By Talia Kollek
Earlier this year, much to the excitement of fans, The Hunger Games came to the cinema. The film was based upon Suzanne Collins’ book series, which portrays a dystopian future that pits children against each other in an arena to fight to the death. Cast as the resourceful protagonist was Jennifer Lawrence - a talented young actress from Kentucky. Upon her selection a few critics complained that her body did not accurately represent the role. Among the more civil objections included the opinion of Manohla Dargis of The New York Times, who claimed that [a] few years ago Ms. Lawrence might have looked hungry enough to play Katniss, but now, at 21, her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit. The Hollywood Reporter exemplified the less eloquent comments on the issue by referring to Lawrence’s problem as lingering baby fat. The remarks about Lawrence’s weight prompted her to give an interview on the subject to Elle magazine.
The interview should have been a step forward for the body positivity movement. Here we have an actress with quickly ascending fame that has publicly fallen victim to criticism of her body and has now been given a microphone. This was a chance to tell women everywhere that they too can be an actress, regardless of their size. What Lawrence unfortunately ended up accomplishing was what I like to call “skinny shaming,” or the degradation of skinny women.
In a response to the urgings to become thinner, Lawrence states that she wants “to look like a woman, [not] a little boy.” My question is how do you differentiate between the two looks? Is a small woman any less of a woman than a larger one? In connecting her womanhood to her size and shape, Lawrence only reaffirms comments made by reporters like Dargis, who imply that her voluptuousness is a key aspect to being female. Why would anyone trying to promote self-esteem want to alienate women who are a size 6 and smaller?
Before proceeding, I think it is important to acknowledge the privilege that comes with being a size that is favoured by the fashion industry. Being between the dress sizes of 4 to 12 means that you can walk into a store and most likely find clothing that you like and that will suit you. Being a size above or below this range makes shopping a nightmare. Working in retail, I have seen the struggles that some people have to go through to find an outfit that suits them. Being a size 16 myself, the most interesting phenomena I have encountered is that women around or above my size assume I am their ally in some war against skinny women everywhere. I have had customers openly degrade my slender female co-worker without knowing a thing about them, telling me how much they “hate her” and “people like her”. They quickly label themselves as “real women” and express disgust towards skinny bodies and those that find them attractive. Do skinny women have privilege when it comes to clothes shopping? Yes. Does that make them deserving of this type of treatment? No.
This war pitting fat against skinny should be recognized as an unnecessary conflict between women that only perpetuates self-hatred and unhealthy body image on both sides.
Instead of trying to change ourselves or each other, the body positivity movement must stop putting constraints on what constitutes womanhood and what is deemed attractive. In expressing her desire to stay a certain size and be a woman, not a “little boy, Lawrence is defining what a real woman should look like, dismissing those with a lower BMI as less worthy of a feminine identity.
Just to be clear, having preferences towards one body type or another is no crime, but being prescriptive about other people’s figures is unacceptable. Appreciate whatever physical features you enjoy and don’t be ashamed of it, but do not tell others what constitutes sex appeal.
The message Lawrence should have delivered in her interview is that all bodies are sexy and equally worthy of praise.