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." -- Mirror
"In Hollywood, I'm obese. I'm considered a fat actress, I'm Val Kilmer in that one picture on the beach."-- HuffPost
"I eat like a caveman. I'll be the only actress that doesn't have anorexia rumors." -- Entertainment Weekly
"I'm never going to starve myself for a part. I don't want little girls to be like, 'Oh, I want to look like Katniss, so I'm going to skip dinner!' [...]I was trying to get my body to look fit and strong, not thin and underfed." -- Entertainment Weekly
"If anybody even tries to whisper the word 'diet,' I'm like, 'You can go f- yourself." -- The Gaurdian
"What are you gonna do? Be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That's just dumb."-- The Daily Mail
Tumblr celebrates her in .gif as a paragon of quirk and body acceptance, but one thing that may have escaped your notice in the orgiastic celebration of JLaw realness that is the Internet, is that Jennifer Lawrence is a fit, attractive, 20-something woman.
Let's concede the point here that she is, perhaps, a size or two above the accepted Hollywood norm. 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. But how her statements are being delivered -- and how zealous and adoring fans have interpreted her words -- only reinforce our cultural standards, and perpetuate the myth that only one type of body is acceptable.
I'm not going to cover the fact that it's messed 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 messed 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're naturally slender. But when someone says they would rather "look like a person" than look thin, the message between the lines is that thin people don't look like people.
I want to know, Internet: at what percentage of body fat does a woman earn the right to be a person?
I'm certain that some of my fellow fatties looked at that quote and rolled their eyes. We know that weighing more 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 in our culture. 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.
I can't help but think of the .gifs floating around Tumblr, the ones where Lawrence talks about how much food she eats, how she loves McDonald's fries. Would the Internet have embraced those quotes coming from a larger actress? Someone like Melissa McCarthy?
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 know why I'm not thinner than I am. I don't really drink soda; I don't have a sweet tooth, and we eat healthfully at home. We're all weird for broccoli and pureed-vegetable soup, which we almost always have a big pot of in the fridge -- it's so good!" -- Fox News
"I just don't lose weight easily." -- People.com
"Sometimes I wish I were just magically a size 6 and I never had to give it a single thought."-- Us Magazine
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!" Even the mild statements she has made about being comfortable with herself and her body are greeted with backlash from armchair internet physicians bleating about health and lifestyle choices.
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.
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'll be asked to diet for a role, and she feels the same pressure to meet cultural expectations as everyone else. But a woman who looks like Jennifer Lawrence doesn't have to shop for her clothes in online stores 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 35.
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. Jennifer Lawrence's public image has been built on a foundation of fat girl drag. She can say she's "obese" by Hollywood standards, but the claim is laughable when women like Melissa McCarthy also make their living in the same industry and aren't afforded the privilege of unapologetic expression Lawrence enjoys as a conventionally attractive person.
The message of body acceptance built on Jennifer Lawrence's soundbites only empowers those who are willing to ignore the fact that her statements reinforce our current cultural views, rather than subverting them.
This story appears in Issue 84 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, available Friday, Jan. 17 in the iTunes App store.