The creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, Shonda Rhimes is considered to be one of the most powerful women in television. And in the mid-2010s, the producer, writer and showrunner got everyone talking when she unveiled her dramatic weight loss. However, despite the shower of compliments she received, Rhimes wasn’t happy with what she heard.
Rhimes decided to try and lose a whopping 150 pounds not for vanity reasons, but for the sake of her health. The hugely talented creative confessed she previously couldn’t even manage a small flight of stairs without working up a sweat. And she also wanted to ensure that she was around to see her young children grow up.
But shifting the weight sure didn’t come easy for the multiple award winner. In fact, Rhimes freely admits she that hated the experience. And in one of her weekly Shondaland emails, she revealed that she found it difficult to cope with the aftermath, too. Here’s the story behind her remarkable transformation that both turned heads and opened up Rhimes’ eyes like never before.
Shonda Rhimes grew up in the University Park area of Chicago, Illinois, with her five older siblings, college professor mother and educational administrator mother. She developed her passion for telling stories from a young age; and in her teens a volunteering stint at a local hospital proved to be invaluable later on in her career.
While studying film studies and English at Dartmouth College, Rhimes further honed her creative talents with the Black Underground Theater Association. Following her graduation, she landed an advertising job in San Francisco before relocating to Los Angeles to attend a screenwriting course at the University of Southern California. And perhaps unsurprisingly, she soon made it to the top of her class.
Rhimes was shown the Hollywood ropes when she interned with Debra Martin Chase, the first African-American to ever to land a major studio deal. But the former still initially found it difficult to climb up the ladder. In fact, she had to take jobs as a job center counselor and office administrator during her early scriptwriting years just to earn a living. Her first notable credit came in 1995 for Peabody Award-winning documentary Hank Aaron: Chasing the Dream.
Rhimes then took the director’s chair for the first time three years later on Blossoms and Veils, a movie short featuring Jeffrey Wright and Jada Pinkett-Smith. Her career continued to build momentum in 1999 when she helped to co-write Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, a critically acclaimed HBO film starring Halle Berry. And then in 2001 she graduated to the big screen with a writing credit for Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads.
In 2003 ABC rejected a TV pilot Rhimes had written based on a group of fledgling female war reporters. But she bounced back from the disappointment by reuniting with her mentor Chase on The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. And two years later the same network finally agreed to pick up another of her creations, a medical drama that would help catapult Rhimes into the big league.
Grey’s Anatomy became an instant hit when it debuted in the spring of 2005 as a mid-season replacement. Based on the ongoings of a fictional hospital named Seattle Grace, the ABC show also helped to launch the career of Ellen Pompeo, who starred as the leading lady Meredith Grey. And it relaunched the careers of Katherine Heigl and Patrick Dempsey, too.
Remarkably, Grey’s Anatomy has been a fixture of ABC’s schedules ever since, making it the longest-running scripted show in the network’s primetime history. Rhimes further expanded its world in 2007 with a spin-off based on Kate Walsh’s Dr. Addison Montgomery. Private Practice also achieved considerable success, running for an impressive six seasons before being taken off air six years later.
Despite Grey’s Anatomy’s continued popularity, ABC rejected Rhimes’ 2010 pilot, Inside the Box; though they did take a chance on Off the Map, another medical drama which she executive produced. But the show, set in an isolated Amazon jungle clinic, was swiftly canceled. But just as Rhimes was starting to look like a one-idea wonder, along came Scandal.
Starring Kerry Washington as a management expert in political crisis, Scandal found a large, loyal audience from the moment it first aired in April 2012. Executive produced by Judy Smith, a former press aide to the George H.W. Bush administration, the series ran for seven seasons. And it helped to further establish Rhimes as one of the most talented showrunners in American television.
In 2014, Rhimes and her production company Rhondaland scored another major hit with How to Get Away with Murder. The legal thriller saw Viola Davis star as a Philadelphia university law professor who becomes embroiled in a murder case with several of her students. And just like Private Practice, the ABC show ran for six seasons and is set to wrap up in late 2019.
Rhimes added to her body of work with 2016’s The Catch, a dramedy starring Peter Krause and Mireille Enos. For its part, the story follows a private investigator who becomes romantically involved with a fraudster. And it was soon followed by Still Star-Crossed, a period drama based on the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. Shondaland’s prolific streak then continued apace with legal drama For the People.
In 2018 and with Grey’s Anatomy still on the air, Rhimes decided to help develop a second spin-off from the long-running medical drama. Following the fortunes of a Seattle firefighting unit, Station 19 became another Rhondaland hit and in 2019 was renewed by ABC for a third season. Of course, by this point Rhimes’ talents had also been snapped up elsewhere.
In 2017 streaming giant Netflix confirmed that they had agreed a major development deal with Rhimes that would result in several new originals. And the showrunner appeared delighted with the news. In an official statement, she described it as an “opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach provided by Netflix’s singular sense of innovation.”
A year later, it was revealed that Rhimes and Netflix’s first collaboration would be based on a story first published in New York magazine. The article, titled “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People,” centered on a Russian-born woman who hoodwinked high society by posing as a rich German heiress. In 2019 news also emerged that Rhimes would be adapting the Bridgerton family novels penned by Julia Quinn for the streaming service.
Of course, as well as being one almighty Hollywood powerhouse, Rhimes is also a devoted mother of three young girls. Her first two children, Harper and Emerson, were adopted in 2002 and 2012, respectively. Her third daughter, Beckett, was conceived via the method of gestational surrogacy in September 2013.
And Rhimes appears to have instilled in them the same sense of independence and confidence that has helped her to achieve her remarkable success. In 2016 she told Good Housekeeping, “They couldn’t be more different from one another, but they’re all stubborn – and I mean that in the best way. No one will ever take advantage of them. They will always go their own way because they have decided they’re going to.”
However, in a 2018 interview with PopSugar, Rhimes admitted that she still worries about her children growing up in the Instagram generation. She said, “I try to look at what they watch, and I try to talk to them about who they are and what’s okay. My five and six-year-old [kids] probably get a lot of lectures that they wish they weren’t getting. But I also think it’s important to just be open and honest and have dialogues and conversations.”
Rhimes also spoke about the pressures placed on today’s youngsters during her keynote speech at Dove’s inaugural Self Esteem Summit. She told the audience, “Whether it’s your looks, what clothes you should be wearing, what you should study in college… there will be many opinions out there. And many of those opinions will be about what you should look like. Our world can be obsessed with these opinions about appearance. But guess what? Those voices don’t go away.”
And Rhimes sure knows all about being judged by her appearance. However, the weight loss plan she embarked on back in the mid-2010s wasn’t an attempt to silence anyone who commented on her size. Instead, Rhimes wanted to slim down for the sake of both her health and general well-being.
Rhimes initially appeared to relish the challenge of losing weight, even writing a book which tackled the subject. In Year of Yes, the all-conquering creative wrote, “Being a competitive person, having a number and a goal helps me. I feel great. And I’m going to work to stay in that space.”
However, Rhimes seemed to have changed her tune when she opened up further about her weight loss experiences in 2017. By this point, the star had shifted a mightily impressive 150 pounds. But Rhimes admitted that she struggled to cope with both the process and the reactions her transformation inspired.
Apparently, in one of her regular Shondaland emails, Rhimes informed readers that she in fact hated the whole experience. The star kicked off her lengthy post by revealing that she wasn’t motivated by vanity but the fact that even walking up a small flight of stairs presented a problem. She said, “I did it because my body was physically rebelling against the brain that had been ignoring it for so long.”
In contrast to the optimism she displayed in her book, the Shonda Rhimes of 2017 told her fans that dieting was anything but enjoyable. She said, “I hated every single second of it. And I hate every single second of maintaining my weight, too. Losing weight is annoying and hard and painful and no fun and a terrible, terrible, unnatural struggle against your body’s natural wishes, hopes and dreams.”
Of course, Rhimes’ dramatic transformation inevitably drew a dramatic response from anyone she came into contact with. The showrunner went on to add, “But you know what was worse than losing weight? What was so much more horrifying? How people treated me after I lost weight. I mean, things got weird.”
Rhimes then discussed how often women who were essentially total strangers stopped her to “gush” about her appearance. She joked, “Like I was holding-a-new-baby-gushed. Only there was no new baby. It was just me. In a dress. With makeup on and my hair all did, yes. But… still the same me.”
Of course, alongside all the compliments from various women, Rhimes also noticed a significant amount of new attention from the opposite sex. She commented, “And men? They spoke to me. They spoke to me. Like stood still and had long conversations with me about things. It was disconcerting.”
But whether it was a man or a woman offering admiring words, Rhimes always felt uncomfortable. She told her readers, “Even more disconcerting was that all these people suddenly felt completely comfortable talking to me about my body. Telling me I looked ‘pretty’ or that they were ‘proud of me’ or that ‘wow, you are so hot now’ or ‘you look amazing!’”
The increase in attention also got Rhimes wondering how people used to view her when she was 150 pounds heavier. She said, “After I lost weight, I discovered that people found me valuable. Worthy of conversation. A person one could look at. A person one could compliment. A person one could admire. You heard me. I discovered that now people saw me as a person.”
“What the hell did they see me as before?,” an exasperated Rhimes pondered. “How invisible was I to them then? How hard did they work to avoid me? What words did they use to describe me? What value did they put on my presence at a party, a lunch, a discussion?”
Rhimes believed that many of those dishing out the compliments would have totally avoided or ignored her just a few years previously. She described the change as being “like I had been an invisible woman who suddenly materialized in front of them.” But despite the fact that her weight is now more in line with conventional Hollywood standards, Rhimes feels she still doesn’t fit in.
“These days, I feel like a chunky spy in a thinner world,” Rhimes quipped. “Strangers tell fat jokes in front of me. Jokes not meant for me. But… completely for the woman I used to be 150 pounds ago. The woman I could be again one day. The woman I will always be inside. Because being thinner doesn’t make you a different person. It just makes you thinner.”
Modestly, Rhimes admitted to readers that she wasn’t the most authoritative voice on the subject. Instead, she directed her fans to Hunger: A Memoir of My Body, a book published by feminist writer Roxane Gay. Rhimes claimed that it would “change how you look at the world” and “give you the gift of standing in another woman’s shoes.”
Of course, Rhimes has also felt the benefits of her weight loss and the general challenge of saying yes to everything which inspired her memoir. In a 2015 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Rhimes said, “I said yes to my kids in a way I had never done before. My daughter says to me all the time, ‘Wanna play?’ There are so many times, I said, ‘I can’t right now.’ I decided every time she asked, I would say yes.”
Rhimes continued, “So it doesn’t matter if I am wearing an evening gown and heading out to the [Directors Guild] Awards, or I have my bags on my shoulder and I am heading out to work, I drop everything and get down on my hands and knees and play. You know, she’s three. It’s ten minutes, and she loves it, and it’s changed my sense of being a mother and my sense of pride in being a mother.”
So how exactly did Rhimes shift so much weight in such a short space of time? Well, the answer is pretty simple. She told entertainment magazine show Extra in 2015, “I just changed everything I ate, and I hated all of that. And then I hate exercising and I did that, too.”
Rhimes added, “I eat everything I want to eat but I try to make it much less and smaller portions. But you change what your palate wants. I’m suddenly craving fish and salad. It’s upsetting. It’s like, ‘Where’s my cake?’” However, Rhimes did admit that she now has “a lot of extra energy so I feel much better.”
But there’s one particular foodstuff that the new Rhimes craves more than anything. In the same email about her weight loss, she revealed, “I miss eating all the fried chicken. And I don’t just mean that I miss eating all the fried chicken on my plate. Or that I miss eating all the fried chicken I can find. No. I miss eating all the fried chicken. All of it. Every piece, everywhere.”