An alternate version of this post can be found at The Huffington Post. To save my inbox, comments on this version of the post are closed, but feel free to move discussion to the HuffPo version.
Here are some quotes Jennifer Lawrence has made over the years, regarding her weight:
“I’d rather look chubby on screen and like a person in real life.”
“In Hollywood, I’m obese. I’m considered a fat actress. I eat like a caveman. I’ll be the only actress that doesn’t have anorexia rumors! I’m never going to starve myself for a part. I’m invincible. I don’t want little girls to be like, ‘Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I’m going to skip dinner!’ That was something I was really conscious of during training. I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong, not thin and underfed.”
“If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I’m like, ‘You can go f– yourself.”
“What are you gonna do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That’s just dumb.”
Tumblr celebrates her in .gif as a paragon of quirk and body acceptance:
One thing that may have escaped your notice, in the orgiastic celebration of JLaw realness that is the internet, is that Jennifer Lawrence looks like this:
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.
First of all, consider her quotes. She would rather look chubby on screen, but like a person in real life. This is a message of positivity only for people who consider themselves chubby, and it comes at the expense of women who are thin. Maybe they’re thin because they’re sick. Maybe, they just like being thin, or they’re naturally slender. What this quote is saying is that these women aren’t people. I want to know, internet: at what percentage of body fat do women earn the right to be people?
I’m certain that a lot of my fellow fatties looked at that quote and rolled their eyes. We know that being fat doesn’t grant one personhood, because our alleged lack of self-control and dignity are directly linked to that body fat percentage. Fat people are not people. They’re fat people. So, what does that quote do? It’s not empowering to anyone but women who look like Jennifer Lawrence. And it’s not a coincidence that she just happens to be the Coke-bottle standard we’re told men should prefer.
So, consider all those .gifs at the top of this post. The ones where she talks about how much food she eats, how she loves McDonald’s fries. Would the internet have embraced those quotes coming from, oh, I don’t know…
I’ve noticed a funny thing about Melissa McCarthy. Well, besides the obvious, that she’s funny. But I’ve noticed that when Jennifer Lawrence talks about her weight, she talks about how much food she eats, and how she’s never going to diet to be thin. And when Melissa McCarthy is quoted about her weight, this is what she says:
“I don’t really know why I’m not thinner than I am.”
“I want to be healthy.”
“I just don’t lose weight easily.”
“Sometimes I wish I were just magically a size 6 and I never had to give it a single thought.”
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. Every single one of those quotes might as well have just said, “Sorry I’m fat and you have to look at me, everyone.” But it’s all she’s allowed to say, in the confines of our culture. If Melissa McCarthy had said, “If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I’m like, ‘You can go f– yourself,” the response will most assuredly not be, “How brave! How strong! What a good role model!” The response will be, “What a bad example, encouraging people to be unhealthy! We have an obesity epidemic! Open your eyes, fat is not healthy, sexy, or acceptable! How very dare she!”
Imagine if Melissa McCarthy had made so many public comments about food and McDonald’s. It wouldn’t be cute or funny, it would be schtick. Look at the fat woman, being human and hungry for something bad for her! How grotesquely humorous it is when fat people eat! When Jennifer Lawrence makes these comments, it’s acceptable, because her body is still pleasing to our cultural expectation of voluptuous, slim-waisted, long-necked female beauty.
Comments about how much food Jennifer Lawrence loves to eat further builds the unicorn-like mystique of actresses who maintain cultural expectations of slenderness while claiming that they eat whatever they want and never work out. Is it more damaging to a fat woman’s self-esteem to see a thin woman on a movie screen, or to see that thin woman calling herself fat and claiming her celebrated figure is the product of eating McDonald’s and hating exercise? I’m fat. I eat a lot of McDonald’s. I do exercise, though I sometimes hate it… so, why then, when I admit to these things, am I a public health crisis, and slender, beautiful women who say them are positive role models? I’m pretty sure you know where this is going.
When Jennifer Lawrence says it’s “dumb” to go hungry to make other people happy, she’s saying it with the carefree attitude of a woman who probably will never have to make that choice to conform. Yes, she might be asked to diet for a role. But a woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t have to shop for her clothes in online stores only, because no physical storefronts carry her size. A woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence probably isn’t going to have a stranger try to stage an impromptu intervention in a Pizza Hut because they’re so, so concerned for her “health.” If a woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence goes to her doctor to complain of an ailment, she’ll be offered diagnostic tests instead of a diet plan. Jennifer Lawrence can say it’s “dumb” to go on a diet, but Jennifer Lawrence might not be facing weight-related prejudice or illness. Jennifer Lawrence may never be forced to make the choice between going hungry to lose weight versus having a knee and hip replacement at thirty-five.
I’m sure Jennifer Lawrence has body issues. She is a woman in the U.S., after all. Body issues come pre-installed at birth. But simply feeling bad about your own weight doesn’t give you license to shame the bodies of women who are thinner than you are, or the choices of women who are fatter than you are.
What’s even more troubling is that this mythos of the body-image warrior that the internet has created for Jennifer Lawrence has allowed her to say some pretty shitty things without much consequence. As long as she’s the down-to-earth, quirky, “body positive” weirdo, we can let bisexuality erasing and transphobic comments slide?
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. She is a thin woman, exhibiting the thin privilege (and I know how much people hate that phrase) of making self-conscious body remarks while the rest of the world rushes to assure her that she’s gorgeous. Jennifer Lawrence’s public image has been built on a foundation of fat girl drag. She can call herself fat in interviews. She can actually believe she is fat, if she wants to. But she is not a fat woman, and her experiences do not speak to the experiences of actual fat people, no matter how strenuously Tumblr works to make it seem so.