The Skinny on Ally

By LAURA SHANAHAN

Now that we're all on summer hiatus from fresh episodes of "Ally McBeal," it might be a good time to reflect on the weekly weigh-in of its star, Calista Flockhart.

Sometimes it seemed that the sole purpose of watching the show each week was so that we could collectively gasp over the Incredible Shrinking Woman, as some declare her to be.

"Anorexic!" headlines snapped.

"Too skinny," we sneered as we slouched at the company coffee machine, stuffing another Danish into our mouths.

"I'd like to hold her down and force-feed her a Pez," a radio personality snarled.

Um, people, if indeed Flockhart suffers from anorexia which she strenuously denies what's up with all this anger? I mean, where's it coming from?

One could, rationally, no more be furious with someone afflicted with anorexia than with arthritis or asthma. It is a bona fide, potentially terminal illness that deserves our compassion, not our censure.

Yet I don't think that a collective lack of compassion is what's pushing our buttons because I don't think most us really believe the anorexia rumors. What's subconsciously at work here is something you may strenuously deny now: Envy.

Oh, boy, I can hear it already: "You're nuts. I don't want to be that thin."

Yeah, sure you don't.

I ain't buyin' that a lot of us aren't just a teensy bit riled at Flockhart's flyweight frame. Not in a society where the saying "a woman can never be too rich or too thin" has everyone nodding knowingly, where the diet industry is a multibillion-dollar business, where surveys show that we would rather lose a few pounds than ... well, fill in the blank.

Paradoxically, a bit of reverse discrimination is at play here, too.

Those who snipe, "No one can be that thin naturally" i.e., what trick does she have up her sleeve? wouldn't dare say the reverse of some of our more substantial celebrities.

"What, is this woman eating bricks? No one could chow down enough food to maintain that bulk." You'll never hear that said not publicly, anyway.

Flockhart looks terrific to me exactly as she is. She's gifted and beautiful, and clearly has the stamina, strength and good health to commit to a grueling schedule. To those who will persist in taking potshots, well, as they say on daytime TV talk shows: Check yourself out.