• Fri, Jan 3 - 11:25 am ET

Jennifer Lawrence Does More Harm Than Good With Her “I’m Chubby” Comments

The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences Hosts An Official Academy Members Screening Of "American Hustle"Jennifer Lawrence is certainly on the road to winning every Most Likable Celebrity Award ever if they existed, what with her adorable tripping, congenial dorkiness, seeming lack of a filter, and “normal” girl brand. Lawrence has been heralded as a paragon of positive body image for her comments about her body, but Jenny Trout over at The Huffington Post makes a compelling argument that Lawrence’s statements about her body are only accepted because she fits our beauty ideal, and may be doing more harm than good.

In her post titled “Jennifer Lawrence Body-Shames You More Than You Might Realize,” Trout aggregated Lawrence’s most talked-about body image quotes, and here’s a few examples:

“I’d rather look chubby on screen and like a person in real life.” – Mirror

“In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress, I’m Val Kilmer in that one picture on the beach.”– HuffPost

“I eat like a caveman. I’ll be the only actress that doesn’t have anorexia rumors.” –Entertainment Weekly

“What are you gonna do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That’s just dumb.”– The Daily Mail

Here’s the thing about all of this. Lawrence isn’t chubby. She isn’t ugly. She fits the very narrow parameters for what we consider beautiful, and has been rewarded significantly for it. There’s something a bit tone deaf in pretending not to have thin or attractive privilege when you’re one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood, consistently lauded for your looks.

Trout brings up an astute point by comparing Lawrence to Melissa McCarthy, who is an actual fat woman. While Lawrence talks publicly about her weight, it’s with a fuck-you attitude. To contrast, McCarthy says things like “I don’t know why I’m not thinner than I am. I don’t really drink soda; I don’t have a sweet tooth, and we eat healthfully at home. We’re all weird for broccoli and pureed-vegetable soup, which we almost always have a big pot of in the fridge — it’s so good!”

Because Melissa McCarthy actually is a fat woman, she isn’t allowed to make brash statements about body acceptance. She has to apologize for her body. Even the mild statements she has made about being comfortable with herself and her body are greeted with backlash from armchair internet physicians bleating about health and lifestyle choices.

Lawrence certainly isn’t the only conventionally beautiful celebrity to build her brand based on the pretense that she somehow doesn’t fit into the typical beauty ideal. Lena Dunham is the first who springs to mind, and she’s a huge offender both on Girls and in real life when it comes to perpetuating beauty standards by pretending she doesn’t fit them, and that she’s brave for looking “average.” As much as I love 30 Rock, Tina Fey‘s Liz Lemon social ineptitude was partly to hide the fact that Fey is conventionally beautiful, and it was silly to pretend otherwise with constant digs at her weight and appearance. I can even remember back to when I was in elementary school and I thought it was ridiculous that Lizzie McGuire wasn’t one of the popular girls. In what world is Hilary Duff the average, plain Jane who can’t get noticed? Not only do these actresses and roles sustain the notion that there are two types of women–attractive and not–they make it clear that we can’t even stoop to the level of casting someone who fits the latter. Ugly women are too upsetting to even look at, so we cast beautiful women in those roles (both roles in movies/TV and in real life–arguably Lawrence plays the role of the ugly duckling as part of her brand) and just pretend they aren’t conventionally beautiful. And then we call them brave for pretending to be the worst thing of all, an ugly woman.

I don’t mean to vilify Lawrence personally, and I’m not sure that Trout intends to, either. The other side of all of this is that Lawrence is a person with significant body issues that she’s been vocal about–she may fit our cultural ideal now but was called fat in the past and internalized that negativity. A lot of what she says publicly may simply be her working out her own body issues, but the problem with celebrities is that we take their private struggles and turn them into fodder for public consumption. I would assume that it’s difficult for Lawrence to separate the brand from the person who’s struggling, and it’s not crazy for her thoughts not to match the reality of her appearance. Lawrence is simply an excellent example of our culture’s tolerance of positive body image from women who are slender and beautiful, and it’s this double standard that is inherently harmful.

As Trout explained:

The reason Jennifer Lawrence is allowed to be a body-positive role model to young girls and “chubby” women is because she is representative of conventional beauty. Jennifer Lawrence’s public image has been built on a foundation of fat girl drag. She can say she’s “obese” by Hollywood standards, but the claim is laughable when women like Melissa McCarthy also make their living in the same industry and aren’t afforded the privilege of unapologetic expression Lawrence enjoys as a conventionally attractive person.

The message of body acceptance built on Jennifer Lawrence’s soundbites only empowers those who are willing to ignore the fact that her statements reinforce our current cultural views, rather than subverting them.

When it comes to body image, we allow thin and beautiful women to love themselves or claim to not care about beauty standards, and then call them brave for doing so. On the occasion that we laud fat women (or women who are considered ugly in any capacity) for their self esteem, we do in such a patronizing way that it’s very clear that she loves herself in spite of a glaring shortcoming that we’ll continue to point out. Every time Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebrities claim that they don’t care that she’s “chubby,” she makes it clear that chubby is less desirable than the way she actually is, which is conventionally perfect.

Photo: Getty Images

What We're Reading:
Share This Post:
  • JennyWren

    This is what’s been bothering me about those comments for some time. If Lawrence genuinely feels that she’s under pressure to conform her body to unreasonable expectations, it’s a great thing that she feels confident enough to say so. But claiming that she’s “considered obese” by Hollywood standards is pretty laughable given her career trajectory so far. Bigger actresses don’t get lead dramatic or blockbuster roles, no matter how talented; they get character and comedic parts. I like that Lawrence speaks out, but I wish she would tone down this self-declared rebelliousness, because she’s done pretty well out of the machine by playing by it’s standards.

  • aCongaLine

    I like that she’s outspoken about this- I’ve always seen it as her calling bullshit on the industry’s standards. Whether she’s overweight or not is beside the point. She’s speaking her mind about the standards that Hollywood has, and the pressure that comes with it. I think it’s great that she uses her exposure as an actress to speak out about body image. When you’re the face of a franchise built on YA novels, kids are going to notice you. She could easily be saying things like “I’m horridly fat, and I’m on a new diet where I only eat air” instead of her general statement of “Hollywood standards say I’m fat, but I’m not fat, Hollywood is delusional. I like to eat like a normal human being.” I think it’s great. Refreshing. For her, and for the tweens and teens that look at her as Katniss Everdeen.

  • Lindsey Conklin

    I do like that Lawrence isn’t ridiculously thin, and hasn’t felt pressured into losing weight for roles. but I also think it’s ridiculous for her to call herself chubby because she is still quite thin. Maybe the justification is in terms of “holly wood standards” but still, I wish she would acknowledge that she’s a thin person.

    • arrow2010

      The point is by Hollywood standards she’s not thin enough. What they really prefer is Margot Robbie.

    • Samantha_Escobar

      But I think by Hollywood standards she is considered “thin enough,” as she has had a career that features a wide variety of roles including that of the romantic lead (something overweight women are rarely, if ever, given the chance to do). It’s wonderful that she has achieved these things, but if Hollywood’s standards disallowed her from doing so, she never would have.

    • arrow2010

      The point is the pressure is on JLaw to keep as thin as possible to keep raking in the $10 million paydays. You would think that is motivation enough when the hunger pains start coming after 10PM…

    • Kelly

      They’re practically the same size!! They have BOTH got to be a size two!

  • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

    This is a really great piece! It had been bugging me a bit, too. I like the analysis of McCarthy’s quotes.

  • Amanda

    I love this. I’m sitting here at home, the fat girl who isn’t conventionally attractive, seeing all of this stuff, and while I love Jennifer Lawrence deeply and want to be her best friend, her comments bother me. Her comments tell me that if she’s not the ideal, I’m as far away from the ideal as Pluto is from the Sun. It bothers me that girls, as well as guys, are hearing her comments and internalizing that she is what it looks like to be “chubby” and “unconventionally beautiful”. It bothers me that society tells me that the worst thing to be is me – the fumbling, awkward, ugly, fat girl. I love myself. I love my body. I hate that I am not “allowed” to love myself or my body. I hate that other people will not let me love myself or my body, like my dad, who constantly makes digs at my weight. And Jennifer Lawrence, who I have amazing respect for, makes me feel worse about myself because she’s putting me another notch down on the totem pole of beauty. If she’s ugly, I’m a monster. If she’s fat, I’m disastrously obese. While I’m all for her attacking the standards of beauty perpetuated by Hollywood, I’d rather have someone who looks a little more like me – Adele or Melissa McCarthy – stand up for women like me and get praised for it.

    • MammaSweetpea

      You n me, girl. <3

  • Tania

    Oh, nice, Jenny Trout had her blog post used on the Huffington Post! The original has quite a few interesting comments, too.

    http://jennytrout.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/jennifer-lawrence-body-shames-you-more-than-you-might-have-realized/

  • ErinMW

    So, basically what I’m hearing is, “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Because she is ‘pretty’, she’s not allowed to express the fact that body image issues can affect ANYONE, black, white, old, young, thin, average, fat, beautiful, ugly. “She’s pretty, so she has no right to joke about body image or express that she hears and feels the harsh standards put in place by Hollywood/society/etc!” YOU may perceive her as someone who is ‘conventionally attractive’ and really has no place saying things like “I’m obese by Hollywood standards,” or “I’d rather look chubby onscreen and look like a person in real life,” but she’s the one getting flack for the BS standards in her industry, and GOOD FOR HER that she’s not being apologetic! She is personally feeling the attacks and is giving it (and everyone else contributing to it) the finger! If Adele or Melissa McCarthy or someone else of their physiques did that, I’d applaud them as well, and you should too. Why can Jennifer Lawrence not also stand up and love her body and call people/society/Hollywood out on how these remarks are BS, and that you should love your body? Because, according to you, she’s not at the “bottom of the barrel”? It’s THAT kind of thinking that is messed up, and the fact that this really seems like some sort of weird ‘pretty girl shaming’… all of this shaming is stupid. Stop perpetuating it in EITHER direction.

  • Hillary511

    I entirely disagree. All of her comments that you showed, but mostly in interviews, are specifically about how she is not skinny for what is considered the standard of her profession, and therefore the standard for women in our culture. I see no problem with the way she talks. That being said, there’s no obligation for anyone to talk about their weight, and if Melissa McCarthy doesn’t want to I don’t feel she has to. Jennifer Lawrence wants to because she feels strongly about it.

  • J

    So..”conventionally pretty” women can’t have self esteem issues? Or body dysmorphia? Or they can have them, they just aren’t allowed to talk about them? Because it might hurt the feelings of someone who is subjectively less attractive then they are? Because if society views a person as thin, or pretty, her inner life must automatically be filled with fluffy bunnies and love and cupcakes, and she can’t ever possibly feel that she’s not good enough, or suffer from issues surrounding her weight and attractiveness? And this empowers women exactly how? It sounds to me like this article is right up there with those “real women” ads that claim that “real” women can’t possibly be thin. Gross.

  • OhOk

    Oh thank god. I was worried that the JLaw backlash you guys were predicting last month was never going to materialize.

  • Cecee

    Celebrities can say what they want. I really don’t see the appeal in Jennifer Lawrence besides beauty. All women can have self esteem issues: skinny, average, or fat. But I agree with the author that her comments do more harm than good. I think it is selfish for celebrities who have all the money and resources to look a certain way still complain IN PUBLIC about their body issues. Jennifer Lawrence has been groomed to perfection for each movie and people applaud her for it. Saying that she still feels like sh*t after all the expensive exercise training, clothes, and makeup just makes the average women feel like she can never make it.

  • KaleyD

    What may also be missed in this discussion is that it should be clear that Lawrence KNOWS she is pretty. She hasn’t said that she doesn’t like her body, that she thinks she is fat or ugly (correct me if I’m wrong). She is pointing these things out as way of confronting them. Women like McCarthy are in a very different casting category of 30+ mom/friend roles. Jennifer Lawrence’s “competition” (she’s way more talented than most) is the likes of Kristen Stewart, Emma Roberts, etc. They are young, pretty and very thin. They are what usually sell blockbusters. Lawrence’s roles have only started to get mainstream and she has overcome Hollywood stereotypes through her talent to land things like The Hunger Games trilogy. She doesn’t talk about how pretty she is because 1) Duh, look at her, 2) there is a line between self-promotion and conceit that even her lovely awkwardness may not pull off at this age, and 3) Everyone talks about how pretty she is, so why should she. Should Hollywood be less image-controlling? Yes. Is this a major push in the right direction for a popular, beautiful and talented young woman to tell the girls that look up to her that images are faked, people have things they want you to fit to and that its okay to fight them? Yes. Lawrence gets this attention because she is one of the few to stand out against these beauty standards. She can do that, whether she is pretty or not because people who are not sick stand out for medical research awareness, people who are not gay or transsexual stand up for LBGTQA rights.

    • Eileen

      It’s true – I’ve never heard her say that she isn’t pretty, or that she thinks she’s fat, just that Hollywood thinks she’s too fat to be leading lady in her twenties, and that she thinks that’s fucked up. It’s true that she is able to talk about eating without facing the repercussions that a larger woman would since no one other than Hollywood people thinks she has an unappealing figure, but that doesn’t make discriminatory practices any less real.

  • Cari

    Her comments are very obviously about how messed up Hollywood and the media’s standards are. What kind of mental gymnastics do you have to do to read anything into her comments other than “I’m clearly not fat or ugly [by society's standards] but the media makes a big deal about me for being famous, plain and fat – how fucked up is that?” How are you all reading enough about her to comment on her quotes but totally missing all the media gushing about how great it is that a plain, fat actress is doing well?

  • Tracy I

    Here’s another perspective on Jenny Trout’s analysis. Larger women don’t have the corner on the market for body image issues. Girls and women of all sizes feel cultural pressure to lose weight and hate their bodies. To say that Jennifer Lawrence “does more harm than good” is to overstate the lamentable fact that, in our culture, thin privilege exists. She definitely has a positive influence on girls by nudging them away from the idea that they have to diet themselves to ultra-thinness.

    http://fitisafeministissue.com/2014/01/02/jennifer-lawrence-and-body-shaming-really/

  • mse63

    How dare she call out Hollywood on its effed up body image views when she’s merely an average weight actress! The audacity! Let’s burn her on a stake! And yes, let’s also call her out on her telling the truth about how her body is perceived in Hollywood! That’s it, good job, guys! Tomorrow we’ll talk about all the men who dare to stand for women’s rights! Those bastards!

    • emeraldcity

      And there is the problem. She is not average weight. Average is a size 14 which she clearly is not.

  • James

    I love Jennifer, but I always found it kind of interesting that people acted like she was some big body advocate when she made cracks about Val Kilmer being fat and how she didn’t want to look like some skinny 13 year old boy. She’s a great actress and she makes good points, but people are putting her up on this impossible pedestal.

    • James

      My point is, she makes some good points but people acting like a skinny, blonde, white girl is making these revolutionary statements—especially when said person who fits the norm for societal conventions of beauty is skinny but calling themselves obese by Hollywood standards (no, she’s not—Octavia Spencer, Kate Winslet, etc. have those problems more than she does)…is problematic. I think we have this weird thing in celebrity culture where we either have to hate/love a star (Jennifer and Anne H are examples of this) or say they are our “perfect bff”….it’s like a lot of the blogs can’t acknowledge “oh hey, she makes some good points” without saying “everything she says is right and perfect.”

  • aky1ify

    I just want to point out that Lena Dunham is not conventionally beautiful by Hollywood’s standards. That’s not a dig at her – I just think it’s kind of ridiculous to lump her in with Jennifer Lawrence in terms of this topic

  • yeah yeah

    she started her career as a MODEL. She is the last person who needs to go around touting chubby acceptance. If she is so chubby for Hollywood….she would not be in Hollywood let alone get her foot in the door with modelling. She has a fit form with large, perky breasts. Why is she even acting like it’s an issue. Her face looks chubby on camera because of its lack of depth and she has a lazy eye and monolids. Those are the things that are not typical on a White woman in Hollywood. She looks Icelandic like Bjork to me or Sami like Zelwiger. But her body is absolutely desired by all and she knows it. I agree her comments are not doing anything for actual chubby girls. I doubt they feel an alliance with her.

  • Kelly

    Thank you! I have always been a fan of Jennifer Lawrence but it has always annoyed me that she calls herself fat or feels the need to defend her body. In no world is she ‘considered a fat actress’! No one would ask her to lose weight because she is very, very thin and I don’t buy for a minute that she can consume a whole pizza in one sitting unless it’s a small one. But I do have to disagree with the parts that say that Lena and Tina are doing the same thing. They are not conventionally beautiful and the jokes do make sense. Lena has been criticized for being to fat a number of times. And Hilary Duff did comes into her looks in a big way. During Lizzie McGuire she was average looking.

  • Dee

    As I went through the checkout I noticed that nearly all the magazine covers showed women, 90% of them were white, thin, young and pretty. The only exceptions to that were tabloid pictures of women in their natural state who did not fit the one of the above descriptions and usually were criticized for being normal looking.

    The other thing that stood out is that the only thing of relevance in the lives of these highly successful women was that they were dating, marrying or having kids. Before you jump on my I am not saying there is anything wrong with that, but it should be in context of everything else they are doing. Why is there no focus on what they like to read, what movies they enjoy, what car they bought and why?

    Do they like video games? Do they like to meditate? Are they good at math, science, do they like to take a telescope at night and sit out there with their kids looking at the stars (the ones that don’t have to be white, young, thin and bubbly if they are female). Where did they go on their last trip and what did they do, what do they think of politics, of science, of social issues? What skills do they have that we don’t know about, are they artists, do they like to paint, sew, cook, or make pottery?

    Nope all that we know about them is what they look like, how they feel about their bodies and what their current marital and or parenthood state is. The problem here is not what Jennifer said about her body, what she thinks about her body, or what her comments might make other women feel about their body. The problem is that we should not really care about it. There is much more about her that is much more interesting…at least I hope so.

  • Margo Taliväting

    I certainly dislike this article. It’s very one-sided interpretation about her quotes. She is saying this against Hollywood standards (where chubby really is less desirable). So many articles take her words out of context… or search only for articles that support their point. Look for example her extraTV interview or some others. She says she loves her body. Diversity is normal. Hollywood is lacking of it.