Does Jennifer Lawrence have it right about fat shaming?

12.19.13 4 years ago 10 Comments

AP Exchange

What’s so great about Jennifer Lawrence? Everything, duh. This week, we saw the Oscar winner as her usual unvarnished, unrehearsed self in a sit-down for ABC’s “Barbara Walters Presents: The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2013.” Because Walters’ modus operandi seems to be trying to make celebrities cry or scream, the topic of weight had to be addressed. Guess what? J-Law had some opinions. 

“Why is humiliating people funny?” she wondered. “And I get it, I do it too. We all do it.”

“I think when it comes to media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect it has on our younger generation on these girls that are watching these television shows and picking up how to talk and how to be cool,” she said. 

“So all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing an ugly dress. And the word fat! I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. I mean, if we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?”

She has a point. And, being the off-the-cuff kind of gal she is, I don’t think she wanted (or needed) to ponder the many complexities of the issue, especially not with Barbara Walters. But I hope that next time she brings up the topic (and she has repeatedly, to Elle and, most memorably, Harper’s Bazaar UK, in which she recounts being told she would be fired from a part for being too fat — and this is after winning an Oscar) she maybe addresses the big, knotty monster fat shaming really is. Blaming the media (or even just Joan Rivers) is fine, but it’s easy. While Lawrence has the world captivated, she might as well poke the bear.

I’m sure Lawrence is mostly talking about all the supermarket tabloids features on, say, bad bikini butts (usually run opposite reckless diet plans), but here’s the catch: fat shaming sells. The media wouldn’t do it if it didn’t. This can become a chicken and the egg debate pretty quickly, but as complicit as the media is in fat shaming, it’s not doing it in a vacuum. 

Can we point a finger at fashion? Yes and no. Most designers would love nothing more than to just make size 0 clothing, but, as any fan of “Project Runway” knows, it’s easier to design an outfit for a human clothes hanger than a curvy figure. Television and the movies have long leaned toward casting lollipop heads (women whose heads bobble on top of unnaturally thin bodies), and the whole “the camera adds ten pounds” line hasn’t helped matters, either. 

When Kirstie Alley came out with a series called “Fat Actress” in 2005, it was a shock that she was leading with a perceived flaw (too bad the series wasn’t funny enough to live up to the in-your-face title). It’s not as if we haven’t seen large-sized actors and actresses through the years. As much ballyho as there is about Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson, before them was Roseanne (and a then-larger John Goodman); before Billy Gardell, we had Kevin James — there are always a few people in the mix, going right back to silent movies (Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, the list goes on). Every few years someone in the media picks up on a “trend” in actors and actresses reflecting “real” people, but the overall look of the people we see on screens doesn’t ever change all that much. 

But Lawrence may have, in her offhand way, gotten to the root of the problem. “I get it, I do it too,” she said of fat shaming. “We all do it.” So, yes, they’re all to blame — the media, the fashion industry, Hollywood. Shame on them all, sure. Changes can and should be made. But aren’t they just a reflection? Aren’t we all at least a little to blame (as Lawrence implied) in this nasty, shameful habit, the last so-called “acceptable” realm of bias? Given that the size of the average American increases on an almost yearly basis, maybe it’s misplaced self-loathing — judging those in the public eye is easier and, yes, safer. 

The idea that anyone would tell Jennifer Lawrence to lose weight is deplorable — but how many people say exactly that to their own teenage daughters or students or friends? Fat shaming is a many-headed hydra not easily changed, and even telling Joan Rivers to shut it won’t make much of a difference, even if she listened. 

Who do you think is truly to blame for fat shaming? 

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