Yes, chickens, today I am showing you a video of Shaquille O’Neal’s appearance on The Daily Show from Monday night. You don’t have to watch the whole thing. It’s funny because John Stewart interviewing weird celebrities is always better than John Stewart asking very thoughtful questions of smart celebrities (see: anyone remotely affiliated with any government or Bono). And because Shaq describes himself as “living fabulous” and is getting a PhD. Well, alrighty then!
But what I want to talk about is really the first five seconds, when this giant of a man walks out and picks up his wee little elfin friend. I believe John Stewart starts out standing on the desk or something and is still about a foot shorter — when they actually stand side by side, you realize that Stewart could use one of Shaq’s shoes as his entire home.
And these are both human men. And — wait for it! — they are both considered attractive by the world at large.
Now, I know: Short guys get picked on and shot down by the ladies. A lot. And super ginormous guys (especially ginormous black guys) pretty much have to play basketball or society has an unfortunate tendency to assume they are criminals. I’m not saying Shaq and Stewart haven’t each have their body image crosses to bear.
But they are both phenomenally successful in their chosen fields and their physicality has a lot to do with that success. For Shaq, obviously, being 7’1″ and 325 pounds has come in handy with all the basketball playing. For Stewart, being short (and Jewish and so on) is an essential part of his comedic character — it gives him something to be self-deprecating about, which is essential in stand-up and useful when bantering with weird celebrities (see above).
My cranky take on this situation: When will when two women who are physically so disparate be so equally celebrated for their different talents and be considered beautiful at the same time?
But it’s springtime. Let us not be cranky. Let’s believe that could happen. Venus Williams and Ellen Degeneres,* maybe? I have a hard time imagining an interview where Ellen waxes poetic about the glory of Venus’s huge thighs or size 11 feet — most large famous women, be they athletic, obese or both, seem forced to spend their time defending or apologizing for their size, not reveling in it the way Shaq does. But still. This is a possibility.
Because the non-cranky interpretation of Shaq and Stewart is: Wow. People come in a huge range of shapes and sizes. On height alone, you have dozens of options that would all be viewed as perfectly healthy. Why don’t we give ourselves as many choices when it comes to weight? Why are we using rigid and unhelpful standards like the Body Mass Index** to define our health — and in the process (because we’ve got health and beauty all tangled up), our level of beauty and all too often, our self-worth too?
And above all: Why are we still subscribing to such a narrow definition of beauty when the range of human experience defies that definition every damn day? As Ragen says in her very smart post today: “Each of our bodies is amazing and there is simply no point in comparing them to other bodies.”
Or as Shaq says: Live fabulous. (He also says “be comfortable in your own skin,” but that’s when he’s schilling for Dove, so meh.)
*Yes, I realize that was the most literal translation I could have made there. I do not know the names of very many athletes — help me out in the comments if you’ve got more examples!
**Speaking of: It will surprise most of you not at all to learn that Shaq’s BMI is 31.6 and thus “obese.” Somehow, I don’t think he’s too worried.