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