Physique Helps Mo'Nique Strike It Big

Actress and talk show host Mo'Nique
Actress and talk show host Mo'Nique

It's showtime and Mo'Nique is pumped.

"The Mo'Nique Show," BET's new primetime hit, is part talk show, part party, and part revival meeting.

Driving it all is Mo'Nique's message: Mo' classy, mo' sassy. Big without apology, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann.

"I take pride in saying I'm a fat girl, fabulous and thick, fluffy and tender, full and tasty," Mo'Nique told Strassmann. "Don't it just make you happy to say that?"

It certainly makes her audience happy - many of them big people themselves.

"When you actually look on TV and you see someone who is just like yourself, it's a confirmation that 'It's OK for me to feel this way,'" an audience member told Strassmann. "It's Mo'Nique!"

That message has fed a career that includes stand-up comedy, TV, music videos, books and movies.

Who else has put on a beauty pageant for plus-size women?

"I came up with the idea of a full-figured beauty pageant because for years all we had were those other pageants, y'all know, the skinny ones," Mo'Nique told her audience.

Even on the day she was born, Monique Imes made a big impression.

"Big from birth?" Strassmann asked.

"Big from birth," Mo'Nique said. "Nine pounds, 13 ounces. They told my mother it was baby fat and I would grow out of it. At 41 years old, I am now 217 pounds. I didn't grow out of it. I grew into it."

"You are what you are," Strassmann said.

"I am what I am," Mo'Nique said.

She staked her claim when she was in her 20s and on stage for the first time at a Baltimore comedy club.

"My first joke was, 'Y'all give it up for my fat black ass, and I'm not apologizing for it,'" Mo'Nique told Strassmann.

She traveled the country doing standup that was big and brassy - and too raunchy for morning TV.

A starring role in the UPN sitcom "The Parkers" put her in front of a national audience. Movies like "Phat Girlz" kept her there.

Fat jokes make easy punch lines, but there's a serious side to Mo'Nique's message too: Size matters in health matters.

"I mean, how do you know when you're not only big, but you're too big?" Strassmann asked.

"When you can't tie your shoes, when you can't go up a flight of steps, when you can't go outside and run and play with your kids," Mo'Nique said. "When you have to go to the emergency room at the hospital because you're having a problem breathing, that's when you have to say to yourself, 'This is a problem. I need to do something about it.'"

It became a problem for Mo'Nique because she wasn't always this big. She was bigger.

That worried her husband, Sidney Hicks. Friends since high school, they married three years ago. He's also her new show's executive producer.

Two years ago he staged an intervention in their bathroom.

"I'm in the mirror, baby, posin'," Mo'Nique told her audience. "'Cause in my mind, I'm sex kitten, givin' it. And he said, 'Mamma, how much do you weigh?' And I said, 'Two hundred and sixty two pounds.' And he said, 'That's too much. And I want you for a lifetime.'"

"So, for you, I mean, was that a hard conversation first of all?" Strassmann asked Hicks.

"Yes and no," Hicks said. "Yes in a sense that I knew it would hurt her. No in a sense that as I said to her then, 'I would rather deal with the hurt right now than being hurt worse later on because I didn't tell you.'"

By improving her diet and hitting the gym, she's lost more than 40 pounds. That actually disappointed some of her audience.

"I had some big women saying, 'How dare you? Because you told us that big is beautiful,'" Mo'Nique told Strassmann. "I want to be very clear about what I've always said: Big is beautiful. Let's be big, beautiful, healthy people.

So now we'll see if America has a big appetite for Mo'Nique.

She's getting Oscar buzz for her latest movie role, as an abusive mother in the film "Precious."

And every night, she gets to say whatever's on her mind, a nationwide stage to spread the unique, Mo'Nique message.

"Am I wrong for not saying that beauty has to be blonde hair and blue eyes and a size zero?" Mo'Nique said. "Now, that is beautiful. But beauty is also black with nappy hair, and it could be a size 52. Beauty comes in everything. It's what your eyes perceive to be beautiful. I just don't choose to buy into the foolishness of what this country says we deem is beauty. Who are you?"

More Stories and Videos from the "Sunday Morning" Special Edition, "Size Matters":
Obesity: A Weighty Issue
At Duke, Doctors Teach Obesity Ownership
In Slim Role, Bertinelli Beats Back Bulge
Deep-Frying Is Where the Magic Happens
A Parisian Food Fight
A Body of Work: Artistic Ideals of Beauty
Slideshow: Body Art
The Axis of Food Evil: Fat, Sugar and Salt
Welcome to Thin City: Colorado's Low Rate of Obesity
Nancy Giles with Big Questions on BMI

  • strassmannbio2011.jpg
    Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001 and is based in the Atlanta bureau.