NY Times Journalist's "Body Shaming" in 'Smokey Joe's Cafe' Review

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Last evening marked the opening night of the off-Broadway revival of Smokey Joe's Cafe. As always, the New York Times published their review of the piece, which I have attached to this post. The following paragraph has stirred up some controversy, especially on the star's Twitter account:

Ms. Umphress, by the way, is bigger than the other women onstage, and the costume designer, Alejo Vietti, doesn’t seem to have known how to work with that, dressing her in an unnecessarily unflattering way. He does better with the skimpy, yet not overly revealing, pink fringe outfit Emma Degerstedt wears, and jiggles in, for the leering number “Teach Me How to Shimmy.”

Ms. Umphress responded to this criticism, which isn't directed at her, with the following tweet: Her Response. As a summary, the actress is appalled that Laura Collins-Hughes, the assigned NYTimes critic, "body shamed" her for her weight, while praising a "fit" actress. After all, "It's 2018" and we shouldn't knock others for being big and we should celebrate women's diversity. The actress goes on to call the critic's writing "ugly" and unnecessary. 

The actress completely acknowledges that the paragraph's central criticism is not aimed at her, but she still feels as though she's the sacrificial "fat" girl in the show. 

To be quick and upfront, I do not see anything wrong with the criticism. She is not criticizing the actress for her weight. She is criticizing the designer for not knowing how to dress heavier women (her criticism, not mine.) It confuses me even more that Ms. Umphress acknowledges this, but still feels appalled and angry at the comment. Was the critic not supposed to acknowledge her weight when that is a factor of her criticism? Is it an act of "body shaming" to acknowledge one is heavier than another? That to me is just a fact. I myself am heavier than most of my friends. It's just a fact. In order to celebrate diversity, we must acknowledge each other's differences. Therefore, calling that acknowledgement "body shaming" is perplexing to me. If anything, isn't the critic calling for better designs for the "sacrificial 'fat' lamb"? 

Also, no where in the article does the critic negatively review Ms. Umphress, while praising the "size 0" actress Emma Degerstedt. She actually writes a lovely notice about Ms. Umphress, which no one will acknowledge since it lives in the shadow of a criticism that wasn't even directed at her.

Of course, the response across the industry is attack, attack, attack. I truly don't understand how anyone can read the entire review and tell me that Ms. Umphress is being attacked, negatively reviewed, and "body shamed" for her performance in the musical. Curious to hear other's opinions. 

Updated On: 7/23/18 at 03:27 PM
JSquared2
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If you see nothing wrong with what Laura Collins-Hughes wrote, then one would assume that you are either Ms. Collins-Hughes or her (size zero) BFF.

 

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"Ms. Umphress, by the way, is bigger than the other women onstage" is a wickedly unnecessary and insensitive comment. You can say that the costumes are not flattering without making a direct comment about a particular actor's body.

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JSquared2 said: "If you see nothing wrong with whatLaura Collins-Hughes wrote, then one would assume that you are either Ms. Collins-Hughes or her (size zero) BFF.

I can assure I am neither. I'm also not a person who is not willing to listen to other's perspectives. I'd truly like to discuss what you find about the criticism appalling.

Not being snarky, genuinely looking to discuss. I can admit I am wrong. 

 

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"Not being snarky, genuinely looking to discuss."

I wish you the best of luck in finding that kind of discourse here...

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A simple "I apologize that my comments offended you. I can assure you that wasn't my intention even though I understand they were interpreted," would so just fine but instead Collins-Hughes stubbornly defends and denies. 

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I'm plus sized and I would have to agree with the OP. Is the criticism really important? Probably not, she could have said something like the costume designer doesn't know how to costume a wide range of performers. But was she Fat Shaming??? We're so quick to want to have some pulpit to be on that we overreact. I'm glad Alysha's getting her 30 seconds of fame from this....

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NY Times Journalist's #8
Posted: 7/23/18 at 3:47pm

Why even make the comment in the first place? If its just Umphress’s coustumes that upset her than dont make a comment, expect the backlash. I think she looks great in the coustumes.

edit: she also could have commented on the coustumes, but no. She calls out Umphress by name.

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Updated On: 7/23/18 at 03:47 PM
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I think it's a pretty tactless way to frame the criticism, and Collins-Hughes does spend more time on it than on Umphress' performance.

"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
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The term “Body shaming” is thrown around so casually now and I fear this is one of those cases. I can’t detect and criticism of her body , rather the designer not dressing her accordingly. 

 

It it sounds like a rather over sensitive actress getting some attention for herself. Then again, it must be pretty embarrassing to read comments like that in widely read publications about yourself.

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brian1973 said: "The term “Body shaming” is thrown around so casually now and I fear this is one of those cases. I can’t detect and criticism of her body , rather the designer not dressing her accordingly.



It it sounds like a rather over sensitive actress getting some attention for herself. Then again, it must be pretty embarrassing to read comments like that in widely read publications about yourself.
"

You call her over sensitive and that she's doing this to draw attention to herself then point out exactly why someone would be upset by this. What exactly is your point?

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It's clear that she didn't intend to offend, but it's written so poorly that it does. It's more about her bad writing and insensitivity than it is about her being offensive. But it's still wrong and should be corrected.

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Posted: 7/23/18 at 4:05pm

I think Ms Umphress’s issue is that her weight was used as an identifying factor.
If the critic had an issue with the costumes in an all skinny cast she would just say “I didn’t like the costumes” not “This costume designer doesnt know how to dress skinny people.”
There was no need to take attention away from Ms Umphress’s performance by redirecting the attention to her weight as if it were some sort of handicap.
The critic wasn’t exactly embracing or celebrating fuller bodied women, but reinforcing that dressing them is a challenge (which is so wrong.)

Updated On: 7/23/18 at 04:05 PM
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The critic is an idiot. Alysha Umphress is a goddess.

 

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I don’t think it is body shaming, but I do think it is crappy writing and poor critiquing. It’s passive aggressive bullying as well.

Naming the costume designer instead of the actress in that sentence is one way to start.


It also points at another huge issue - costume designers who cannot design for fat people either because they don’t want to or they haven’t had experience from a lack of fat people on stage.
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Also, as a piece of criticism, "the designer dresses her in unflattering costumes" misses the mark. A costume designer does not operate autonomously from the director or actor (or lighting designer, or choreographer, etc). If someone is wearing a costume piece onstage, it is because quite a few people have signed off.

"...everyone finally shut up, and the audience could enjoy the beginning of the Anatevka Pogram in peace."
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Alysha Umphress is hot, and this critic is a moron.
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I don’t understand what it is we’re debating here. An actress was offended and/or embarrassed by a comment made about her appearance in relation to something that is entirely out of her control. It’s not for anyone to say whether she should or shouldn’t be offended. She was. And with good reason.
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I think one also has to take into account Ms Collin Hughs also was the reviewer who was offended by the racist nature of the Encores production of Big River, and implying racial insensitivity of all involved.
So....
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A completely gratuitous, unnecessary comment. Really surprised it made it to print. Also, Umphress is beyond gorgeous so it was a stupid opinion to have anyway.
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It’s not body shaming.  The author didn’t make a comment about Alysha Umphress being a larger woman and explaining (to them) that’s disgusting and doesn’t belong on stage. What Ms. Collins-Hughes did, however, was make a totally unnecessary and flat out rude comment about an actress in the production—not a character or the costume designer, who seems to be who she really has issue with.

This is the whole statement involving the mention of Umphress:

Nicole Vanessa Ortiz is a terrifically cool customer in her dry take on “Hound Dog,” while Alysha Umphress is at her best with the mournful, country-flavored “Pearl’s a Singer.”

Ms. Umphress, by the way, is bigger than the other women onstage, and the costume designer, Alejo Vietti, doesn’t seem to have known how to work with that, dressing her in an unnecessarily unflattering way.

To me, it just seems like an unnecessary comment, the same way stating that Alysha has reddish hair or two legs is unnecessary. Instead of saying “is bigger than the other women onstage,” replace it with any fact about a human and it shows how that little addition about her size was unnecessary. It just adds to the misconception that larger women are difficult to dress, have no sense of style, or can’t wear stylish clothing. 

Broadway may not be as cruel about size as Hollywood, but there are still major steps that needed be taken until women above a size 8 are taken seriously.

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newintown said: "I wish you the best of luck in finding that kind of discourse here..."

I think the discussion has been pretty good so far. Would love to hear your thoughts! 

Personally, I believe an apology on the critic's end would be an easy way out. I see nothing wrong with Collins-Hughes defending her thoughts and intentions. If she did word it differently... would there be any uproar? Are the words themselves the issue? Or, is it what she's intending to express? If it's just the words, can't we just look past them and read between the lines? I think it's very evident what she was trying to convey as is. 

Bwayfan292 said: "Why even make the comment in the first place? If its just Umphress’s coustumes that upset her than dont make a comment, expect the backlash. I think she looks great in the coustumes."

I understand your point. However, are you implying that if we expect backlash for a thought of ours on a policy or belief... we should remain silent for the fear of backlash? I'd disagree with you there. Also, she made the comment because she's a critic who is paid to critique shows! I also agree she looks fine, but that's not the point. (I'm a big fan of hers!)

I by no means believe that Ms. Umphress is doing this for attention. There is no doubt in my mind she has experienced a fair share of "body shaming", specifically in this industry. However, I do not believe that this is one of those cases. She has every right to be offended, but I fear others are following her blindly and not really thinking about what was actually written/intended. I do not believe the critic should have to apologize and mince her words in the future for offending an artist. 

BeNice said: "If the critic had an issue with the costumes in an all skinny cast she would just say “I didn’t like the costumes” not “This costume designer doesnt know how to dress skinny people.The critic wasn’t exactly embracing or celebrating fuller bodied women, but reinforcing that dressing them is a challenge (which is so wrong.)"

The critic here didn't have an issue with the costumes in an all skinny cast though. She had a problem with how the designer dressed this specific actress, who does not claim to be a "size 0". Sure she wasn't embracing and celebrating them (Why would she be in the middle of a review for 'Smokey Joe's Cafe'?), but I do think the critic is making the point your have at the end. She's saying... it doesn't matter that Ms. Umphress is heavy. The designer should still be able to design for her and the designer failed to deliver, so she negatively criticized them in a review in a major publication. 

I do not think that the critic is a moron. I also agree the name of the designer should have been added. I'm not disagreeing with everyone here, but I do think people are quick to hop on the offended train before giving some needed thought. 

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It’s a reasonable interpretation that the criticism was directed at the costume designer for dressing Ms. Umphress in a way that EMPHASIZED her body type as compared to the other women. 

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oncemorewithfeeling2, thank you for putting the quote into context by including the preceding paragraph. The reader should clearly see she is using Umphress as a segue to critique the costumes when read as a whole. This is a far cry from Ruby Lewis' "wide of face, short of neck" Wall Street Journal critique when Paramour opened.



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Posted: 7/23/18 at 4:41pm

ColorTheHours048 said: "I don’t understand what it is we’re debating here. An actress was offended and/or embarrassed by a comment made about her appearance in relation to something that is entirely out of her control. It’s not for anyone to say whether she should or shouldn’t be offended. She was. And with good reason."

Look I'm all for the "this was unnecessary" bandwagon and agree she appears to be beautiful but doesn't this claim seem blatantly untrue? 
 

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Updated On: 7/23/18 at 04:41 PM