At 20, Snitzer was an aspiring actress and jumped at the opportunity to stand in for Paltrow, who played the character Rosemary and performed many scenes in a fat suit. At the time, Snitzer felt that her work in the movie mattered and would even offer a progressive outlook on early 2000s body standards. “At that point, if you saw someone obese in a movie, they were a villain,” she said in a recent interview with Amelia Tait.
It would take decades for Shallow Hal to be critiqued properly (as The Atlantic put it in 2021: “Shallow Hal is bad because it treats Rosemary’s body as comedy. But it is insidious because it treats her body as tragedy”) and within that time, Snitzer, now 42 and working as an insurance agency owner in Philadelphia, has had time to reflect on the movie — and also how it personally affected her.
Notably, only 15 months after Shallow Hal came out, in November 2001, Snitzer, had lap band surgery
She told Tait that she thought the surgery was a “fantastic” idea. “Something that’ll fix [my weight],” she said. While she didn’t think she minded it herself, she revealed that it seemed to be her job, as a “good fattie,” to strive to be thinner.
“If you’re fat, you’re supposed to try to not be,” Snitzer said. “I hated my body, the way I was supposed to. I ate a lot of salads. I had eating disorders that I was very proud of.”
In fact, she probably didn’t think of them as eating disorders, but as doctor’s orders.
Snitzer’s physician had told her that she wouldn’t make it to 40 years old if she didn’t go through with the lap band surgery. Once she had undergone the procedure, she became serious about losing weight as fast as possible. The surgery itself reduced the size of her stomach and restricted what she could eat, but she put in extra effort to be thin by excessively exercising, purging and further restricting her calorie intake.
“It didn’t occur to me that I was supposed to be ashamed of those behaviors, like a lot of people are,” she said. “For me, I was supposed to be proud of them” — because they were her means to an idealized figure.
For many people in bigger bodies, this is how eating disorders go undiagnosed and untreated.
Not all people suffering from eating disorders are in small bodies.
Atypical anorexia nervosa describes those who have lost a significant amount of weight but are not underweight, according to Verywell Health. In fact, less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight,” statistics from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) show.
Often atypical anorexia is misdiagnosed because people with the condition present at a normal weight range or above. According to ANAD, people in larger bodies are half as likely as those at a “normal weight” or “underweight” to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.
As Dr. Leslie A. Sim, clinical director of the Mayo Clinic’s eating disorders program, told Today, it’s harder for medical professionals “to see that they have an eating disorder — because we think they should be dieting. The physician told them to be dieting.” For patients, she added, “They’re just kind of doing what they were told to do, but it gets out of control.”
Snitzer, who didn’t directly say she suffered from atypical anorexia nervosa, had that very response. She told Tait that she “felt like I’d got some control over the situation that everyone was telling me to control,” once she saw how extreme restriction led to weight loss.
At her sickest and her smallest, “everything was different” from when she was in a bigger body, Snitzer said. “It was really nice to be treated well.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please visit the National Eating Disorders (NEDA) website at nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information.