Body Transformations in Film: Amazing and Inspiring or Dangerous? By Frankie Wallace.
Whether it’s Tom Hanks for Castaway, Zac Efron for Baywatch, or Anne Hathway for Les Miserables, the actors and actresses in Hollywood seem all-willing to go all-out to gain or lose weight and muscle for a role. After all, they want to fit the role perfectly, and their bodies are not exactly right.
As we look at these transformations, however, we have to ask ourselves: are these transformations amazing and inspiring to the audience, or can they be downright dangerous? We will examine a few of Hollywood’s amazing body transformations in a little more detail and the story behind the scenes, and then ask ourselves again: Is this a good thing?
Actors and Their Stunning Transformations
Although in our increasingly high tech world, it is possible to digitally transform an actor’s body, as was done to Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, more and more actors are willing to go all-out to fit into their roles, losing or gaining tremendous amounts of weight and making other bodily changes in the process. Let’s look at three cases in more detail.
In Courage Under Fire, Matt Damon played the role of Specialist Ilairo, a soldier who is emotionally distraught from his experiences on the battlefield who is now facing another battle: heroin addiction. To show the dramatic effects that heroin can have on the body, Damon lost 40 pounds. Even though he thought that his transformation demonstrated how committed he was to acting, and it led him to being offered his breakout role as the lead in the late 1990s film, The Rainmaker, the weight loss harmed his body. It put extreme stress on his adrenal gland, and he had to take medicine for over a year to treat the condition.
For her role as Nina, a ballerina in Black Swan who becomes completely obsessed with dance, Natalie Portman, who was already slender, shed 20 pounds. To lose that amount of weight, Portman primarily ate almonds and carrots and very little else. Additionally, she rehearsed for the role eight hours a day. Portman stated, “There were some nights that I thought I literally was going to die,” and that, for the first time in her life, she understood how a performer could get so caught up in a role that it could harm them.
To play the role of the severe insomniac machinist Trevor Reznik in the 2004 psychological thriller, The Machinist, actor Christian Bale lost over 60 pounds. In the film, he is downright skeletal in appearance. Then, in 2005, Bale played Batman in the Christopher Nolan remake of the franchise. For the role of Batman, he gained both weight and muscle. Over six months, Bale gained 100 pounds. When asked about his bodily transformations by E! News, he said that he just can’t transform himself anymore. “I feel like if I keep doing what I’ve done in the past I’m going to die. So, I’d prefer not to die,” Bale said. He also told The Sunday Times Culture magazine, “I can’t keep doing it. I really can’t. My mortality is staring at me in the face.”
The Good Side of Transformation
So, how can these actors and many others totally transform their bodies for a role? For some people, it all comes down to the 3 Big Rocks of Health. These rocks are consistency, effort, and adaptability. Entertainers who can make such transformations for a role show a great amount of all three, and by doing so, inspire others to do the same.
Some of the diets that stars use to make their transformations are even published online for others to follow. For example, Pop Workouts has published the Black Swan Workout, with the claim that anyone who follows the workout can transform their bodies to be long and lean, just like Natalie Portman in Black Swan. While that may sound inspiring, and indeed it is, the workout itself is not for the faint of heart. It involves working out “5 hours a day, 6 days a week” and involves everything from cardio to ab work to swimming.
The Bad Side
Where there is good, there is also bad, and in the case of these transformations, the bad seems to outweigh the good. Andrea N. Giancoli, a certified dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says that celebrities, with their constant increases and decreases in weight, are superb examples of exactly what not to do when dieting. In particular, she says that the human body doesn’t like to lose weight quickly. When dieting in such a fashion, a person loses muscle, but when they gain it back, it returns as fat.
Also, when entertainers lose a lot of weight, they are prone to want to tell the world about it, and for the wrong reasons. They are not telling people because they want to help, but because they are hoping to increase their chances for recognition. Whenever an entertainer talks about their weight loss, it becomes a trending subject on social media. What they do not realize is that eating disorders, while in some cases are influenced by biology and genetics, also have a strong social component that celebrities tend to increase. The stereotype of the perfect body as lean and strong is still very much a part of our society, and entertainers, with their stories, only propagate that image.
Actors and actresses will undoubtedly continue their extreme body transformations as they practice their art and attempt to be the best characters that they can be, and the debate will continue as to whether these transformations are amazing or dangerous. Leave it to say that, while we may continue to look at the extreme transformations of entertainers on film in awe, we should probably not try it ourselves.
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