Will Gabourey Sidibe's Size Limit Her Career?

Oprah says "Precious" star has bright career ahead; Howard Stern disagrees.

March 10, 2010, 5:16 PM

Mar. 11, 2010— -- Introducing best actress nominee Gabourey Sidibe at the Oscars, "Precious" producer Oprah Winfrey called her a "true American Cinderella on the threshold of a brilliant new career."

The next day, Howard Stern attacked the "Precious" star on his Sirius radio show, calling her the "most enormous, fat black chick I've ever seen," and said Winfrey is a liar for "telling an enormous woman the size of a planet that she's going to have a career."

Who's right?

Sidibe, 26, may be proving Stern wrong. She's been cast as a student opposite Laura Linney in the new Showtime series "The C Word" and her next big-screen appearance will be opposite Zoe Kravitz in the upcoming drama, "Yelling to the Sky."

Hollywood watchers tend to agree with Winfrey, that Sidibe has a bright future ahead and what happens now will depend more on her talent than her size.

New York casting director Bernard Telsey said Sidibe's size is both a plus and minus.

"It's going to make her not right for the new 'Romeo and Juliet,' but it's going to make her right for the role that needs her for that specificity," Telsey told ABCNews.com.

"There's room in Hollywood for someone who looks like her," Telsey said. "Sure, there will be fewer roles, but there's always less of everything for people who are unique and original and different."

Greg Kilday, film editor for The Hollywood Reporter, said Hollywood will have to think creatively to find roles for Sidibe.

"And Hollywood isn't always creative," he told ABCNews.com. "To try to find roles that she will fit well in is going to be tricky. She may, in some senses, find herself competing with Jennifer Hudson, who already has an Oscar under her belt. Hudson hasn't done much in the way of film work since 'Dreamgirls.' I think Gabourey might face the same challenges."

Large-Size Actresses Face Challenges

Hudson is one of several large-size actresses who have had some success in Hollywood. They include Sidibe's "Precious" co-star Mo'Nique, Queen Latifah, Camryn Manheim, Delta Burke and Nikki Blonsky.

Among them, only Latifah has found steady work on the big and small screen.

"It's going to take another person kind of like a Lee Daniels to think outside the box a little bit," said Bradley Jacobs, a senior editor at Us Weekly, referring to the Oscar-nominated director of "Precious."

"It's going to be a challenging path," Jacobs told ABCNews.com. "She's not Carey Mulligan. She's certainly talented and could work, but she needs producers to think outside the box and help her find the roles."

Sidibe's bubbly personality also could help pave the way. Her valley girl charm already has won over the media and public.

"Having that confidence and being happy and cheerful and funny with such a great sense of humor is not something we're taught as a culture that fat women are capable of feeling," said Lesley Kinzel, who writes for Fatshionista, a blog for plus-size women. "We're supposed to hide, to be ashamed. That's why I am so excited for her having so much public attention. She's defying and flouting all these expectations."

Sidibe told "Access Hollywood" she decided a long time ago to be happy with the way she looks.

"It was a long transition," she said. "I'm just grateful that I am there because so many people go through this -- beautiful people, gorgeous people -- don't feel it, don't feel as if they're gorgeous. And I think it's really sad. And I'm glad that I happen to be one of the people who does."

Indeed, Sidibe made no secret about her crush on Justin Timberlake, publicly inviting the singer to be her date to the Academy Awards. On the Oscars red carpet, she flirted with Gerard Butler. After the Oscars, she told a reporter she was "going to hit a Chick-fil-A" and "hit it hard."

"From what I can tell, she's a strong young woman," E! online columnist Marc Malkin told ABCNews.com. "She has a sense of self. She's very grounded. People are judging books by their cover and expecting someone on the shy side. But she's outgoing, sweet, confident. I don't think anyone's going to be pushing this woman around."

Happy and Heavy?

Dr. David Katz, an obesity specialist at Yale University, agreed that in the case of Sidibe, one should not judge a book by its cover.

"It is possible to be heavy and happy," Katz told ABCNews.com. "I also think it's possible to be thin and miserable."

Similarly, Sidibe, who appears to be well over 300 pounds, may not be in immediate danger if her weight is not causing any life-threatening illness.

But if he were her doctor, Katz first would want to know if she's healthy and, secondly, if she is truly happy with her size.

"When you see a very high degree of excess body weight, food is usually being used to compensate for something," he said.

Though she may be tolerating the weight well now, Katz said it could become a problem later.

"If weight hasn't caught up with her health, it certainly could," he said.

Sidibe's message that her weight does not define her is a good one, Katz said. But if people interpret from her example that they should not worry about their own weight, he said that would be a tragedy.

"We need acceptance, but we should not encourage apathy," Katz said. "We need to attack the problem without attacking the person."

If Sidibe does continue to pursue acting in Hollywood, she'll find pressure to conform to Hollywood standards, including being thin. Manheim, Latifah, Hudson and "Ugly Betty" America Ferrara all have dropped sizes since starting in Hollywood.

"She's certainly going to have pressure to lose the weight," Jacobs of Us Weekly said.

"I think if she does, that would be tragic, to see her spirit crushed in that way," Fatshionista's Kinzel said.

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