Jennifer Lawrence and Body Shaming. Really?

Cant_WIN_by_dopey_templerozThe latest on Jennifer Lawrence, whose praises I and others have sung as a positive role model for a healthier body image, is this: her refusal to diet, her openness about loving to eat, and her insistence that her Hunger Games character, Katniss Everdeen, not be skinny as a rake–it is all a thin cloak over the body shaming reality.

This blog post on Jenny Trout/Abigail Barnette’s blog Sweaters for Days quotes Jennifer Lawrence as saying, “I’d rather look chubby on screen and like a person in real life.” And then Trout says:

Let’s concede the point here that she is, perhaps, a size or two above the Hollywood accepted norm. Let’s also concede the point that it’s admirable, being the star of a movie franchise aimed at teens, that she is concerned about the effect a too-svelte appearance might have on her audience, who are already bombarded with negative body messages every day. I’m not making this post to attack Jennifer Lawrence. I’m making this post to attack the rabid fandom that has grown around her.

I’m not going to cover the fact that it’s fucked up that a girl like Jennifer Lawrence has to justify her perfectly gorgeous body to every single media consumer in the world. We all know that’s fucked up. Let’s focus instead on the fact that in order to appease our own self-doubt about our weight, we, the internet, have decided to ignore how body-shaming the entire image of JLaw, “Spirit Animal” to fat girls everywhere, really is.

She added the bold type because people were pouncing on her in the (rather nasty) comments.

The post gets really interesting when she brings in a comparison with Melissa McCarthy, who does not express, and arguably would not so easily get away with expressing, a love of food and eating and a refusal to diet.  There is no question that thin privilege allows Jennifer Lawrence, who may not be as thin as they come in Hollywood but who still fits into a cultural norm of relative slenderness, to promote the “radical idea” that women and girls should not have to lose weight to have acceptable bodies.

But I do think it’s unfair to call her out for body shaming.  The comments on that blog post make it clear that people still assume that Jennifer Lawrence can eat as she does because she works out, and that Melissa McCarthy must not work out at all (in fact, one of the comments says exactly that–the comments are astonishingly mean-spirited). Genetics have a lot to do with it. Some people are just going to be larger than others even if you hold activity and food intake constant.  It’s not a simple formula that determines size, shape, and body fat percentage. Melissa McCarthy saying that she doesn’t understand why she’s not thinner than she is is a very good demonstration of the frustrating facts.

After I posted a link to the body-shaming blog post on my Facebook page, a friend commented that women just can’t win. And she’s right.  What would we rather Jennifer Lawrence do?  Here’s a young woman who recognizes that she has influence with girls and young women because she plays a popular character, and makes a conscious choice to use that influence in a positive way. Should she just stay silent?

And while it’s perceptive to note that it’s easier for her body-positive message to be heard by the mainstream because she has the appearance of someone who we perceive to be fit and strong, it’s still important that women hear what she has to say. Jenny Trout has clarified that she is not attacking Jennifer Lawrence, but rather the media for lauding Lawrence as a role model.

But the fact is, she is a role model.  Girls care what she has to say.  If the staggering statistics about girls and dieting are true, then even average-sized girls feel pressure to lose weight and to diet.  If Jennifer Lawrence can successfully nudge them away from the idea that they should cave into the pressure to diet, then that’s a good thing.  She has been widely quoted as saying, “If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I’m like, ‘You can go f– yourself.”

That’s a great quote. It would be something special to hear teenaged girls all over the place saying that instead of being in a perpetual state of body hatred and attempting to drop a few pounds.  As for the quote about looking chubby on the screen and like a person in real life, I’m not sure what to make of it other than that I’ve heard her interviewed and read a lot of other things she’s said, and the overall gist sounds body positive. If she consistently said things that gave us a reason to think she is secretly trying to body shame people who are larger than she is, that would be a different matter.

So despite that I think Jenny Trout provides an interesting perspective in pointing out that thin privilege is at work here, I’m not ready to agree that the media should stop reporting on Jennifer Lawrence’s anti-dieting and body-accepting attitude. And while I don’t deny that Melissa McCarthy can’t offer quite the same narrative, there are other positive body image role models. Adele, for example, has said that she isn’t preoccupied with her body. Her body, she says, isn’t stopping her from doing anything she wants to do. She recommends: “The first thing to do is be happy with yourself and appreciate your body– only then should you try to change things about yourself.”

The more celebrity women who can influence girls and women to be more accepting of themselves, the better.  Average-sized women like Jennifer Lawrence can contribute constructively to this conversation as much as larger women like Melissa McCarthy and Adele.  Why? Because it’s not only women who are larger than the average who struggle with body image and who feel pressured from a very young age to diet.

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, yoga enthusiast, vegan, knitter, runner.

16 thoughts on “Jennifer Lawrence and Body Shaming. Really?

  1. Caitlin says:

    Thank you for this. I didn’t share the original post because I really disliked the way the author acted like it was Jennifer Lawrence doing the actual body shaming. I felt her take lacked nuance (as evidenced by the fact that she had to go back and clarify her original point) and was pretty unfair to Lawrence. I get that people are experiencing J.Law fatigue but it still doesn’t make something like this okay.

  2. Ricky Pearl says:

    Jenifer Lawrence is pretty awesome I think. I watched a movie of her named ‘Winter Bones’ and I really like her in movie. She really acted well in that movie and was pretty as well.

  3. The more celebrity women who can influence girls and women to be more accepting of themselves, the better. Average-sized women like Jennifer Lawrence can contribute constructively to this conversation as much as larger women like Melissa McCarthy and Adele. Why? Because it’s not only women who are larger than the average who struggle with body image and who feel pressured from a very young age to diet.

    I think you summed it up pretty well right here. Thanks for this!

  4. Kimberly says:

    I was bothered by that blog post as well. Call-out marathons which jump from topic to topic are attacks and undermine the argument. I took that comment about “not attacking” to be in bad faith because she seems to not be able to finish the post without implying that Lawerence’s thin privilage has led her to “say some pretty shitty things” which after I followed the link to another blog don’t sound any shittier than what your average 20 year old says (And really? Dreds are cultural appropriation? Seems a bit far fetched). Implying that one privilege somehow activates/enables another in the way Trout does really cheapens what might have been a useful discussion of privilege.

  5. Helen says:

    This is a really well-written post–thank you for saying all the things I was thinking but couldn’t put words to myself after reading Trout’s article. Of course Jennifer Lawrence benefits from thin privilege, but I think that they way she handles it is admirable given her circumstances.

  6. katwhit says:

    Thanks for this. Sometimes I feel we go a little too far in reading into things. It stands that by Hollywood standards Lawrence is ‘overweight,’ and that’s the world she’s surrounded by. It’s a perfectly acceptable analogy for what it’s like to be overweight by real world standards, I think.

  7. Keri says:

    I think Trout goes overboard and in doing so, totally feeds (no pun intended) women’s/society’s unhealthy, sad dialogue around the “perfect” female form. Her point seemed buried in what comes across as cattiness. Not what she was aiming for, I’m sure, but a bit of that response from me.

  8. blair says:

    One of the most inaccurate things Trout has to say is on
    _behalf_
    of Melissa McCarthy, and that is that McCarthy has not said similar things as Jennifer Lawrence. Um, yeah, she totally has.
    She has pointed out that other people have a problem with her weight. But that it doesn’t stop her from being funny, smart and beautiful. (I can’t cite at the moment, but I do recall this, and it is one of the reasons why she is someone I admire).

  9. haley says:

    Appreciate you eloquently addressing the issue. One of the quotes in the original article sounded incomplete to me, so I checked. Quite frankly, I felt like I’d be attacked in the comments for posting it there, but people here seem civil.
    According to IMDB the full quote was,
    “I don’t really diet or anything. I’m miserable when I’m dieting and I like the way I look. I’m really sick of all these actresses looking like birds… I’d rather look a little chubby on camera and look like a person in real life, than look great on screen and look like a scarecrow in real life.”
    Context is always a good thing, right? :)

    • Laura says:

      I fail to see how the context given here in any way elucidates the portion of the quote cited in Trout’s article. If anything the quote now seems to specify what type of non-human skinny people are: scarecrows. Whoop-dee-doo. Skinny people have now been upgraded from amorphous non-human status to scarecrow status. Let us all kneel at the altar that is Jennifer Lawrence.

  10. wikispeedia says:

    While I don’t agree perfectly with her specific arguments for. I do agree with her sentiment that Jennifer Lawrence should be looked at as a role model. She’s in no way “overweight” and while her self-deprecation is actually a proven human tactic (read: psychology of self-deprecation), it is no different than praising someone like Donal Trump for being frugal and using coupons, or buying things “on sale”. She is already an empowered member of society (not to mention, her beauty, another famous societal advantage), and the suggestion that her attitude and demeanor is inspirational to people carrying more weight/woman (or even men!–and anyone outside of the gender binary as well!) is really quite sad, and certainly misguided at best.

    In that way, I do agree with her.

    Also in that way, many people have misconstrued her article to be attacking the said celebrity herself, of which she does not deserve to be attacked/criticized. But the attacking of the general public/media’s reaction to create her into some sort of inspirational figure or role-model is quite valid. And in my opinion, for the reasons stated above, it is a well-argued critique.

  11. […] remember when Jennifer Lawrence got called out for body-shaming by Jenny Trout?  I picked up on that, claiming it was a bit harsh.  Well, one of our readers pointed out that one of the quotes was […]

  12. Great article! I completely agree that Jennifer Lawrence is a role model to young girls and that the media should continue portraying her as such. However, I think we need to stop using the term “thin privilege” because it is offensive to naturally thin women, who have their own insecurities to deal with. We all have the right to speak out against body shaming because we all have insecurities, no matter our size. Read more of my thoughts on this topic on my blog: http://hey–beautiful.blogspot.com/2014/02/skinny-girls-have-insecurities-too.html

  13. Jennifer Cole says:

    But that’s the problem. What about those skinny girls who are getting told everyday that their a twig or they should go eat a cheeseburger? Jennifer Lawrence made me feel bad for being skinny. Like it was my choice that my body broke down food faster than others ( faster metabolism). Like it was my choice that I can’t eat large quantities of food. I understand she’s trying to make young girls accept their body but she’s making skinny people the villain. Some people are not skinny by choice. Jennifer Lawrence is telling skinny girls your either on a diet or sick to be that way. I lost a lot of respect for Jennifer.

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