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Joaquin Phoenix’s Comments About His Joker Weight Loss Are Deeply Problematic

My estranged husband Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker in Joker.

As the Joker press tour continues, director Todd Phillips’ rants about woke culture killing comedy ia proving to be just one of this movie’s offscreen controversies. There are so many, it’s hard to believe the movie has only been out in wide release for less than a week. This latest tidbit from the press tour centers on star Joaquin Phoenix, and his preparation for the role–mainly how it required him to lose a great deal of weight, which he speaks about in an incredibly harmful way.

Phoenix told IndieWire that losing so much weight was “empowering” because “you’re able to control yourself in that way.” He also described joyously sending Phillips a photo of himself when he reached his target weight, saying “I couldn’t believe I finally made it.” If this sounds like an eating disorder to you, you’re not alone.

In another interview, Phoenix said, “Once you reach the target weight, everything changes. Like so much of what’s difficult is waking up every day and being obsessed over like 0.3 pounds. Right? And you really develop like a disorder. I mean, it’s wild. But I think the interesting thing for me is what I had expected and anticipated with the weight loss was these feelings of dissatisfaction, hunger, a certain kind of vulnerability and a weakness. But what I didn’t anticipate was this feeling of kind of fluidity that I felt physically. I felt like I could move my body in ways that I hadn’t been able to before. And I think that really lent itself to some of the physical movement that started to emerge as an important part of the character.”

Eating disorders are not an art form. Extreme weight change is something that’s celebrated in film to the point where it’s become an Oscar bait trope. But no one, including Phoenix, should be getting praise for losing so much weight that he himself calls it a “disorder.” His description of finding empowerment in this sort of “control” will likely sound familiar to anyone who’s struggled with an eating disorder. What he’s describing is incredibly unhealthy and can even, for far too many people, be deadly. It isn’t something to be glorified by Hollywood, which already gives the world an unhealthy body image when it comes to how people–especially women–should look.

In an article for Pajiba, writer Courtney Enlow says, “The Hollywood glorification of unhealthy body practices is so trope as to be laughable, but we’re not laughing. We have to stop celebrating people for damaging their bodies for some imagined cinematic excellence, a literal talking point to prove dedication to a craft, but beyond that, we should absolutely not celebrate the literal symptoms of the most fatal mental disorder in existence.”

Enlow is right. Hollywood is so wrapped up in celebrating unhealthy body standards that men losing weight for the sake of their art is awards-worthy, but eating disorders affect nearly 30 million Americans. Phoenix, and Hollywood, should think before they speak about these issues like this, but to be frank, Hollywood has never given much care to avoiding sending negative messages about body image.

(via IndieWire, image: Warner Bros)

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Kate (they/them) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions they have. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, they are now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for their favorite rare pairs.