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Reader Response

Kochavim / Stargazing
January 8, 1998 / 10 Tevet, 5758

In defense of the appetizing shiksa

By Julia Gorin

Jews can be as bulimic as anybody else. That's because, like everyone else, we take our cues from Hollywood. But with Kate Winslet in Titanic, Hollywood is finally giving a beauty with an imperfect body a prominent role -- a romantic lead -- possibly even to test public reaction.

Poor Kate! Just when she thought she was making the movie that would catapult her to stardom's greatest heights, all that people can talk about is how fat she looked in the movie. Review after review of Titanic is consumed by rantings about the zaftig redhead's moon-pie face and ballooning curves.

Surprisingly, the reaction was good among teenagers sending messages in to a Kate Winslet chat room. Eric J. Henwood-Greer wrote, "For the record, I am a going-on 17 male from Pennsylvania, who thinks Kate Winslet is damn good looking, and the Kate Moss rave of the 90's irritates me... What do people nowadays think is 'normal'?"

A young lady named Molly wrote, "I am shocked by comments about pudgy Kate. I think she's gorgeous and far more healthy-looking than the Gwyneth Paltrow's of the world... I'd love to look like her! My boyfriend thinks she's so much sexier than any actress he's seen in a long time."

Alex Crouvier writes, "I'll take Kate Winslet anytime over the other popular Kate, who can't even convince me she can walk straight with her own two feet."

Thank God the country is raising an aesthetically smarter generation than the last, with real people who can recognize real beauty when they see it.

Meanwhile, it's Jewish critics, whose tribe tends toward the chunky to begin with, that are knocking the girl and clinging on to the myth of anorexic beauty.

Barbara Shuglasser, of the San Francisco Examiner, huffs "The British Winslet... ballooned by about 15 pounds from her last scene. For most of the movie, her head is so bloated that no amount of tricky camera angles can make her doughy face look interesting. There is nary a cheekbone on which a clever cinematographer could cast a mysterious lighting effect. Not all actresses must be beautiful, but in the case of the leading lady in a romance, a little allure certainly would not hurt."

The reason that Ms. Shuglasser must be critical of Beautiful Kate is that she knows that, given what she likely has for features herself, any little yenta she might spawn would be lucky to turn out appetizing enough for a director to relegate her to a career behind the camera.

Really, look at this 23 year-old kid's accomplishments -- the last of which was done for four months in the middle of the night. Geez, let the girl have a slice of pizza!

All this talk of blubber and cheekbones overshadows young Winslet's performance, which doesn't get more than a half-sentence mention from any reviewer, save for Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, who agreed that "winsome" DiCaprio blew her away. Perhaps they came to this conclusion because they were so busy watching for DiCaprio's every facial twitch that they forgot to look at Winslet's stunning performance. Perhaps if Winslet were shaped less like a woman and more like a 16 year-old boy, she would have stood a better chance of getting into the Two Thumbs' good graces.

"Why Kate Winslet?" Larry King asks a stunned James Cameron, the film's director. "She's not drop-dead gorgeous." Perhaps after eight wives, King too, prefers something that looks more like a boy. It's understandable.

Knowing the Jewish tendency to enjoy a little more nosh than we need, and our bodies' propensity to display the consequences, it's surprising that these Jewish critics would choose to fault Winslet for the same metabolism. My own body type is one that betrays the chocolate cake I consume a little too regularly, which is why I felt compelled to run to the defense of the shiksa's voluptuous form.

Never mind her statuesque beauty and classic porcelain-doll features -- both increasing rarities in today's "diverse" talent marketplace. Never mind that her costumes, recently auctioned off, ranged no farther than size six to size eight. Apparently, anything that isn't the industry size 0 standard is substandard. Being a top actress in Hollywood means inspiring us to want to put an apron on and feed you.

Are we expecting such cookie-cutter perfection from our movie stars that we are incapable of detecting beauty through an extra pound? Winslet could gain another 25 pounds and still be exquisite. If anything, she was pleasantly plump in her latest scenes -- far from displeasing to the eye. In the packed East Village movie house where I saw the film, all eyes seemed peeled to the Winslet scenes. Scenes without Winslet were spent waiting for scenes with Winslet.

In this backward state of affairs, where all these Jewish critics are not kvelling over this rocking-fine shiksa, Hollywood, I daresay, deserves congratulations. We have a clear case of Hollywood being smarter than the reviewing classes. Whereas Tinseltown is usually pushing high-pressure unwholesome good looks that normally repel the viewing public, which has been so conditioned to accept Michelle Pfeiffer's bony tush as the norm, now, all of a sudden, we forgot that it wasn't our idea that the other Kate -- that rail of a figure Kate Moss -- is a beauty. Hollywood finally did the right thing and gave us someone healthy to look at. But now some of us think we prefer the other Kate.

We are falling prey to what screenwriter William Goldman in his 1968 book, The Season, describes as a move toward "glorifying the unappetizing female," which began with Twiggy in the same decade.

Finally, let's ask ourselves, can this country offer up a 20-something starlet to rival Kate Winslet's talent? Who could fit the bill? Certainly not the Hollywood staple -- Winona (Horowitz) Ryder -- the exhausted young old standby whom it took 8 years of stardom until 1996's Little Women to deliver a good performance?

No, to find Winslet's kind of talent here we have to look at the under-20s crop: brilliant little actresses like Kirsten Dunst, Anna Paquin and Member of the Tribe Natalie Portman. May they reach stardom's highest heights. And may they enjoy all the rugelach their little hearts desire.

More by Julia Gorin:

12/10/97: Confessions of a refusenik gone secular


Julia Gorin is a writer and stand-up comic living in Manhattan.

©1998, Jewish World Review