Hollywood likes its actresses thin. Cayte Williams discovers that starlets can't dine out as they used to
WHAT'S THE WORST thing a Hollywood actress can do? Is it leaving a trail of failed relationships behind her? It didn't do Julia Roberts any harm. Is it baring all for Playboy? That advanced Kim Basinger's career. Is it living a life of drugs, alcohol and suicide attempts? Nope. That only led Drew Barrymore to write a best-seller. The worst, most heinous crime a Hollywood actress can commit is to put on weight.

Tinseltown babes have never looked so scrawny. Gwyneth Paltrow, Winona Ryder, Courteney Cox and Bridget Fonda all represent a new Beverly Hills look - no tits, no ass, just cheekbones and hipbones with a thin strip of midriff in between. Curves are to Nineties Hollywood what Communists were to McCarthy in the Fifties. They're evil, pernicious and must be stamped out.

Earlier this week Kate Winslet, Hollywood's queen of curvaceousness, was berated by her new co-star for being too fat. Winslet, who is probably a healthy size twelve, was told by Arnold Schwarzenegger that she needed to lose at least 10lbs before she could credibly play his love interest, in this case his wife, in the forthcoming thriller, End Of Days. Kate is now on a diet of sprouts.

Perhaps the British actress will be comforted by the fact that she's not alone in her battle of the bulge. According to The National Enquirer, Drew Barrymore has piled on 23lbs. Over the past few months the 5 foot 4 inch actress has ballooned from 118lbs to 141lbs, and the official line is that she's been comfort eating since the death of her beloved cat. "But the biggest shocker of all," says the American weekly, "is that Drew doesn't give a darn that her figure isn't as svelte as it once was." Which of course is fine, until she gets type-cast as the homely best friend.

Actresses in Hollywood know that you only succeed if you're skinny. It is part of showbiz legend that Jennifer Aniston shed 30lbs before landing the role as Rachel in Friends (she's now a tiny 110lbs). "If you're an actress, you have to be thin," said Aniston recently. "It's scary how Hollywood treats you like a completely different person when you're thin." Alicia Silverstone was berated for piling on the pounds during costume fittings for Batman and Robin, while even Jodie Foster - one of Hollywood's more level-headed actresses - admits that, for her, piling on the pounds while pregnant was too weird for words after years of starvation.

Food has become the new F-word in many an actress's vocabulary. "Some actresses forbid any mention of food during an interview because it would make them throw up," claims William Cash, a British writer based in LA. Rumours abound that when Courteney Cox goes out for dinner she sends her nutritionist into the kitchens to discuss the calories of each dish. Only then will the actress decide what to eat.

So why is Tinseltown so down on curves? According to Stella Bruzzi, author of Undressing Cinema, we should look to the catwalk. "Actresses are now taking their cue from the gamine look of the supermodels," she says. "Androgyny in the Nineties has become very sexy. Bodies don't look excessively feminine or masculine anymore, and I think it all started with the Calvin Klein ads a few years ago. Even the men who are in favour, like Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon, are boyish and pretty. There's this perceived idea of what is beautiful and anyone who goes against that is a threat."

Fashion and Hollywood have never been so intertwined. Gwyneth Paltrow and Winona Ryder are often snapped on Prada shopping sprees, Demi Moore was seen at every Paris and Milan catwalk show imaginable, a skinnier Courteney Love modelled for Versace minus the cleavage and Cameron Diaz and Matt Dillon cavort in this month's Harper's Bazaar head-to-toe in Prada.

But it's not just fashion that has led to the rise of the scrawny star. Hollywood is in the heartland of weight-obsessed America, where to be fat is a fate worse than death. In survey after survey, large numbers of American women say they would rather be dead than overweight. It's estimated that 71 million Americans are on a diet, the diet drinks industry rakes in $62 billion a year and commercial weight-loss programmes coin around $2 billion. While magazines like Fat!So? and support agencies like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) fight the tubbies' corner, it is estimated that by 2050 seventy-five per cent of all Americans will be overweight.

If America is a land of weight-obsession, then Los Angeles is its capital city. "LA is a town based on fear and insidiousness," says a British actress who has done the casting rounds in Hollywood. "Well-balanced friends of mine have gone there and after two months they're a mess. They start to go on ludicrous diets and consider plastic surgery even though their bodies are basically flawless." Minnie Driver, the British actress who put on 30lbs for her role in Circle of Friends, has emerged as a chisel-jawed skinny since she set up in LA. "She simply forced herself to be thin," explains Cash. "She knows that if she were voluptuous she wouldn't get the work." Consequently Driver has been on a non-stop diet since winning the role of Miss America in the forthcoming movie, Beautiful. "Hollywood survives on a diet of publicity and obsession with physical punishment," continues Cash. "It's very unnatural to be stared at as much as you are when you're a star and a lot of famous people have eating disorders."

So who are these actresses appealing to? Do we want to see skin and bones up there on the big screen? "There are two basic actress types," explains Sean Macauley, a screenwriter who lives in Hollywood. "Those that women think are attractive and those that men do. Women like Kate Winslet while men like Pamela Anderson. I don't think men like Gwyneth Paltrow, she's too scrawny. And then you see people like Patricia Arquette, who seems pretty comfortable with her curves."

Perhaps a key reason for the rise of the scrawny Hollywood star is the success of the boob job. Hollywood is full of skinny women with enormous breasts who at best land a high-profile role in Baywatch, at worst end up in LA's other big industry - porn. If any actress wants to be labelled B-movie, all she needs to develop is a DD cup. It's as if Gwyneth and chums are saying "You have to take me seriously as an actress because I don't have a chest."

Even those actresses who don't look scrawny on film often are in reality. "The camera puts on 10lbs," explains Sean Macauley. "Michelle Pfeiffer looks virtually anorexic in real life. But on the other hand, nobody wants to see bits of flesh wobbling about on the screen." "People who are very thin often look fabulous on film," says Seamus McGarvey, who is the director of photography on Tim Roth's directorial debut, The War Zone. "Actresses often worry about how they are filmed and I've heard stories of actresses not trusting cameramen on set. Jessica Lange and the director of photography fell out on the set of Rob Roy over which side he filmed her from, and it led to lots of arguments." A less-than-skinny actress can be an expensive proposition. "If a tummy looks a bit fat in a love scene or wrinkles are obvious, post-production can get rid of them with Computer Graphic Imaging, but at a great cost," explains McGarvey.

So does the man whose next movie stars Sigourney Weaver and Chloe Sevigny think Kate Winslet is fat? "I think she's stunningly beautiful," he opines. "If you saw her walking down the street you wouldn't think she was overweight. I think all this hullabaloo about thinness is more to do with what producers and financiers want rather than the audience. If we're talking about sex appeal, people's libidos should be credited with a bit of variation."

It's no secret that Hollywood's most powerful players are men and Schwarzenegger speaks for Tinseltown's powerful network of ageing executives. "A lot of the producers here are relatively retarded emotionally," explains Macauley. "These are the men who girls wouldn't look twice at when they were at school and now they're getting their own back. Their view of women is split into the Madonna and the whore and most actresses only have two roles open to them: the wife with her cardigan over her shoulders looking out from the doorway, or the busty temptress with the 12-inch waist."