While Debra Messing truly enjoyed her signature role on beloved sitcom Will and Grace, she spent a lot of her time during the show’s 1998-2006 run struggling with body image.
As Messing explained to actress Jameela Jamil on the latest episode of the I Weigh podcast, she was a size eight, a normal size, which is today half the size of the average U.S. woman. But, of course, the average American woman isn’t in Hollywood, where actresses regularly attend fittings with designers to find their looks for upcoming red carpet events or magazine pictorials. Those were the worst for Messing, because usually only itsy-bitsy gowns are available, and she said she ended up hating her body. She especially remembers the fitting she endured before the 2000 Emmys, where she was nominated for best leading actress in a TV comedy for the first time.
“I would try to fit into these gowns and of course they were sample sizes, which are 0 or 2, and it was like, ‘OK, we have to let out the seams, etc.’ And this was supposed to be the greatest moment of my life — being nominated for Best Actress in a TV show I loved for an Emmy and walking on the red carpet,” she said. “And I walked out and I immediately felt so incredible, and then I was standing next to all of these other actresses who were half my size, and I felt fat, and I felt ugly. And I look back at those pictures and I was beautiful!”
The actress was nominated alongside Everybody Loves Raymond’s Patricia Heaton (who won); Malcolm in the Middle’s Jane Kaczmareck; Dharma and Greg’s Jenna Elfman; and Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker.
But there were a few other actresses on her mind.
“I was lucky enough to be invited on the red carpet to the Emmys and the Golden Globes, and that was the same time that Ally McBeal was at its height and Calista [Flockhart] was the ‘it’ girl. Portia de Rossi also was so so slim, and she's spoken openly about her anorexia, so it's all within sort of the same theme.”
Messing started on Will and Grace as a size eight but, when she saw that wasn’t working for her or those around her, she began losing weight. When she was down to a 6, people began complimenting her, so she kept going.
Then came that red carpet season, in which she looked much different than she remembered feeling at the time.
“I mourn the fact that that was my interpretation of reality and that was the torture that I put myself through. Because ultimately I ended up getting down to a size 2. I was way too skinny, but, you know, going in for those fittings, I fit into everything! And all of a sudden, I literally could fit into anything that was high fashion... And so all of a sudden, everything just seemed to open up to me, because I was a 2.”
Messing said she stayed that size for a while, but she soon ended up sick.
“My body just could not hold out. My adrenals crashed,” Messing explained. “I was exhausted, and it just became clear to me that I couldn’t be healthy and a size 2 at the same time.”
Twenty years later, Messing said designers still decline to dress her. They say they don’t have anything in her size. But now it doesn’t often bother her as much. She noted that there are designers like Christian Siriano, who are willing to dress people of all sizes.
“I’m in a much better place,” Messing said. “I am bigger now than I’ve ever been in my life. I feel OK about being larger than I was when I was 25, because that is normal. I do still have flare ups of triggering moments when I have to dress up for a special occasion, and then the whole what-am-I-going-to-wear thing happens.”
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