Melissa McCarthy's Skinny Makeover for 'The Heat' Poster Stirs Controversy

Is that really Melissa McCarthy? Photo: 20th Century FoxSomething’s missing in the UK publicity poster for “The Heat,” the new crazy-cop flick starring Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. What is it? Oh, about 30 pounds, according to a mounting chorus of critics.

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“Nobody is unclear [about] what Melissa McCarthy's body size is—she's plus-sized and proud. So why have the designers of this poster done their utmost to Photoshop a good 30lbs off of McCarthy's face?” asked British entertainment blog the Shiznit Friday, touching off an angry blogosphere buzz that just won’t quit.

“This is one of the worst Photoshop jobs I have ever seen," it went on, "but it's not just offensively bad craftsmanship—the intention behind it is downright nasty.”

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The new buddy-cop comedy, which opens in the U.S. June 28 and across the pond July 31, has McCarthy playing (what else?) the big ol’ crazy, sloppy Hardy to Bullock’s svelte and Spanx-wearing Laurel. Still, even though it’s the premise, the poster makers seemed determined to slim McCarthy down.

Sarah Maria, body image expert and author of "Love Your Body, Love Your Life", isn't surprised.  "Airbrushing and digital editing is so ubiquitous, it's industry standard for practically anything," Maria tells Yahoo Shine. "Even for plus-size modeling—it's how things are sold." 

The actor's weight has been much discussed—most notably by Rex Reed, who faced criticism after he referred to her as "tractor-sized," "a humungous creep," and a "female hippo" in his pan of "Identity Thief." She's even addressed the issue herself, confessing, "Sometimes I wish I were just magically a size 6 and I never had to give [my weight] a single thought."

Interestingly enough, "Identity Thief" is the seventh highest grossing movie of 2013 so far—sending a loud and clear message that McCarthy doesn't have to be slimmed down in order to make her palatable to the movie-going public.

No one from 20th Century Fox responded to queries from Yahoo! Shine. Similarly, calls and emails for comment to McCarthy’s publicist, talent agent, and manager were not returned.

Others had plenty to say, though.

On Twitter, comments ranged from "What happened to Melissa McCarthy's face?" to "She looks like the girl in Arrested Development" and "If fat-shaming WORKED, Melissa McCarthy would be a walking skeleton."

photo: Getty/20th Century FoxThe Mary Sue blog also chimed in, writing, "When you consider that somewhere along the line someone involved with 20th Century Fox’s marketing team said ‘Y’know, I think people might be put off if they see this movie co-stars a larger actress. Let’s take a few pounds off the face,’ and when you consider that no one (at least no one with any authority) stepped in and said no, that’s monumentally awful, don’t do that? Yeah, this poster just went from funny-bad to offensive-bad,” writes the Mary Sue, whose tagline is “a guide to girl geek culture.”

NextMovie.com, the Huffington Post, Jezebel, Crushable and BuzzFeed have also taken the poster to task over altering the actor’s head and neck, with Buzzfeed pointing out that even McCarthy’s eye color seems to have been changed.

This is not the first time that McCarthy’s shape has been shifted in a publicity poster, as a “Bridesmaids” image of the star in a hot-pink gown also appeared to have slimmed her down a bit. There have been other victims, too.

Keira Knightly told Us Weekly, “those things certainly weren’t mine” when she appeared in a 2004 “King Arthur” movie poster with the addition of large breasts. She reportedly put her foot down ahead of time for “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” refusing to allow the same type of alterations for those publicity shots.

Kate Hudson’s breasts were similarly pumped up in the posters for the 2008 film “Fool’s Gold,” although the actor said she didn’t mind. “Those really weren't my breasts—my boobs aren't that big,” she told the Mirror. “On there they look perfect, they look great.”

While it's tempting to write off retouched posters as just another example of Hollywood "magic," the potential ripple effects can be considerable. Altered images of celebrities—particularly those designed to make the subject conform to accepted beauty standards—have been found to negatively affect viewers' self-esteem. 

"It tends to create an unrealistic view of what people should look like and what people do look like," explains Maria. "It certainly has a negative effect on women, mostly because they then pressure themselves to live up to an unrealistic standard." 


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