It seemed almost inevitable, in many ways. After months, even years, of what seemed like impossibly positive media treatment, Jennifer Lawrence is now at the beginnings of a backlash. While some people might be sticking to her creative chops — arguing that she isn’t talented enough to be receiving the kind of industry accolades she’s been getting — others are taking issue with her public persona, notably, her “I eat food, I am a real girl, I am so hungry, ha! ha! ha!” schtick. There has been discussion recently, in formal articles, Twitter conversations, and Tumblr posts which have accrued thousands of notes, about the flippant way she addresses body image and weight in the media. The idea is that her comments about being “chubby” on camera or “obese” by Hollywood standards — not to mention her constant discussion of all the unhealthy food she enjoys — is only acceptable and lauded because she is, physically, very beautiful and trim.
And this is true, for the most part. Her ability to straddle the line between “traditional media darling” and “the kind of just-like-us celebrity that Tumblr enjoys GIF-ing into oblivion” is undoubtedly due, in part, to her being very conventionally attractive. And it’s also fair to resent the almost novelty-level good press she’s been receiving from every outlet possible. The degree to which she is lauded for living and speaking like a normal human being, even if it’s a vast improvement from the entirely manufactured personalities many celebrities seem to have, can feel grating and unfair. Hell, from time to time, I’ll even make a snarky comment about her cloying ubiquity:
uh oh looks like jennifer lawrence did another kooky thing, get ready to hear about it and nothing but it for the next 72 hours
— Chelsea Fagan (@Chelsea_Fagan) December 19, 2013
But when we start taking her to task for the offhand comments she has made, often in the middle of a chaotic red carpet interview, about “that picture of Val Kilmer on the beach,” or being perceived as a “fat actress” or wanting to look “chubby” on camera so as to look “real” in real life — this is when it becomes truly unfair. Are some of her comments about body image a bit misguided? Yeah, sure they are. But is she a very young woman from a very normal background who has been thrust into the highest level of celebrity imaginable, who is trying her best to navigate it and to be a positive role model while doing so. The fact that she doesn’t achieve total perfection, the fact that she occasionally slips up, does not negate the fact that her version of celebrity is about a thousand times less harmful than the “Fashion Police” brand of expecting women to be rail-thin and then humiliating them when they don’t hit that mark flawlessly.
There are, of course, two reasons why it is both easier and more satisfying to make JLaw the face of these crusades against the unfairness of the industry: First, she is way too famous and beloved, and there is nothing people enjoy more than seeing someone in her position fall. Second, using her as a scapegoat — or focusing on her minor missteps while ignoring the vicious machine that surrounds her — provides the Internet Outrage Machine with yet another witch to burn. In the light of her fire, we all get to feel superior, and in flaying her over a couple of misplaced words, we get to make the perfect the enemy of the good (the internet’s favorite pastime). On a human level, it makes perfect sense that her beloved, junk food-indulging public image would eventually be torn down and used as a spectrum through which to view Hollywood’s ills. On a rational level, it’s totally unfair and makes us assholes.
As with most things like this — when there is an enormous societal ill that we want to address in a concise way that makes us feel satiated — it’s much easier to pluck the most conveniently visible symptom of the problem and hate it. If you wanted to discuss the problem that Hollywood (and the media in general) have with women’s bodies, you could spend the rest of your life only addressing that topic and barely scratch the surface. There are real culprits: fashion designers, PR people, the aforementioned Fashion Police (if we’re going to burn a witch, by the way, could it at least be Kelly Osbourne?), the casting directors who will call a size-zero actress fat and deny her a role on that basis alone. There are real puppeteers with strings here, but they are big and nebulous and with our remotes or our dollars we are often complicit in their horrors, so they’re not as fun or as satisfying to attack.
It’s very easy from behind our keyboards to judge the way Jennifer is responding to the immense pressures of her celebrity and tear apart the occasional mistakes she makes. But, no matter how tempting it may be, making a largely gracious and intelligent young woman the target in any way will likely solve no problems. I cannot imagine — and be honest, neither can you — how I would deal with the kind of challenges and catch-22s she likely faces on a daily basis when it comes to how to represent herself. To carry the weight of a franchise like The Hunger Games (and the role model status for millions of young girls that goes along with it) is a monstrous responsibility. And, despite the media’s backfiring insistence on making her your NEW BEST FRIEND AT ALL COSTS, she’s doing a pretty good job. I know that it gives us a rush of righteousness to “call her out” on her offenses, but instead, let’s try to emphasize the kind of industry she is having to operate in. It may be uglier, it may be more difficult, but if we try really hard to stay on topic, we might actually do some real good.