Are fat jokes permissible when they’re making fun of a fat jerk? This is the dilemma posed by TMZ’s coverage of Chris Brown’s post-prison body. The photos of Brown’s belly — headline: “These Rolls Ain’t Loyal” — caused a certain collective, involuntary sense of relief among the Cut’s staff. Here was a male celebrity facing the same merciless bodily scrutiny we’ve seen trained on women like Jessica Simpson and Kim Kardashian. And the male celebrity in question was the girlfriend-hitting man behind 2014’s degradation anthem.
For this catharsis, we must thank TMZ. The tabloid has always taken pot shots at the incarcerated or injured athletes (O.J. Simpson, Derek Jeter) for gaining weight, but this spring and summer saw unprecedented levels of male celebrity body-shaming. We’ve argued before that you can’t fat-shame a man, but TMZ is certainly giving it a shot. In a media landscape where the dramatization of women’s weight fluctuations is ubiquitous, they are committed to achieving gender parity.
It kicked off bikini-body season by gender-flipping the Fat Tuesday tradition of bare breasts. “Mardis Gras Man Boobs: Guess Who?” featured the droopy pectorals of Jack Nicholson, Simon Cowell, Steven Tyler, and more. April brought the gleeful fat-shaming of the model-ized “Leolardo DiFlabrio.” May was Rob Kardashian’s month, as his weight reportedly caused a rift with his sister in the lead-up to her Florence nuptials. TMZ took Kim’s side: “Would You Like Chicken or Fish (Or Both)?” they asked before his flight to Europe. Not even Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s son, Conor, was spared the wrath of TMZ’s virtual tape measure. Conor is 19.
Fat-shaming teens is so cruel it all but takes the fun out of leveling the fat-shame playing field, gender-wise. And of course I’d prefer if no one, male or female, felt bad about their bodies ever. But TMZ’s summer of dude scrutiny does suggest that, when used properly, fat-shaming is a uniquely powerful weapon. Chris Brown can beat up his girlfriend, play the smart-ass, violate his probation, go to jail, and get out to the sound of his theory of hoes blasting out of one in three vehicles. But when TMZ remarks how “brave” Brown is for hitting the beach with that body, for the first time he actually looks a little vulnerable.