Last week, the Daily Mail ran an online item about Jonah Hill, locating him out on the streets of downtown Manhattan in a navy Gucci bomber jacket and carrying a carafe they managed to misidentify as a beer bottle. Headlined “Jonah Hill continues to display his slimline physique as he steps out in New York City in a sporty bomber jacket and beanie hat,” it stood apart from the standard spotted-in-the-wild, they’re-just-as-dull-as-us genre of tabloid catnip, and not just for repeatedly using the word “slimline,” which is—and I’ve checked with at least one British person—a weird thing to say about something other than a refrigerator in the U.K.
While these kinds of items usually traffic in juicier cuts of barred bods and interpersonal drama, this one was content to marvel exclusively at Hill’s svelte shape, buttoned up as it was in tonal navy. It starts out pleased for Hill, a convivial, hey-good-for-him! tone of support, but quickly turns close to slobbering. The phrases “rocking,” “edgier sense of style,” and “cutting a stylish figure” all appeared before the first text break.
It’s worth noting the headline again here, which can sound more than a bit piqued, pointing out the insistence with which Hill “continues to display” this “slimline” physique, as though he’s been shamelessly carting up and down Fifth Avenue in a monokini, and, at this point, someone has had enough. Which would make sense, actually, as the Daily Mail has, since March, published 12 stories on Hill’s silhouette in an increasingly ecstatic and perhaps alarmingly obsessive pitch: “No beer belly here! Jonah Hill shows off his slimmed-down physique whilst clutching a drink during a night out in New York;” "Jonah Hill shows off weight loss while shopping on Rodeo Dr” (the video accompaniment to “Summer body en pointe! Jonah Hill shows off his slimmed down frame;" "The incredible shrinking man! Jonah Hill shows off major weight loss as he grabs lunch in LA with gal pal” (a favorite); and this week: “Slimline Jonah Hill has the ladies eating out of the palm of his hand as he schmoozes at Chanel artists' dinner during Tribeca Film Festival.”
For months, a bi-coastal press pool of tabloid hacks has been bounding excitably in Hill’s wake, catching him outside the Bowery Hotel in New York and several unidentified locations in L.A. (in tabloid photos, everything there looks the same: bright) and scrutinizing a steady feed of Japanese food and no beer as though it holds the secrets to cold fusion, generally treating Hill with the intrigue of a lost Hadid sibling. The Mail’s zeal is special, but it's not alone.
In 2012, the New York Post’s Page Six ran an item headlined “Jonah, no whale,” in which “spies say”—diet spies!—Hill “stayed true to his health regimen ordering shrimp cocktail and grilled salmon, while skipping dessert.” In 2015, Us Weekly ran, under their “Hot Pics” rubric, an image of Hill holding a cup of 16 Handles aloft with the inspired caption, “Wolf of FroYo.” InTouch has ten stories on Jonah Hill’s weight since 2015, including an item on a car accident Hill was involved in last year, which prompts the reader to “see how much Jonah has changed over the years in the gallery!” And among the dozen entries on the theme posted on OK!, the market’s shoutiest, most passive-aggressively-named title—a possible shorthand for “OK! Here’s Your Celebrity News Already”—is last month’s “YO-YO JO! JONAH HILL'S CONSTANTLY FLUCTUATING WEIGHT IS A PUZZLE TO ALL!," a near-pleading appeal for someone to please explain to OK! how the human body works.
One might excuse this cascade of Jonah Hill body watch content as a vehicle for excellent, necessary puns: “He may be a shadow of his former self;” “The movie hunk looked like he was having a great time as he chewed the fat with his lovely companion; ”Up in smoke! Jonah Hill showcases huge weight loss in Palace soccer jersey during cigarette break” (an ensemble that made him look like a low-level Albanian gangster who is killed early in a Liam Neeson film). All these are, really, irresistible headlines, and who am I to deny the Mail their trophies? And, clearly, they’re generating clicks.
The celebrity-media industrial complex functions in manic, oracular ways. What must a personality do to be favored one day and relegated to oblivion the next? What bored, astral divinity determines which stars should be anointed and which should be brought low? Is Topher Grace OK? Some things cannot be known to man.
But somewhere between the gloomy knot of Judd Apatow productions and Moneyball, something curious happened to Jonah Hill: his body became an object of tabloid fixation. To a degree, this is the way of all famous flesh: diet speculation; panting objectification; body shaming wrapped as left-handed praise—the familiar lot of female celebrity. Except Jonah Hill is not a female celebrity.
Perhaps the obviousness of Hill’s weight changes make them rife for the tabloid machine, which places a twisted value on the perceived drama of personal struggle, but the paradox is odd—it’s not as if Seth Rogen isn’t plodding around, or, for that matter, Apatow, who has effectively made looking schlubby his trademark. Men have been so historically immune to body bashing that an entire category of unhealthiness—the dad bod—has been marketed as an endearing personality quirk rather the abject moral failing it is for women. There is no mom bod, after all, only the “pregnancy weight gain nightmare.”
Some will argue this is refreshing—let some men be haunted for looking a bit puffy outside Starbucks. There is some precedent for gender parity, notably from TMZ, an unlikely Robin Hood of fat shaming, taking from the Renée Zellwegers and giving to the “LEOLARDO DIFLABRIOS” and “Fat Yankee” Derek Jeters. But these are mere cracks in the cellulite ceiling inoculating the bodies of famous fat men.
It would be a terrible irony to find the treatment of one man’s body image is the thing that brings the whole enterprise down. Thankfully, we probably won’t have to reconcile with that. It’s unrealistic to read the outsize attention on Hill as a shift toward equitable exploitation, or even as a vacuum, sucking up all the adipose air and granting a reprieve for female celebrities. More likely, it probably doesn't mean much beyond a visually immediate and vaguely positive story. Hill seems both likable and accessible, more so than someone like a paunched DiCaprio, a tubby Ben Affleck, or an expanding Johnny Depp, and so a level of emotional investment in his image as a mirror of ourselves was probably inevitable. In this way, incessant coverage on Hill’s weight is made neither good or bad, because it's both and neither, and we’ll continue to consume it, either way.
Incidentally, the day after the Mail caught Hill puckishly displaying his lithe form, I passed him on the street, this time in an all-black version of the bomber-t-shirt-non-denim-pant mufti that had earned him raves the day before. Not that I had a chance to notice, exactly; I had recently watched War Dogs on a flight, and if I were primed to spot Jonah Hill on the sidewalk, I would have been looking for broader scaffolding.
By the time he was pointed out and I managed to turn back, he had dissolved and was carried away by a faint wind. "Remember me," he seemed to whisper, his slimline physique lifting into the air.