‘Facts of Life’ Star Lisa Whelchel Said the Issue of Weight Was ‘An Everyday Battle’ With Producers
The sitcom The Facts of Life was a popular staple on NBC from 1979 to 1988. After some adjustments following the first season, the show about teenage life at an all-girls’ boarding school featured four main characters: Blair (Lisa Whelchel), Jo (Nancy McKeon), Natalie (Mindy Cohn), and Tootie (Kim Fields), with house mother Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) in charge on a daily basis.
With the young cast members going through many physical changes while on the series due to adolescence, producers of the show would apparently (over) monitor their weight.
‘Facts of Life’ alums recall the focus on body size
In a 2013 interview, Whelchel and Cohn revealed how they were put under something of a microscope while on the show. With Whelchel just 16 years old and Cohn only 13 when they started on The Facts of Life, their bodies were still going through flux from puberty.
“Weight was always an issue back then,” Cohn commented, according to People. Whelchel added, “An everyday battle. Our bodies were a topic of conversation. … [The producers] were trying to figure out how to deal with our changing bodies.”
Cohn agreed, saying, “They did the best they could with what they had, but the producers were men who were talking to teenage girls about their bodies. Awkward!”
Whelchel recalled the edible options on set changing from sweets to veggies as a way to steer the cast members away from high-calorie foods.
“Craft services had all sorts of food, and it was delicious,” The Facts of Life alum noted. “Then one day they replaced the doughnuts and cookies with carrots and celery. No one on-set was ever cruel. But I was just a young girl. It was hard feeling that my body wasn’t acceptable.”
Joan Rivers used ‘The Facts of Life’ as comedy material
With the series airing in the 80s, the stars of The Facts of Life didn’t have to deal with any online commentary. Though one comedy icon decided to publicly use their changing bodies as part of her routine.
“There wasn’t the Internet, but we knew what people were saying,” Whelchel recalled. “Joan Rivers called us ‘The Fats of Life.’”
While Rivers broadcast some one-liners at the young stars’ expense, the topic of body size wasn’t discussed among the co-stars.
“That was part of the routine,” Cohn said of Rivers. “She’d say ‘Did you see the latest episode of The Fats of Life?’ And of course everyone would laugh. We didn’t really talk about weight on set. We were so tired of that conversation.”
Lisa Whelchel became ‘more comfortable in her own skin’
Whelchel revealed that producers would sometimes alter her vacation plans to put her on a specific regimen. Yet as she got older, The Facts of Life alum was able to have a healthier body image.
“The producers sent me to quite a few fat farms!” Whelchel recalled. “I’d say, ‘I’m going to Texas on my hiatus,’ and they’d say, ‘Oh, no you’re not. We bought you a ticket to the fat farm!’ … As I got older and I became a mother, I became more comfortable in my own skin. … I don’t want to starve myself – I would rather play a part that looks normal. … I don’t want people to base their self-worth on what they see on television today; I want to be comfortable with my weight.”
Cohn had the opposite experience, where producers wanted her at a higher weight.
“I went through it in reverse,” she explained. “The summer I turned 17, my metabolism changed. I became active. I came back from hiatus – looking good, mind you – and was told, ‘What happened to you? You have to gain that weight back.’”
The Facts of Life star now has a healthier outlook on herself and the parts she can play.
“I’ve never been a size 2,” Cohn said. “I was blessed with being a character actress. That being said, I’m also hired for a look and you can get angry about being told to maintain that look, but that’s part of the business. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about what people think, but I can’t worry about that. It’s not in my best interest. I support myself doing lots of theater and indie movies. I’m happy.”