Has Freddy Kruger ever haunted your dreams?
Released in 1984, the iconic American slasher film series Nightmare on Elm Street has three decades worth of Freddy Krueger (9 films in total with a 10th film on its way) slicing up teenagers. Krueger even haunts the teenage Johnny Depp, who, in his first major motion picture, is violently murdered in bed—blood gushes onto the bedroom ceiling.
Even more frightening than Freddy and these ‘80s-era American horror film graphics (state-of-the-art at the time), however, is something more ordinary.
Nearly everyone is thin in this film.
Though one Hollywood movie may not be the best medium to judge thinness—or fatness—of a generation, the cameras do offer a lens on the prevailing view of attractiveness, and could work as a case study of how we perceived our best selves in the ‘80s.
In the case of the Kruger film series over the years, moreover, it seems that the thinness of the '80s is different than the thinness of today. The actors in this film, in particular A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, released in 1985, are exceptionally thin and this film is a reminder of an aesthetic that once was.
“There’s this idea that the media hold a mirror up to society: the actors in those films were skinnier then, so we all must have been skinnier then. But it’s more complicated than that, which is why it’s so fun to study pop culture,” says Bill Kirkpatrick, Associate Professor of Media Studies at Denison University in Ohio, in an interview with The Daily Beast.
“First off, we shouldn’t mistake what the media show us for how things ‘really’ are: perhaps we really were, on average, skinnier back then, but perhaps it was simply that films in the 1980s were choosing to show us more representations of skinny people, and today the film industry is choosing to show us more representations of somewhat heavier people, and neither is a ‘true reflection’ of how things ‘really’ are. In the 1960s, you saw lots of pictures of models like Twiggy, but it would obviously be a mistake to think that everyone in the 1960s was tall and stick-thin,” Kirkpatrick says.
To Kirkpatrick’s point, is it because of Hollywood and a decision by writer and director Wes Craven that everyone is svelte and beautiful in this film? Possibly.
Yet according to a span of slides created by the CDC starting in 1985 into the 2010s, less of us were overweight or obese in the ‘80s; in fact, significantly less of us. And as the Krueger series jogs our memories, we were not only less heavy, but seemingly super-duper slender.
In fact, the Hollywood thin of today is not the Hollywood thin of the ‘80s. Though subtle, our thin of 2015 is indeed slightly larger. According to a study as featured in The Atlantic, people of 2015 are 10 percent heavier than they were in the 1980s.
We could open Pandora’s box regarding the countless reasons why our waistlines are larger today than in 1984. The Atlantic, as well as bio-hacker David Asprey recently covered how it was easier to be thin in the ‘80s than today. Be it more snacking, marathon Downton Abbey watching and Seamless ordering sessions, the fact that our food in 2015 still looks like something Willy Wonka made in his factory, elevators are still way sexier than stairs, or the increased consumption of antibiotic-plagued meat over the decades, there are countless more obstacles to keeping us from being Freddy-Krueger-thin in 2015.
Have cultural norms shifted to accepting a slightly larger waistline because it is harder to maintain a thin one in the new millennium?
“But even if there are health statistics that show that we are, on average, heavier now, by itself that doesn’t tell you what that means in terms of the media,” Kirkpatrick says. “A hundred years ago, being obese was a status symbol. So we would want to think about the cultural meanings of weight, who is permitted to be what size, etc. It seems to me that we currently have a lot of ‘bro’ films in which male actors like Seth Rogan are celebrated for being on the heavy side as a symbol of their cool and casual slacker-dom, but we’re not necessarily seeing that largesse being extended to female actors.”
“So I’d want to think about the cultural meanings attached to body size, not just count the pounds we see on the screen and compare them to the CDC’s numbers,” he continues. “It’s when we begin to ask what it means, within a given social context or a specific cultural group, to have a certain body size and shape, that things get interesting.”
There certainly is a level of caution one needs to take extrapolating the general idea that “we all” used to be thin “back then,” based off a horror film series.
Yet, caution aside, there is a very serious, and arguably chilling, point we have forgotten: heart disease is still the leading cause of death for Americans. And there’s no escaping heart disease with a large waistline. Though the death is a slow one, a growing waistline will eventually kill you, just like Freddy.