Kirstie Alley's dance with Hollywood

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, June 15, 2024

Kirstie Alley's dance with Hollywood
Long before the current body-positivity movement, Ms. Alley made people think about fatness on TV, often at her own expense.

by Rhonda Garelick

NEW YORK, NY.- Kirstie Alley, who died this week, was a knockout beauty with real comedy chops — qualities often assumed (wrongly) to be incompatible — whose self-ironic humor softened the “kapow” of her glamour-girl looks.

Whether playing a fictional character (as in “Cheers”), playing herself (in interviews or in her reality TV series, “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life”) or some version in-between (like the fictionalized version on “Fat Actress”), Alley infused every performance with a sly self-awareness. “I know I’m gorgeous,” she seemed to say, “but I don’t take myself too seriously and you need not either.”

Alley was a rare standout in Hollywood for being a full-figured, at times even self-proclaimed, “fat actress,” who never stopped being sexy. Everything about her telegraphed lushness, abundance. She wore her dark hair in cascading waves that fell, a la Veronica Lake, over one eye. She was buxom. Her catlike eyes were framed by permanently arched brows that gave her a slightly ferocious look.

Alley felt visually anachronistic, like a throwback to the era of brunette sirens like Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor (which made her early star turn on “Cheers,” replacing Shelley Long — model-thin and blond — all the more dramatic).

Beneath both the gorgeous and the funny, though, a strain of melancholy increasingly crept into Alley’s persona, and yes, it was about the weight. For while she seemed never to lose her sex appeal, and starred in a string of sitcoms and movies, her struggle with weight was inextricable from her public persona. Tabloids dogged her, punitively chronicling her body fluctuations: “TV bosses tell Kirstie Alley, ‘You’re too fat!’” screamed a typical headline of The National Enquirer in 2007. “She admits to gaining 30 pounds, but it’s really 50!” screeched another in 2014.

Alley responded gamely, making weight an overt part of her career. Rather than hiding, or disappearing to some spa to re-emerge mysteriously svelte, she owned the issue. She starred in her own sitcom, “Fat Actress,” documenting her character’s (and hence her own) journey to fitness.

“Honestly, I didn’t know how fat I was,” Alley said in a 2004 appearance with Oprah Winfrey (who had of course documented her own similar struggles), explaining that all the media scrutiny of her weight had led her to sign on as a spokesperson for the Jenny Craig diet program. Two years later, Alley, then 55, returned to Winfrey’s show to show off her 75-pound weight loss, sashaying onstage in a bikini, layered over a nude body stocking. Winfrey and the audience cooed in amazement.

But the moment seemed more poignantly vulnerable than triumphant. Alley proclaimed she had given up her habit of “eating with wild abandon.” She told People that, just before joining Jenny Craig, she’d asked herself, “I’m old. I’m fat. What am I worth?”

In other words, Alley’s public weight loss had become a redemption narrative, a story of sins atoned for, excesses restrained. That skintight body stocking layered under her bikini said it all: Her flesh would be displayed for scrutiny and subjected to all necessary restraints and compression in order to achieve the correct silhouette. Maintaining control of her weight would prove a never-ending battle.

Like millions of others, Alley gained back all the lost pounds, and then some. In 2011, she joined another television show — “Dancing With the Stars” — which again wound up training a spotlight on her “weight loss journey.” There’s nothing like rigorous dancing to lose weight, but Alley had some ballroom talent: She and her partner Maksim Chmerkovskiy earned second place in the competition.

Yet media coverage of Alley’s participation in the show focused on her body and dietary habits, often with numerical precision. She was interviewed about her exact calorie intake during the weeks of rehearsals for the show: Was 2,000 better than 1,400 for maintaining stamina? Alley herself used specific numbers to boast of how quickly she shrank dress sizes during the show’s run: “I started out a 12, then an 8, and then I think next week I’ll be a 6!” she told US Weekly.

Alley would drop 100 pounds that year — a statistic that was repeated endlessly, accompanied always by the inevitable before-and-after photos, along with reminders of her age, 60 at that time. Numbers everywhere. And once again, Alley spoke of having been estranged from her body before this weight loss: “I feel I’m back in my element. I honestly didn’t realize what I looked like,” she told “Entertainment Tonight.”

As recently as October of this year, a profile of Alley noted that she “has always followed certain methods to shed a lot of kilos, and at present, she not only looks slimmer and stunning but a lot younger than her age too.” (It’s true that Alley looked remarkably vibrant at 71, with no obvious artificial alterations to her face.)

So, was Alley complicit in her own objectification? Of course. Over and over, she agreed to divulge details of her diet, her calorie count, her exact weight. But she was coping, with humor and panache, with an antiquated system not of her own invention, a system she had entered decades before anyone had heard of the body positivity movement.

And in this she was a pioneer, even if she couldn’t totally rid herself of the shame that still attends the subject of weight for women, and a culture that constantly assays and assesses us. If she kept retelling a circular story of her so-called falls from grace, she’s not alone there either — America has a special fondness for redemption stories (our politicians tell them constantly). Let’s remember and appreciate Kirstie Alley for the wry, sexy humor she infused those stories with, and her role at the very beginning of a movement for body acceptance, even if she never got to enjoy it.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

December 8, 2022

Art & Design Auction to feature rare works by Isamu Noguchi and Frank Lloyd Wright

How much would you pay for Steve Jobs' birkenstocks?

First exhibition ever in the Netherlands examines the life and work of Anni and Josef Albers

Natural History Museum names college leader as new chief

Simon Lee Gallery presents a solo exhibition of new works by Josephine Meckseper

"Small(ish) Treasures" group show now on view at Nancy Toomey Fine Art

First instance of brotherly affection in British art heads to auction

Nationalmuseum acquires portrait of Marie-Gabrielle Capet

Tampa Museum of Art receives Botero sculpture and $1 Million gift from Jorge M. Pérez

Paul Bik expo at Modern Shapes Gallery in Belgium

OSL Contemporary opens an exhibition of works by Dag Erik Elgin

New exhibition of unseen Robert Smithson drawings opens at Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome

Anthony Meier welcomes Jessie Henson and is featuring her new sculptural works at Art Basel Miami Beach

Toronto Biennial of Art announces curatorial appointments for 2024 Edition

Welcome Winter at Michaan's with Tiffany studios, precious coins, diamond jewelry, and fine Asian ceramics

Perrotin opens the second solo exhibition by Jens Fänge in Hong Kong since 2017

Kirstie Alley's dance with Hollywood

10 stages and screens where I saw connection

'Do what moves you': When the student takes over as composer

Bob McGrath, longtime 'Sesame Street' star, dies at 90

Bernadette Mayer, poet who celebrated the ordinary, dies at 77

Design Miami/ 2022 concludes successful 18th edition under the theme "The Golden Age: Looking to the Future"

Almine Rech opens George Rouy's first solo show with the gallery

Outline of O Light Baton 3 Pro

It's Time to Forget Them: Myths About Online Casinos You Shouldn't Believe

6 Solutions to Your Most Common Toilet Problems

6 Tips to Find The Right Gutter Guard For Your Home

Can I Sell My Home When It's In A Fixed Term Mortgage?

Gold Price Forecast

Experience the Thrill and Excitement of Hfive5 Online Casino Singapore

How To Play Casino at JackpotJoy Casino

Classes You Can Take to Improve Yourself

The Best Online Pokies in Australia for Real Money

Why You Should Play Online Bingo!

5 Simple Ways To Know That Kratom Liquids Shots Are Genuine

Unique Hens Party Themes & Ideas For Small Groups

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful