This year, Anne Hathaway is favored to win Best Supporting Actress for her role as Fantine, the single-mother-turned-prostitute, in Les Misérables. As most fans now know, she lost 25 pounds for the part and she did so by nearly starving herself, subsisting at some point on nothing more than “two thin squares of dried oatmeal paste.” That level of commitment should help her win an Academy Award, just like it did when an already wispy Natalie Portman lost twenty pounds for her Oscar-winning turn as the unhinged ballerina in Black Swan. Or like it did when Charlize Theron packed on 30 to play serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster. Or like it did when scrawny Hilary Swank hit the gym and packed on sixteen pounds of muscle for Million Dollar Baby and basically changed her gender for Boys Don’t Cry.
Acting is a physically demanding profession, and never more so than when an actress undergoes the kind of corporal transformation to embody her character. I’m not just playing Fantine; I am Fantine. Many critics argue that actors and actresses change their looks as a ploy to win Oscars, an attempt at fooling the Academy that they are truly gifted and committed. It’s also a way for beautiful people to show that they are more than just a pretty face. Plus, it’s easy for audiences and judges to get caught up in the physical work, so changing your shape is an effective way for these women to draw attention to their performances.