympathy, empathy, understanding her pain, feeling her pain, feeling her sense of isolation, her sense of hopelessness, her sense of helplessness. I mean, how much worse can it be when your father is raping you and your mother is abusing you and hitting you with a pot and pan?

So it really helps us to understand the pain and I think also, Diego, there’s a lot of people out there who’ve experienced similar things to the character Precious: being abused by a mother or by a father, being treated really badly, being unloved, having people at school make fun of us. You know, there’s a scene in the movie where the boys push her over and she falls flat on her face. And the camera cuts away quickly, leaving us wondering if she will rise up, how will she rise up, stand up; how will she rise up and stand up in her life?

And so, we all relate to that moment in our life when we’re really unsure of ourselves especially when you’re 16 and you’re searching for your identity. You know, at age 16 and 17, a teenager is searching for their identity: “Who am I? What am I?  Where am I going?  What will I do with my life?” So I think a lot of people also connect with her for that reason, too.

Q.  Okay. Just to wrap up this interview. What do you admire in Gabby’s personality, about her way of living her life?

Patrick Wanis:  I think what I admire the most about Gabby is her sense of – there’s an expression in English called “pedestrian” which literally means a person walking. Being pedestrian refers to someone that’s down to earth, someone who’s real, organic, authentic; someone that’s sincere. You know, Gabby doesn’t try to act to be someone else. When she gives interviews she speaks as herself and she says “This is who I am.”  And I think I admire her sense of authenticity. That means that she’s not trying to hide behind a mask.

Most people today, Diego, try to hide behind a mask, behind a false image of themselves. She doesn’t show you a mask. She shows you who she is.

Q.  That’s nice. That’s a nice sentence and also, just to finish, you started talking about Senegal.

Patrick Wanis:  Yeah.

Q.  About West Africa. I want to ask you if you see in Gabby these characteristics you said at the beginning that people from Senegal were like very enthusiastic and very…

Patrick Wanis:  Strong?

Q.  So you think she is like that?  She has that part of her father?

Patrick Wanis:  You know, I’m sure that to a certain extent she’s probably inherited some aspects of her culture in the sense that I said that Senegalese people are very strong, they’re very emotional, they’re very passionate, they’re very determined.

Okay, that’s a big generalization. But that’s what I saw and what I experienced when I lived in West Africa and yes, she has some of those qualities. Now, whether she got that from her father, whether she also got some of that from her mother – I’m not sure.

Her mother is a very real person because her mother was offered the part in the movie to play the mother of Precious about a few years ago and she turned it down.

Q.  And she turned it down because it was very intense, very painful?

Patrick Wanis:  Yeah, too painful. But her mother who’s a gospel singer chooses to sing in the subway of New York City so that also reveals that Gabby also inherited from her mother this quality of being down to earth, of saying You know what?  This is who I am. I’m not going to pretend that I’m rich, and chic, and special, and glamorous. What you see is what you get.

Q.  That’s it. I think that’s why I’m writing this article. And that’s why you’re talking about this, because she’s so real, you know. She’s so not Hollywood.

Patrick Wanis:  Yes. She’s very anti-Hollywood which is going to be very interesting to see how her career develops because she’s already started shooting, “Yelling to the sky”, which is a completely different character. She’ll be playing a bad girl. Instead of playing the victim, she’ll be the person that creates victims. And so, it’s going to be a very strong, hardcore role and character. And it can be quite different from what she’s done before.

And I think that what is going to determine her future will be whether or not there will be enough roles for her because whoever writes these roles has to write roles for a very large woman. And Hollywood, in the past, has refused to accept large women. They refused to accept Camyrn Manheim as a serious actress; Camryn Manheim is the TV actress from “The Practice”

And then there’s Kirstie Alley from “Cheers” who in the past two years put on a lot of weight and was around 250 pounds, and the only attention she has received is as a fat woman, not as a talented actress who happens to be fat. But the point is that Hollywood…

Q.  They have refused to do it.

Patrick Wanis:  Yeah. If you try to think of an overweight actress that Hollywood has embraced, it’s almost impossible; I can’t think of any. So this is very, very different.

The next question is: will they write more roles for her or not?  Possibly. And the next movie will determine whether or not people are going to accept her. Acceptance is a very interesting aspect of human nature. It is easy for us to accept a woman whose 350 pounds when she is a victim, and she’s being abused, and people hate her because then we want to hold her, and protect her, and embrace her, and we want to love her. We want to tell her it’s okay.

But how will we react when we see her on the screen and she is playing a bad woman and she is 350 pounds?

Q.  Yes.

Patrick Wanis:  Will we think differently about her?  The final point is – as I said she’s 350 pounds now – if she happens to lose all that weight and becomes an average woman in terms of her body shape, how will we react to her?  Will we like her more or will we like her less?  I don’t know.

Q.  That’s the question which by the way, I think we would like her less. What people are falling in love with is the character, this large woman, black woman like herself. If she’s skinny, maybe we won’t feel this thing, this “victim” thing we feel for her in other roles, right?

Patrick Wanis:  That’s exactly true. And I think the reason that is, is because we can have more compassion and empathy for her because of her size. If she was a skinny woman playing that same role, I don’t think the public would have reacted to her as well or as deeply.

Q.  Yeah, that’s true and that’s what you said. I was going to tell you that – I read somewhere – I don’t remember where – that every time a fat woman comes into a movie in America, it’s played by a man and it’s played by a comic man, you know. It’s like this comedy thing that any actor plays like this fat old woman or this fat grandmother. He’s not really a fat woman playing a role of a large woman empowered of herself. And that’s kind of what we are seeing now.

Patrick Wanis:  Well, we have double standards because Eddie Murphy and…

Q.  Eddie Murphy, for example.

Patrick Wanis:  Yeah, and there was another actor also – Martin Lawrence –  actors who put on the costumes and acted like fat women.

And then you have John Candy and Chris Farley. And we think it’s okay to laugh at men that are either overweight or play overweight characters. But when we see a woman overweight, we become very critical of her and we usually tend to mock her.

Q.  Unless we can, kind of, pity her, feel sorry for her; so we feel empathy and we feel we can be on her side.

Patrick Wanis:  Exactly, because here, we can actually be more empathetic, and sympathetic, and compassionate.

Q.  And I think that’s the point in the movie. That’s the point you made me believe talking to you.

Patrick Wanis:  What is that? Which point?

Q.  The point that we feel empathy for the victim. We feel empathy for her size, we feel…

Patrick Wanis:  Because we see her as helpless.

Q.  Yeah, yeah, exactly…

Patrick Wanis:  If she was a skinny, tall woman, you know, and had the body of Angelina Jolie and was playing the same role, being abused – we wouldn’t have the same pity for her. We would have different expectations of her.

Q.  Yes. Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.

Patrick Wanis:  We should have the same pity but we probably wouldn’t.

Q.  But we don’t.

Patrick Wanis:  No, because every human has an aspect of what I call the dark side. And yes, we can be biased, and we can be prejudiced, and we can be bigoted, and we can be mean sometimes. We also tend to hate in others what we hate in ourselves. But as a society, we have created norms and expectations. The irony in America is that the US is one of the world’s most weight-obsessed nations and yet it is one of the world’s most overweight nations; The US is obsessed with physical beauty and perfection, with body-image, with young skinny models and yet it is the third fattest nation I the world, after American Samoa and Kiribati. And generally speaking, men don’t like to see a woman that’s overweight. And neither do women.

Q.  It’s sad but it’s…

Patrick Wanis:  It’s true.

Q.  It’s like that. It’s true. Well, thank you very much, Patrick. It’s been very useful again.

Patrick Wanis:  You’re welcome.

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