Published February 23, 2011
Natalie Portman delivered a highly-acclaimed performance as a professional ballerina crumbling under pressure in Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller “Black Swan.” But while her performance has made her an Oscar frontrunner, the discussion of her grueling diet and dramatic weight loss has become an even bigger topic of scrutiny.
After losing 20 pounds from her already thin frame, the 29-year-old’s on-set picture has been posted in numerous “thinspiration” sites – but she isn’t the first, and nor will she be the last to undergo drastic weight loss for a role.
Beyonce famously shed 20 pounds by drinking nothing but maple syrup and lemon juice for weeks for her part in “Dream Girls,” Megan Fox “stopped eating” to lose ten pounds for “Jennifer’s Body,” and Jennifer Hudson has managed to drop 56 pounds to play Winnie Mandela, before going on to lose a total of 80 pounds from her frame.
The focus on celebrities losing weight for the sake of their craft begs the question: Will their thin frames serve as a catalyst for eating disorders and a distorted perception of healthy body image to those watching in the outside world?
“Movie roles can indeed induce eating disorders. Actors, understandably, must morph for certain demands of the role,” Los Angeles-based psychologist, Dr. Nancy B. Irwin told FOX411’s Pop Tarts. “It can be done with extreme diligence and care of the body, but a proper mindset, medical doctor, nutritionist and psychologist or psychiatrist’s guidance is often needed.”
Portman has said that she condensed her portion sizes in addition to a daily exercise regimen of 5-8 hours of ballet training, cross-training, toning and swimming. So dramatic was her weight loss that, at one point, Aronofsky ordered that her trailer be filled with food to ensure she was eating.
Furthermore, entertainment reporter and media expert Lanae Brody also believes that movie roles such as Portman’s can often lead female viewers into developing a dangerous fascination with extreme weight loss.
“Women are fascinated by Hollywood now more so than ever. Young girls admire these women and aspire to be like them and celebrities tend to forget who their audience is and how much they actually are being looked up to by these young women,” Brody explained. “
“I think there is more behind an eating disorder than what Natalie Portman or Mila Kunis do to lose 20 lbs. for a movie role, but, when it's talked about over and over again in the media, young girls do listen and start to think ‘Hmm, can I do that? I would look so great if I was 20 lbs. thinner.’ People need to remember that this is their job and they're being paid to look a certain way, healthy or not.”
But it is hardly just women who suffer from the issue and many of today's biggest male stars have shed weight for a role. Christian Bale, also considered the likely Oscar contender for Best Supporting Actor, dropped significant weight to play crack-addict Dicky Eklund. Robert DeNiro, 50 Cent and Matt Damon have also undergone dramatic weight loss for roles.
According to the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorders, while seven to ten million women suffer from eating disorders, nearly one million men suffer from eating disorders in the United States as well. And although no direct studies have been conducted on movies themselves, “media” as a whole is believed to be a prominent cause.
“Celebrities are selected from a crop of impossibly thin people to begin with and then they are sometimes encouraged to lose even more weight. Meanwhile, the young girl consumes media featuring these impossibly thin actresses which is interrupted with commercials featuring slow motion pictures of junk food consumption. I feel sorry for young girls in this mixed up culture,” said Pop Culture commentator, Mark Joseph. “Ironically the more weight we collectively gain in our culture the more we seem to see actresses who are impossibly thin. As a culture we want to see our stars attain what we are unable to and that makes the incredibly skinny actress increasingly cool, some might even say a trend-setter.”
Nonetheless, he doesn’t believe that Hollywood actresses themselves should be held responsible for potentially igniting eating issues among impressionable audiences, and said when in doubt “blame the producers and the consumers of media who demand it.”
Deidre Behar contributed to this report.