I have to make a confession: For a long time, I never got into The Flash. I watched the pilot, and that was enough for me. It took me a long time -- until just last week, actually -- to give it another try after months of urging by one of my fellow Moviepilot coworkers.
I'm so glad I did, because lead actor Grant Gustin is an absolute revelation in the role as The Flash, but even more so as Barry Allen. Shy, noble, a little quippy, a lot fumbling (at least when it comes to love), Gustin is perfectly cast as the Scarlet Speedster. A few times while watching, I've thought, Man, he's lanky.
It was only ever a fleeting thought, because what really matters to me when I watch the show is Gustin's abilities, his prodigious talents. He can move from a perfectly timed quip to breaking your heart in a single scene, and when he's on the screen, he makes every line seem as natural as a river flowing downstream. He brings a joy to the role that is wonderful and rare to watch. That's what really counts when you're watching an actor work.
But earlier today, Gustin himself pointed out that for many people -- too many, as it turns out -- his body and build somehow seem to matter.
It was a stark reminder that for all the attention we give toward the voyeuristic scrutiny of female celebrities' bodies, it also happens to male celebrities -- we just dismiss it. As he points out, there is a double standard at work here: It's wrong to tell a woman (or anyone) to lose 10 pounds; telling a lanky actor to gain 10 pounds should be considered no different. Still, sadly, it is.
Gustin's tweets come in the wake of the recent dad bod shaming of Vin Diesel after pictures surfaced of him in between training for movie roles, and the invasion of Justin Bieber's privacy when an opportunistic paparazzo snapped some pictures of the singer walking around in the nude on private property. In both cases, the pictures were circulated far and wide, with multiple sites trying to one-up each other with clever headlines making fun of the situation. Twitter was even worse, with the jokes coming fast. Yet, when the racy and nude photos of a hundred female celebrities were leaked to the public last year after a massive hack, the public was, for the most part, outraged.
This is where I draw the line at what a double standard we've set for the commodification of male celebrities' bodies versus female celebrities' bodies. I didn't laugh at the Justin Bieber pictures. I didn't even look. Instead, I just felt...dirty. Not because of the nudity -- who cares about that, really? -- but because of the ghoulish glee that people exhibited in scrambling to look at the photos and to crack a joke at his expense.
Male body shaming absolutely exists, and no man gets it worse than a slender actor in a superhero role. Fans have become so accustomed to the godlike bodies carried by the likes of Hugh Jackman, Chris Evans, Henry Cavill, and Chris Hemsworth that they've forgotten that their bodies are not the norm. Their superhero bodies aren't even the norm for them - it's why any actor signing on to a superhero role goes through an insane workout regimen, strict diet, and, let's be honest, a cycle or two of HGH if need be. It's a necessity demanded by the near impossible physical ideal demanded by the roles.
But for a naturally lanky actor like the 6'2" Gustin, who can't pack on the pounds no matter how much he tries? It's a brutally unforgiving world on social media. It happened to Andrew Garfield when he was in the Amazing Spider-Man movies, and it's happening to Grant Gustin now. He's poised to carry The Flash's torch for years to come. A season and some odd episodes in, it's absurd that he still has to deal with this.
Marvel actor Chris Pratt has also been honest about his struggles with confidence and body issues on the other end of the spectrum for actors: The overweight actor suddenly thrust into a leading role.
"I’m sure I can’t relate to what females go through in Hollywood," the actor said during last year's Guardians of the Galaxy press conference. "I’m sure I can’t. But, I do know what it feels like to eat emotionally, and…to be be sad and make yourself happy with food. And then to be almost immediately sad again and now ashamed and then to try to hide those feelings with more food. I know what that’s like. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s a very real thing. I know what it’s like to have body image issues."
A friend of mine has struggled with body image issues, just like Pratt, for years. Too skinny, must get bigger, not big enough is the refrain that I imagine repeats itself over and over in his head. As a skinny kid, he grew up watching comic book movies and idolizing the superheroes in them. The gap between what he saw on the screen and what he saw when he looked in the mirror was one he found -- and still finds -- to be unacceptable. No matter how warped his body image is, it has a fast hold on him, because he grew up with the idea that a massive, ripped body -- and not a toned, slender one like Gustin's -- was the ideal.
Now imagine what it's like to have the mirror reflecting your own insecurities back to you being not the single, private mirror of a bathroom, but the thousands and thousands of mirrors of social media that an actor must face. What are we reflecting back to them? It should be the same anger we feel when an actress is scrutinized for her appearance or ridiculed for her perceived physical flaws. But it isn't, and it's time that changed. We need to start focusing on the right things for the right reasons.
Celebrate Vin Diesel's love of his fans and his charisma in his roles. Celebrate Chris Pratt's ability to make us laugh and charm a crowd. Celebrate Justin Bieber's albums when they drop. Celebrate Grant Gustin's emotional range and the joy he brings to his role.
Celebrate the things that count in an actor's career -- not a double standard.