Why the Hell Are People Body-Shaming Kumail Nanjiani?

The internet can't seem to accept that the 42-year-old comedian looks this good

January 6, 2021 2:53 pm
kumail nanjiani body shaming
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

About a year ago, Kumail Nanjiani broke the internet.

America woke up on December 16, 2019, and the Pakistani-American actor of Silicon Valley and The Big Sick fame was suddenly shredded. It felt fake at first, like a class clown running for president had dropped his face on a bodybuilder’s torso and put fliers up all over school. Nanjiani, of course, is a comedian, with recurring appearances on Broad City, Veep and Portlandia. He’s hosted Saturday Night Live. His humor is sardonic, self-aware, silly. Maybe he was making some sort of commentary on influencer culture?

Nope. It wasn’t a bit. Nanjiani’s talents had been poached for an upcoming Marvel film called Eternals, set to release in 2020, now pushed back to 2021, which follows a group of group of earthly humanoids who live for millennia and have superhuman strength. The film’s cast includes a bunch of frustratingly good-looking people (Angelina Jolie, Kit Harrington, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Gemma Chan), and Nanjiani decided as early as the end of 2018 that he “wanted to transform how [he] looked.” Nanjiani told Men’s Health: “I’m playing the first South Asian superhero in a Marvel movie. I don’t want to be the schlubby brown guy — I want to look like someone who can hang with Thor and Captain America.”

He succeeded. It took a year of slow, steady, torturous discipline — two-hour commutes to a specialized training gym, bonus workouts during lunch breaks while filming, electric shock therapy for his muscles, strict limits on sugar and gluten, periods of intense fasting — but Nanjiani brought the body he’d dreamed of to his dream role (he’d wanted to play a superhero for years!) and picked up a Men’s Health cover along the way. Fitness writers compared his transformation to Chris Pratt or Paul Rudd, two other affable comedians who’d leapt from romcoms to the MCU stage. And that, it seemed, was that. Eternals would hit theaters at some point, and Nanjiani would continue be in other projects, just with a more chiseled jaw, and some fitness junkie habits — the man reportedly loves his beet juice.

But well after Nanjiani’s thirst-trap photos dropped (a whole pandemic later, in fact), the internet is still struggling to accept that he looks so … good. In the last week, online commenters have been regularly shaming Nanjiani on Twitter, or directly via Instagram, where he’s made a tradition of posting snapshots of his “Friday dessert nights.” The configuration follows a similar script, with Nanjiani grinning like a jolly feudal lord as he cuts into an olive oil cake. Nanjiani’s biceps are typically quarreling with a medium T-Shirt. His cheekbones are reminiscent of when Shrek briefly turns into a human hunk in Shrek 2.

As with most social-media scuffles, it’s best not to get too deep in the weeds on the specifics. But, basically: a certain subsection of people are claiming that Nanjiani is clearly using steroids, citing supplements like MK-677, a form of ibutamoren, which functions as a growth hormone. These commenters seem determined to discredit Nanjiani’s current physique and the efforts he waged to earn it: his body is fake because the changes are “not realistic at all.” One account even wrote “… guys who are ectomorphs do not become vascular and have hard mass gains like that.” Meanwhile, an offshoot of this group seems to almost pity Nanjiani, maintaining that he wouldn’t feel the need to cheat his way to the top if our society didn’t have such “impossible beauty standards.”

Make no mistake, this is body shaming. It’s an extremely bizarre version of it — considering Nanjiani could probably fireman’s carry a hog up a mountain right now — but it’s a concentrated effort by a group of people to make another person feel bad for his figure. Why are people doing this? Well, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Nanjiani is an immigrant and a person of color, living in a country and working in an industry that have spent decades doing a frankly shit job at accommodating either. There wasn’t this brand of backlash when Chris Pratt morphed from a scruffy frat brother to a presumed Indiana Jones heir overnight. That’s to say nothing of America’s action-hero golden age, back in the ’80s, when white actors regularly used anabolic steroids to beef up for roles.

But beyond that, our exasperation here stems from the fact that Nanjiani worked to get ahead of such criticism. He might as well have outright predicted it. In that initial shirtless post, Nanjiani credited the small army of trainers, nutritionists and chefs that had been assigned to help him prepare for Eternals. He wrote: “[This was] paid for by the biggest studio in the world. I’m glad I look like this, but I also understand why I never did before. It would have been impossible without these resources and time.” This point tracks with something Zac Efron said after filming Baywatch: “I realized when I was done with that movie, I never wanted to be in that shape again … You’re working with no wiggle room. It’s not real.”

That’s exactly right: it’s the level of dedication required to get this sort of body that isn’t real, not the body itself. At one point during his training, Nanjiani described spending an entire day regretting a bowl of sticky toffee pudding from the night before. If you combine enormous resources and consistent sacrifice, you’re bound to get results. People who’ve never met Nanjiani, those apparently mortally offended by his physical transformation, should heed the words he wrote in his original post, and keep in mind that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to look like a superhero. It’s unlikely (though not impossible) that Nanjiani, about to turn 43, will still look like this at 50.

Plus, as a general rule, if you get your kicks critiquing or sermonizing about the fitness journeys of others on social media, stop that. If there’s anyone in Hollywood who didn’t need to get jacked, it would probably be the comedian fresh off a Best Original Screenplay nod at the Oscars. Yet, Nanjiani got yoked regardless, and it will probably lead to more unique career opportunities. All power to him for it. If patience got us through 2020, let kindness be the mantra in 2021. Don’t type away your own insecurities by trying to tear down the triumphs of someone else. More than anything else, the world of wellness thrives on positivity and community. If you want to make changes in your own life this year — and remember, they don’t have to be super-sized — recognizing those core truths is the only way to start.

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