Kirstie Alley has been in many popular TV shows and movies over the years: Cheers, Veronica’s Closet, Look Who’s Talking and more. She has two Emmys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And yet she’s also famous for her very public struggles with her weight. But recently it’s transpired that Alley has a serious health condition.
In fact, Alley’s weight has been the subject of intense discussion for a long time. She does, after all, work in an industry where image is key and being thin is considered the most desirable body shape. And Alley is far from the only celebrity who’s flaunted a “big reveal” of weight loss, such as the moment when she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in just a bikini.
Plus, Alley has often joined in with the public preoccupation about her appearance. Back in 2005, for instance, she had a semi-autobiographical TV show called Fat Actress. And five years later she starred in a reality series called Kirstie Alley’s Big Life, in which audiences could watch her try once more to lose weight.
Before Alley’s most recent reveal, she had spoken about her fluctuating weight and her attempts to be thin. She started off slim in her youth, but she got bigger as she got older. In 2004 she told Oprah, “I got out of the car at a hotel, and the valet person said, ‘When are you due?’ And I just said, ‘11 weeks!’… I think the hardest part is that I spent most of my life thin, you know?”
That same year, Alley became a Jenny Craig weight loss spokeswoman. And in 2005 she told The Telegraph newspaper, “I was never comfortable with being fat, but I was just tired of the effort of being thin, so I said, ‘Screw it.’” On an even more personal level, she added, “I always thought I was too fat to have sex… I’ve probably had four days in my entire life when I looked at myself and thought, ‘You are so ready to have sex!’”
Alley mused, “Alcohol probably played some part in how good I thought I was.” And then, she talked about Fat Actress. “When I saw the episodes and saw how genuinely fat I was, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “It was painful and shocking. Unless they shot me just right, I had five chins.”
Alley did, however, use Fat Actress to comment on the entertainment industry’s double standards regarding weight and gender. In one episode of the show, for instance, she announces, “Turn on the TV, and most of the dads are fat, and their wives are 20 years younger and skinny and cute as hell.”
In the end, Alley lost 75 pounds with Jenny Craig and subsequently did her famous bikini bit on The Oprah Winfrey Show. But come 2008 the actress decided to leave the company. She released a statement to People magazine, saying that her time with Jenny Craig had been “nothing short of extraordinary,” and describing the people there as “first-rate.”
The actress went on in her statement, “Somehow, I’ve also fallen into the position of ‘accidental’ role model for, apparently, millions of people out there, losing weight by whatever means. This was something I did not bargain for or foresee happening. Nevertheless, it is something I’ve grown to embrace and something I intend to continue to pursue.”
In fact, Alley wished to create her own weight-loss brand. She concluded in her statement, “There was a time when America was not fat, and that was in our not-so-distant past. I’m confident that I can create something exciting and innovative: something that if all goes well will help change a fat America back into a fit America and will offer this country the healthiest, yummiest, easiest and most effective weight-loss program on the market.”
Unfortunately, parting ways with Jenny Craig led to a bad period for Alley. In 2009 she told People that she had gained 83 pounds after leaving. She explained, “When you’re a spokesperson for Jenny Craig, there’s responsibility. You have a person every week standing over you when you get on the scale… the first nail in the coffin was that I didn’t have to weigh in.”
Plus, the lure of fatty foods had apparently been too strong for Alley. “My food demons are Chinese food, sugar, butter – a lot of butter,” she told People. “If I’m at the movies, usually I eat popcorn without butter, but I’d say, ‘I’m at the movies, so who cares?’ And toast with butter. Or let’s say I had two cups of pasta and six tablespoons of butter on it. There was a lot of butter going on.”
Alley explained, “For seven months I was a vegetarian, and I can’t tell you how much weight I gained being a vegetarian! A vegetarian would probably be eating vegetables. But to me being a vegetarian meant I’m going to eat enchiladas with no meat, and I’m going to eat lots of bread – lots of carbs.”
Meanwhile, Alley also stated her intention to “get back on the horse.” And for a while, she seemed to be doing just that. In 2011, after a stint on TV show Dancing With the Stars, she told People she had lost 70 pounds. Some of that, she claimed, was also down to her own weight-loss company: Organic Liaison.
Alley told People, “With DWTS, I did something that was so physically challenging for me. It changed my life. I like the way my body looks. I look younger.” She added, “Now I have my tightest dress – a Roland Mouret, size 6 – and I put it on twice a week and use it as a barometer to truly know what size I am.”
However, in 2012, life threw Alley a curveball. A multiple-claimant lawsuit was served against her, alleging false advertising. Lead plaintiff Marina Abramyan claimed that Alley’s products were “neither certified as an effective weight-loss aid by the USDA nor anything more than standard dietary supplements incapable of causing weight loss.”
Moreover, the lawsuit went on to claim that Alley’s weight loss had had much more to do with Dancing With the Stars than with the products that she had been selling. “In peddling the Organic Liaison Programs, which are sold online and on QVC, Ms. Alley attributes her weight loss to the program, but in reality, Ms. Alley’s weight loss is due to nothing more than the tried-and-true concept of diet and exercise,” it read.
However, Organic Liaison quickly fired back in defense of Alley. Its statement claimed, “Ms. Alley participated in DWTS for only a short period of time during her approximately one to one-and-a-half-year participation in the Organic Liaison program; the vast majority of her weight loss had nothing to do with her participation in that show.”
The company’s release continued, “It is Ms. Alley’s persistence over one to one and a half years on the Organic Liaison program, coupled with regular exercise, that led to her dramatic weight loss over that time period; this is consistent with Organic Liaison’s advertising and representations, none of which create false net impressions to the reasonable consumer.”
The firm’s statement asserted, “We will vigorously defend ourselves against these frivolous claims.” But unfortunately, things didn’t really work out in Alley’s favor in the end. An out-of-court settlement in 2013 required a disclaimer on the Organic Liaison website, removing the words “Proven Products” from sold items – plus a payment of $130,000.
After this blow, Alley returned to Jenny Craig in 2014 and became their spokeswoman for a second time. This came as a surprise to some, because despite Alley’s friendly-sounding statement back in 2009, it had long been assumed and rumored that the actress had been difficult to work with at the weight-loss company.
In 2014 the former Chief Marketing Officer for Jenny Craig, Leesa Eichberger, spoke to the website Ad Age about Alley being welcomed back. “Her self-deprecating humor and honesty about her weight set her apart from other spokespeople,” she said. “We believe that her straightforwardness about her weight-loss journey will provide continued encouragement and inspiration to others who may have also struggled with their weight.”
That year, Alley spoke to Women’s Health magazine about her new direction in life. “I was running Organic Liaison with a structural corporate position… And that was stressful,” she said. “Usually, I deal with stress really well, but if there are two things in combination overwhelming me, that’s when I reach my trigger point and start eating.”
Apparently, having the world constantly curious about her weight hadn’t been easy for Alley. “The time it hit me the hardest – because it was the first time I gained a lot of weight – was right before I did Jenny Craig,” she explained to Women’s Health. “I was being attacked in the press for being fat – just brutal.”
Alley went on, “I also remember that I owed the IRS a lot of money, and I needed to figure that out in 30 days [on top of] the press calling me fat. I had also broken up with a boyfriend, and that was gruesome and hideous. One day, I went in a room, locked the door and went, ‘What am I going to do? What are my options?’”
And of course, we know the next part of the story: “I wrote a TV series called Fat Actress and made it really funny. I sold it that week,” Alley said. She went on, “This is the biggest trick for me: you’ve got to stay lighthearted and have humor about yourself. Okay, so you gained 40 or 100 pounds… So what? The good news is you can un-gain it. You can change your condition; you can always change it.”
Yes, this is a topic that came up in September 2018, when Alley appeared on podcast The Dan Wootton Interview. The actress had done more high-profile TV work by this time, including Celebrity Big Brother and Scream Queens. And she had lost some weight during that time, too – but had also put a bit on again.
Once again, then, Alley’s weight was a discussion topic. “When I was 54 I got fat,” she told Wootton. But the worst thing had been the media reaction. “That got a little bit monstrous, because it was so vile,” she explained. “Talk about politically incorrect. Right now, you would never take any actress on TV and go…” And she trailed off at the end of that sentence.
Alley went on, “I couldn’t walk out my front door without a million paparazzi just taking the worst pictures they could possibly take of me. So I made a decision… I was making a show called Fat Actress. And that was the turning point for me.” But the celeb also admitted that she didn’t like the way she looked when she was overweight.
Meanwhile, Alley also talked about something people might not have previously known regarding her. Back in 2017 she was diagnosed with Lyme disease. And she wrote an angry post about it on Twitter, calling the illness a “miserable, hideous creepazoid” and adding “f**k ticks.” But before too long, she seemingly deleted the tweet.
On the Dan Wootton podcast, Alley explained, “About a year ago, I got Lyme disease. I hate even talking about it because when I got it, I posted, like, ‘Oh great, now I have Lyme disease,’ and I didn’t know it was this crisis. So then I just took it off my Twitter because it was like, it’s a crisis, somehow.”
Wootton asked her, “Did you get it from a tick?” She answered, “Yeah in Maine I got a tick bite.” And she continued, “For ten months, during the day I would be in bed for eight hours a day. So that weight gain… this one was different, because it had to do with not moving, and I’m usually in motion all the time.”
But, Alley explained, her weight loss and gain had always been cyclical. And Wootton asked her if she had tried something different each time. “It’s like when I quit smoking, I go, ‘I will never smoke again,’” Alley said. “Cut to like four years later, and I’ll be in Italy, smoking cigarettes… There’s no such thing as one cigarette for me.”
Alley also brought up double standards again on the podcast. “Have you noticed how all these guys – all these male actors – are fat as hell, and all of a sudden if you ask them why it’s because they’re always getting ready for a role? Well, you know, other than Raging Bull or something, they’re not playing fat people.”
Alley mused over the different expectations for men and women when it comes to body image. “I feel like – I do feel this – I feel like my dilemma changed the rules of what men say about women on television,” she admitted. Previously in interviews, you see, she’d detailed the incredibly rude things that she’s allegedly been called because of her weight.
Alley added, “And if it only served that purpose, it would be good. And I’m not blowing smoke up my own ass.” In fact, she claimed that NBC had once instructed a man to apologize to her for comments that he had made. “It was just like, ‘Really, would you say this to your wife? Would you say this to your mother? Your sister?’” she recollected.
Alley continued, “So I feel that I helped change that… There’s this big scope of what’s going on, and then there’s me personally. So when someone says to me personally, ‘Do you prefer being thin?’ I do, because it makes my life easy.” That kind of weight stigma and body-shaming is often discussed in the media.
You see, some people believe that by bringing up a person’s weight, it will make them want to lose weight and therefore be healthier. However, there’s little evidence to support this. In September 2019 Bill Maher suggested that shaming should “make a comeback,” and there was a lot of backlash. Even medical professionals spoke their piece.
Professor of health psychology Jane Ogden, for instance, told the Victoria Derbyshire TV show, “Shaming is the wrong way forward.” The University of Surrey expert continued, “All of the evidence is that fat-shaming just makes people feel worse. It lowers their self-esteem. It makes them feel depressed and anxious, and as a result of that, what they then do is self-destructive.”
Well, Alley can seemingly attest to this reasoning. Back in 2009 she told Oprah, “This [paparazzo] said to me, ‘Fat ass, turn around so I can shoot you’… I’ve hated myself. You beat yourself up.” But regardless of what her weight is, or what it might be in the future, and whether the Lyme disease was a small factor or a big one, it does seem that the actress is owed quite a few apologies.