Is it any shock that the creator and executive producer of Oxygen's Dance Your Ass Off attended her first Weight Watchers meeting at 12, struggled with bulimia throughout college and spent decades submerging herself in crazy workout regimens and weight loss schemes to nab roles in films such as The Parent Trap, Shall We Dance and Killers? The insanity doesn't end there: comedian Lisa Ann Walter, 46, has had a nose job and boob job(s), used Botox, Restylane and Juvederm, had chemical peels and succumbed to laser cellulite treatments (though she thankfully draws the line at labia reduction). All this, done in an effort to ditch what she calls "the American woman's birthright to obsess over every tiny thing that I think is wrong with me."
In her new book, The Best Thing About My Ass Is That It's Behind Me, the mom of four chronicles her bumpy, cellulite-packed ride from Hollywood's Size 0 ideal to unabashed acceptance. The book flap lures readers in: "Learn how she went from body dysmorphic to sassy-asstastic in only 25 short years of dieting, thousands of dollars in 'procedures'... and one pair of industrial-strength Spanx."
It's a fun book, complete with laugh-out-loud rants, more than a few swear words and Jen Lancaster-style footnotes. Her body image tips include "Great Big Shoes + Great Big Hair = Smaller-Looking Butt" and "Hang out at gay bars." In my mind, Walter sounds like a much less dirty -- but equally snarky -- Lisa Lampanelli ... and I love me some LL. Walter sat down to answer a few questions -- and we were only interrupted four times by her rescue dog, Steve, who she caught eating everything from a pencil to her kids' Bakugan toys. "Apparently," she joked, "voracious appetites run in my family."
Your father took you to your first Weight Watchers meeting at age 12. How did that impact you and shape your future taste in men?
I guess it impacted me pretty deeply because I remember every tiny minutia of the experience. It translated into the idea that I wasn't worthy. I don't want to demonize my dad -- he'd struggled with his weight and had been a chubby kid who got teased. My mother probably put him up to it. He left my mom for someone thin and she always felt judged about being heavy -- even though she was not heavy, maybe 120 pounds, but always trying to be 113. That seven pounds was the difference between her feeling good about herself and her killing herself to lose weight.
We've all been so Oprah-fied that we know the reasons we do the stupid shit we do. We repeat patterns. I thought, "I need to win my dad's approval -- I can't just sit here and be good enough on my own. That's what love must look like."
Well, my first ex-husband [turned out to be gay] and with my twins' dad, he was just a misbehaving, misogynistic miscreant who cheated on me with the 19-year-old babysitter. We seek out people who will confirm our issues. At a certain point, I said, "I have to stop this cycle." I will never be able to fix myself enough to the point I like myself so I just jumped to the point where I said, "I like myself as I am." Now, my boyfriend loves my body as it is. He'll grab me and say, "I want ALL of this!"
Tell me about the Self-Esteem Whack-A-Mole Game.
Basically, in our society, you can never fix anything enough. The minute you get your head above water about one thing, they let you know that 12 other things about you suck. It's like playing Self-Esteem Whack-A-Mole. "Your eyelashes aren't thick enough! You need Latisse!" Ok, I'll use Latisse. "Bang! Now what you need is Fake Bake." OK, I'll do a couple of Orbitz sessions. "Bang! Good for you, but your pores are HUGE!" But I just got done with spray tanning. I look like an Oompa Loompa. "Bang! Are you spiritually and physically jacked up! You need yoga!" Ok, I'll take yoga. "Bang!" No? Pole dancing? "Bang! Pilates!" But I just signed up for pole dancing! "Bang! You need BRAZILIAN ... well, pretty much all things Brazilian. Wax. Blowout. Butt-cheek lift."
Did the idea for Dance Your Ass Off come from your own body image and weight struggles?
Absolutely. It was also born out of my love of dance and my disgust with all things working out. When my marriage broke up ... I had just put on 45 pounds for my Shall We Dance? character. I had to eat 10,000 calories a day just to put on weight while training with Tony Dovolani. I basically stayed in bed for a six-month rotation of depression naps. Dance helped me lose the weight. I said, "I think there's something to this," and pitched the show for four-plus years. I got [turned down] everywhere, because I was pitching to men who didn't get why I'd want to make a weight loss show that wasn't about shaming or screaming at people. But if you find something you like to do, movement-wise, and you eat well and learn how to cook, you're going to lose weight.
On your book, cover, you're squeezing into a pair of spanx. Is it possible to wear Spanx and still have a positive body image? Or does the fact you're wearing them mean you're inherently unhappy with your figure and, therefore, yourself?
Not at all. I don't feel the goal is to say, "I look good! Here are the lumpy bits on my thighs." We don't all have to like ALL of ourselves. What you show the world is [the] best version of yourself. That helps you strut like you mean business. If wearing the spanx helps you get looks and you feel that energy and response, and you're rocking your body with confidence, that's still how you'll feel about yourself when you get home and take the Spanx off ... If your attitude improves from the spanx, wear the spanx!
Check out Lisa Ann's take on the latest in Hollywood accessories, "Celebulite."
Follow Leslie Goldman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LeslieGoldman