Oscarexia! Weight Panic Among Actresses Hits Epidemic Levels

Kirsten Ulve

Call in the trainers, stylists... and shrinks! THR takes a look at the scramble to shed sizes as red carpet's ladies attempt to get rail thin -- no matter what.

This story originally appeared in the March 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

So here's a familiar modern Hollywood scenario: It's Feb. 20. An actress eyeballs her torso reflected in the full-length mirror in her suite at the Sunset Tower Hotel. Her stylist, publicist, manager, boyfriend and a seamstress are standing by, watching her slither into the freshly arrived couture dress from Paris, straight off the runway. "I look fat!" she sulks, pointing to imaginary bulges or real ones created when a size 2 girl gets into a size 0 dress. "I need to look like Karlie Kloss in this dress! She wore it in the show."

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Reality check: Karlie Kloss is a 19-year-old model who at 6-foot-1 weighs 113 pounds and has earned Elle Macpherson's moniker as "The Body" among current supermodels. The publicist and stylist share a knowing look. It's time to call in the trainer. The nutritionist. It's time for more of that stretchy body armor. And it might even be time to call in a psychiatrist, while they're at it.

Welcome to Oscarexia, the one-week phenomenon or condition (whichever way you look at it) familiar to stylists, publicists, diet experts and Oscar-going actresses of the past decade as that last-minute urge and anxious panic to lose five pounds in seven days. After all, even if you don't win, you can be named best dressed and wind up with new roles, new ad campaigns and the pick of the couture litter. Oscar-winning shrinking actress Jennifer Hudson has actually admitted, "I'm more proud of losing weight than getting my Oscar!"

Oscarexia is an equal-opportunity ailment: Actresses ages 14 to 80 of all weights have been diagnosed. Even zaftig ladies who have forgone slimness forever are capable of it. We hear Oprah's had it. Oscar front-runner Octavia Spencer admitted to Ellen DeGeneres that she has "triple Spanx-ed" it -- that's Spanx as a verb. But even the slimmest sorts are at least single Spanx-ing it. Or wearing any one of Maidenform's shapewear pieces under their dresses, which in most cases already have corsets or bodysuits built into them -- and, if it's couture, old-fashioned whale boning. "I recommend Easy-Up Body Briefer, which has a low back and a high-waist thigh slimmer and waist nipper," says Maidenform director of global publicity Norah Alberto. Spanx claims fans of the brand during previous awards seasons include Annette Bening, Gwyneth Paltrow, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. Emily Blunt once confessed to wearing "full-body Spanx," and Katherine Heigl, asked what was under her Escada gown on Oscar night, shouted, "Spanx!"

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And guess what? Men are not immune. Once Colin Firth strode to the podium in his impossibly slender-cut Tom Ford tux last year to claim the gold, his long, slim torso with strong shoulders became the gold standard of what a man in a tux should look like. A man girdle might not be a pretty picture, but if a guy fits into a slim-cut European designer's tux everywhere except the gut, their stylist likely will use male body-shapers such as Spanx for Men to shave off that beer belly. Is all this necessary? Does the camera or the Kodak Theatre really add 10 pounds to your look? Chalk some of it up to a billion people watching and water-cooler chatting/tweeting about everyone's red-carpet look for days -- that number could make the Dalai Lama self-conscious.

It's the price you have to pay to vie for the most coveted clothes. "The Council of Fashion Designers of America has been trying to implement model guidelines about weight," says longtime Oscar-watcher and stylist Tod Hallman. "Recently, two models fainted under hot lights -- and not because they were hot! If gowns are being made to fit on these girls, how are actresses going to get into them? One celeb PR person told me, 'Well, they HAVE to fit!' I've seen people during the course of two-week fittings get smaller and smaller. If the designer's people say it's a model size 4, that means it's really a 2. If you want to wear Dior or Versace or Chanel or Elie Saab, that's the bottom line. Women hate themselves when they can't fit in the dress -- even if it's a 0, they blame themselves. Hence the shrinkage. And don't tell me anybody's really working out that much!"

The fact that many actresses know their brands and their seasons these days only makes it tougher -- there's competition to get the best gowns, and to the victor go the spoils. A label's image really rubs off. "Oh, she didn't rate Lanvin!" you can hear the Monday Morning Fashion Quarterbacks cackling. Call it "the Sarah Jessica Parker effect" -- it's part of an actress' job these days to know her Nina Ricci from her Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy. And to know what not to wear.

"Back in the '90s," recalls longtime Oscar stylist Phillip Bloch (who put Halle Berry in her famous Elie Saab at the 2002 Oscars), "all these women would do the Master Cleanse right before the Oscars -- cayenne and lemon juice. Sandy Bullock always did The Zone. But it's worse now, because samples then were size 6 -- now they're zero and 2. People have to learn the difference between the runway and the red carpet. Models are paid to be hangers, and they're all teenagers."

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It turns out, however, you actually can be too thin. Catherine Deneuve is quoted as saying that at a certain age, "a woman has to choose between her face and her ass." "Losing weight after 40 can give actresses a really haggard look," says one celebrity makeup artist who works with two actresses fast approaching 50. "But now they starve themselves silly -- and inject their faces. Thin body and fat face -- that's the ideal equation."

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Dropping weight fast can be crazy unhealthy, but experts say there actually are healthy ways to do it. "You can't lose much weight a week before the Oscars, but you can do things to get rid of the extra fluids that create bulges and bloating due to bad habits -- it's called diuresing," says dietitian Jackie Keller, who has worked with Jessica Alba, Anjelica Huston and Susan Sarandon. Keller recommends a diet rich in salmon, trout and tuna for glowing skin; antioxidant rich foods with vitamins C and E (fruits and vegetables) to help produce collagen and reduce skin damage; lean, high-protein foods like Greek yogurt or nuts -- in the form of six small meals a day to keep your metabolism up -- and no grains in the evening or starchy carbohydrates that hold in water ("you can have a carbohydrate to calm down if you get too crabby"). Plus, no diet soda or alcohol, which is tough when there are parties every night. "You shouldn't be drinking anything but green tea, which will keep you from getting sick, and water," says Keller. It's also important to avoid chewing gum because it makes you swallow air and bloats you. Nutritionist Carrie Latt Wiatt, who has worked with Jennifer Aniston, recommends two to three liters of water a day, cutting back on calories and being portion savvy while eating healthy snacks throughout the day. Jennifer Lopez's nutritionist Haylie Pomroy warns that stress is harmful to losing weight, because cortisol, the stress hormone, promotes fat storage. Dr. Oz Garcia recommends body work and massages to stave off stress and warns against the Master Cleanse, but he likes the idea of a two- or three-day juice fast. Trainer Bobby Strom, who whipped Blake Lively into shape, says the way to go is to remove all sugar and salt in addition to alcohol, dairy and carbs. He also thinks you should do circuit training in the morning and cardio in the afternoon. Or, maybe just go up one size and forget it.