‘Empire’ Actress Gabby Sidibe On Body Image, Eating Disorders & Changing The Narrative Of Rape Culture

You know her as the sassy, sharp and funny assistant Becky on Fox’s hit show ‘Empire‘, and of course from her Academy Award nominated role in the 2009 film ‘Precious’. That breakout role was literally her first big foray into acting, having only previously worked on school and college plays, but it was the title role of Precious that catapulted Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe into the international media spotlight.

Since then, she has been seen in other hit TV shows such as ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘The Big C’, but it has been her appearance on ‘Empire’ that has enabled her to break through some important barriers in mainstream television, while continuing to be an outspoken celebrity about issues she cares about. In an interview with Nylon magazine to promote her new book ‘This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare’ which is out on May 1st, Gabby doesn’t hold back when talking about her struggles with weight and body image despite her major success.

Being bullied in school for her weight was not the start of the body battle for her, as she admits her father and extended family used to call her “fatso” growing up. Years later she would get to channel that pain into ‘Precious’.

“At that point I kind of had a lot of practice acting. I grew up pretending I was okay when I wasn’t,” she said. Gabby insists the book she wrote wasn’t an indication that all had been healed in her life, but that she was willing to be vulnerable about her journey to show others its OK to struggle at times.

“The six-year-old in me is still pissed, but I don’t think I am a victim…A lot of people will write a book and pretend that whatever they are writing about they are done with, and now they are perfect. I’m not perfect. I am just as fucked up. I am who I am, and all of this shit in my life will be a struggle forever…but I’m fine. Well, I’m becoming fine,” she said.

She recalls overhearing a conversation with ‘Precious’ director Lee Daniels and a magazine director about a feature on Gabby before the film was released, where they agreed she couldn’t be on the cover because she was too overweight and too dark.

“It really devastated me. I guess I thought that going from literally nothing to the lead in the movie would show people that I wouldn’t be just fat anymore, or at least that’s not the first thing people would think of me, that I’m not too fat or too black or ghetto or nappy—that wouldn’t be part of my narrative anymore, but it was,” she said.

Lee Daniels did assure her it was said “out of love” and that he meant no harm, he told Nylon. but it certainly goes to show the power of words over a person’s life. To his credit, he recognized his error on the set of the film one day during one scene in particular. There was a Swedish model on set and the crew were unabashedly ogling her.

“Everyone was gawking and treating her like the star of the movie. he reality was that Gabby was the star, and I said, ‘Hold the f**k up, you all. This is the star of our movie. She is responsible for us being here. Get a clue and treat this girl with some respect.’ I remember that being a defining moment in my relationship with her. That was unsettling to me, because I realized the world she walked around in every day,” he said.

During her school and college years, Gabby admits she struggled with eating disorders because she felt it would be the only way to fit in and change who she was.

“I always wanted to throw up because I was so sad. I really liked challenging myself to not eat for three days. Sometimes I would eat a slice of bread and drink a bottle of water just to throw it up,” she said. She battled panic attacks, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Gabby talks about recently undergoing laparoscopic weight loss surgery in 2016 after years of trying to fight diabetes. She has since lost a significant amount of weight and gotten rid of her diabetes. Fans have been noticing and commenting on her social media posts, but the actress makes a point of saying that just because she lost weight due to health reasons doesn’t mean the world gets to continue policing her body or choices.

“You don’t get to talk about my body if you like it or not; it’s my body. And yeah, I have been struggling with weight my entire life. I realize that as long as I have a body, it will be a struggle,” she said, articulating a very important point about body image and the way it is treated in the media.

One of the most talked-about Becky scenes in ‘Empire’ so far was that sex scene with J Poppa, portrayed by actor Mo McRae, in season 2. Many people commented on it simply because of her body size and it became an eye-opening pop culture moment in the way we view women’s bodies as well as their sexual choices.

“It was only a big deal, though, because I happen to be in this body, this body that I have had my entire life and career. You all knew I was fat then; don’t turn on the TV and still be surprised I am fat. It implies that people with bigger bodies don’t find love and aren’t worth loving. Why don’t I deserve it? Because I’m not skinny? I love my body and I deserve love. We all do at any size,” she said.

Throughout the conversation with Nylon’s Danielle Bacher, talk turns to the inevitable politics (hello, how can we avoid the Trump train these days!) and Gabby was not shy about voicing her opinion on what the Trump presidency is a greater indication of in society.

“At this point, are we going to be able to fix society? We fucked it up enough with Trump. It’s over. He’s not my president. But you really have to be aware in Trump’s America, okay?” she insists.

“I think about freshman orientation in college when it’s like, ‘Ladies, look to your left and look to your right. One in four of you are going to be raped, so be careful.’ F**k that. You need to tell them to stop raping us. I don’t get that narrative of making us responsible if we are raped. After we are assaulted, putting us on trial. It’s just problematic, man,” she said.

Aside from his on-the-record statements about touching and groping women without their consent, constituting sexual assault, Trump has made horrendous remarks about women being assaulted in the military because “what did these geniuses expect when they put men and women together”, his son Eric boldly claiming his sister Ivanka won’t be sexually assaulted because she “would never let that happen to her”, dangerously implying it is the victim’s fault for a sexual crime, and of course Trump’s latest stance in favor of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly who has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, claiming he “didn’t do anything wrong”.

It is extremely to think that the leader of the free world was elected to his office by millions of people who brushed aside his sexual assault crimes, giving him permission to continue in his way of thinking, while the rest of society has to deal with the far-reaching impact on the lives of young men and women. For example, Gabby points out the dangerous idea of girls being told boys are only mean to them because they “like” them, setting up an undercurrent of abusive behavior as acceptable in relationships.

“What the fuck? That’s low-key rape culture and that doesn’t work anymore. We need to make boys responsible for that shit. Instead what we do is say, ‘Boys will be boys,’ and that’s not okay,” she said. We couldn’t agree more.

This is why we need Gabby Sidibe on our TV screens and her words speaking truth into the world. If you are excited about her forthcoming book, you can check out the ThisIsJustMyFace.com website and see Gabby in person as she tours around the country during May.


 

 

 

 

 

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