Jonah Hill Says Being Told to Lose Weight as a Child Made Him Feel Like He Was "Not Correct for the World"—Here's How He Overcame It

The actor gets vulnerable in a new Netflix documentary.

a photo of Jonah Hill
Photo: Matthias Nareyek/Getty Images

The holiday season is a time for celebration, family get-togethers and lots of delicious, cozy food and drinks. For some people—even some kids—it's also a time of unwelcome remarks about how much they've eaten and whether they're watching their weight.

We should probably refrain from voicing unsolicited opinions about anyone's weight, but that behavior is even less appropriate with kids. And if you think you're going to convince someone to lose weight, you're probably wrong—a 2012 study in Obesity found that weight stigma is more likely to make an overweight person isolate themselves than go on a diet.

Jonah Hill is sharing how weight stigma shaped his childhood in the new Netflix documentary Stutz, which Hill wanted to make about his therapist, Phil Stutz. (Stutz is the popular author behind The Tools, a book about the therapeutic exercises that Stutz uses with his patients.) In the documentary, Hill does an on-camera session with Stutz, revealing that growing up overweight has had a massive impact on his mental health into adulthood.

"When I was a kid, exercise and diet was framed to me as like, 'There's something wrong with how you look,'" Hill says in the documentary. "But never once was exercise and diet propositioned to me in terms of mental health. I just wish that was presented to people differently."

Hill goes on to share more about how the shame he felt about being overweight—from within his family and from the world at large—often made him feel depressed, even when he became a Hollywood success.

"Having grown up overweight was something that sounds like not a big deal or like, 'Poor you,' or whatever—but for me personally, it intensely f—ked me up," Hill says.

Hill says that one of the exercises that helps him deal with that lingering insecurity is something that Stutz calls "the Shadow." For each person, Stutz explains, the Shadow is the "part of themselves they're ashamed of." Hill explained that his Shadow is "a 14-year-old boy who's very overweight and has acne and feels very undesirable to the world." Hill says that even when he was experiencing professional success and in great physical shape, he still felt the shame he associated with his adolescent years—and it didn't help that the media was still reporting about his weight.

"The media kept being really brutal about my weight," Hill says. "It was just kind of free game for anyone to sort of hit my sore spot. It made me so defensive—like almost anticipating someone saying something mean. I'd be so angry. It kept me from feeling any sense of [being] able to grow past negative feelings about myself."

Through working with Stutz, Hill says he was able to try and reintegrate the teenager he was so ashamed of being. According to Hill, it's all about learning to appreciate that part of his past and celebrate the person he was, while still being proud of everything he has worked for in the present.

"​​Inherently, at my core, I'm still this unlovable person," Hill says, gesturing to a photo of himself at 14. "But the work is inching toward [realizing] that it's great to be this person. But that's still very hard."

When Hill finally gets a chance to sit down with his mom, Sharon Feldstein, and Stutz later in the film, they share an honest conversation about how Hill felt as a child being told to lose weight. Hill shared that his first experience with therapy came when a nutritionist recommended sessions after watching Hill and Feldstein argue in the office.

"So you see me being an overweight kid, and I feel that, and the doctor feels that, and society has its own constructs [around] why that's defective or wrong," Hill explains to his mom. "So, I'm like, 'I am not good. I am bad. I don't look correct for the world.' And you have to be the person that is attempting to correct that, for whatever those reasons are. It immediately put you in the position of being adversarial—of like, 'This is the person that doesn't accept me.'"

Hill makes it clear that he doesn't blame his mom for those feelings anymore—he's had time and resources to move past that. But both Hill and Feldstein say it felt good to get everything out in the open so they could better understand each other. Feldstein even opens up about feeling singled out for her weight as a child, too.

"My mother, specifically, was extremely small, and so was my sister, and I was always talked to about, 'You're big like your dad; you're the bigger one, you need to lose weight,'" Feldstein says. "And I think it gave me so much anxiety when either I didn't look that way or my kids didn't look that way."

Talk therapy might not be the right fit for everyone dealing with shame about their weight, but it's an option worth thinking about, especially if you also struggle with depression or anxiety. You can use Psychology Today's search tool to find therapists in your area and even search specifically for folks who help with eating disorders and self-esteem issues.

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