I am about to talk about negative body image. I consider myself qualified to write about this because I occasionally (read: often) have negative body image. Yes, women can take the easy way out and just blame the patriarchy. However, guess what, men also suffer from negative body image! Whoa! No way! PS: If you Google any celebrity, one of the top four search engine suggestions is usually “Insert Name Here weight.” That is a problem. We care way too much, guys.
Well-known actress Jennifer Lawrence has been in the spotlight lately because she supports what we are calling “body positivity.” I literally could not find a definition of that term on the Internet, but I interpret it to mean: accepting all body types as beautiful and good. That means that your body is fine. His body is fine. Your mom’s body is fine. In fact, those bodies are so fine that you don’t think about bodies as being much different from one another. In fact, you might even start to consider personality as something more important than appearance. But let’s not be too ambitious. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad here; I’m just trying to start a conversation.
Anyway, Jennifer Lawrence has made many comments on this subject, which you can easily track down on the Internet. Her words are not perfect (whose are?) and she is still body shaming in various ways through her commentary. She is quoted saying “I would rather look chubby on screen and like a person in real life.” This statement appalled many people, but I do not feel offended. I am not thin or obese, and I am not “conventionally beautiful” according to Hollywood’s standards. I hear a statement like that and think “amen sister” because what I hear is someone who I consider to be beautiful saying that she cares so little about people’s perception of her that she would face public scrutiny just to obtain happiness. One Huffington Post writer determined this to mean, “the message between the lines is that thin people don’t look like people” which I do not agree with. The message is that Hollywood’s standards say that looking chubby on camera is so unheard of and unacceptable that she had to make a conscious choice to go against the norm. In no way do Hollywood’s standards say that thin people don’t look like people. In fact, I think it is safe to say that frequently, Hollywood says that thin people are the only real people. This idea is a reason body positive role models like Jennifer Lawrence need to exist.
We live in an incredibly connected age where people follow celebrities through Twitter and Instagram and magazine covers and movies and TV shows and YouTube channels and blogs. We can see today’s trending topics, which are now present on Facebook as well as Twitter. We can get live updates sent to our phones about pop culture. We are receiving more body image overload than ever before, and the issue is that because of the Internet, we can anonymously say anything we want about anyone we want to. The same society that preaches body acceptance also buys the May issue of Cosmo that promises you the best beach body and the secret to Kim Kardashian’s flawless makeup. The same society that buys those magazines buys the new issue US Weekly with the newest unflattering photo from John Travolta’s beach vacation plastered on the cover. The same society, even still, buys the new issue of Vogue with Jennifer Lawrence on the cover.
The point I am trying to make is that we are feeding into an endless conversation about body positivity. No matter what anyone says, there is something wrong to be found.
Many people criticize Jennifer Lawrence because she has an average, if not above average (according to social standards) body. People complain that the extreme ends of the weight spectrum do not have a public voice. The very fat and the very thin do have a voice. The problem is that they do not have an incredibly public voice because the people we look to for words of wisdom are a small group of 200 people who got to where they are partially because they met a set of predefined beauty standards. We are looking to only the small percentage of famous people who are allowed to speak their minds, which is again only a tiny subset of the entirety of the celebrity community. Looks are currently very important in the Hollywood, and even theater communities. You can be the greatest actress in the world, but if you don’t look the part you’re not going to get the job. I am guilty of this kind of discrimination as well. When I think about photography or making short films, I think, “who will look great on camera?”
The problem with the body positive movement is not Jennifer Lawrence. It is in fact very impressive to me that a “conventionally beautiful woman” cares about the effect that an unhealthy appearance could have on her young audience. That is a thought that most young celebrities don’t even think to have. I love that the people who for so long conformed to and invented beauty standards are now speaking out against them. Jennifer Lawrence isn’t saying what body type is right and what body type is wrong. She’s saying that she doesn’t care if she doesn’t look the way Hollywood says she should look. Obviously there are not going to be tons of actresses and actors who are a size 16 preaching about acceptance. You cannot be a size 16 actor in Hollywood unless you are funny or typecast. That is the unfortunate truth of the current acting world. The goal of the body positive movement should not be getting mad at Jennifer Lawrence for being too “normal”. It should be to change the way standards are set in the first place. If we can get people of all body types into positions of influence and authority like Jennifer Lawrence’s, we can truly change the definitions we have of beauty and attractiveness.
If we can get Hollywood and pop culture decision makers to stop causing an acceptance bottleneck, we can make strides in improving the confidence of people of all ages, shapes, genders, and sizes. The day I see a size 0 actress and a size 6 actress and a size 18 actress and a 4’7″ actress and a 6’4″ actress side by side by side on the red carpet will be the day I rejoice. The day that those actresses don’t get their dresses judged for three hours on TMZ will be the day I rejoice. When they get rid of the “Who Wore It Better” column in magazines I will rejoice. Body positivity, ironically, begins with the end of body discussions. The day we care more about the actual person in the body than the body itself will be the day we see actual real change with the body positive movement.
Acceptance is acceptance. All bodies are bodies, but who cares? The people inside of them are way more interesting.