Role Modeling

On this divine Thursday afternoon, I find myself sitting on a  ridiculously comfortable couch in the heart of dear old Los Angeles. As recently as a week ago, that last bit would’ve been dripping with sarcasm. My relationship with Tinsel Town has always been contentious at best. I’ve wanted to be an actress ever since a certain red-haired orphan sang her way into my childhood, and once I dove in I was hooked. The theatre is wonderful and I will always audition for plays, but I love love love making movies. Love. If there were a stronger word than love, I would use that here.

A friend of mine recently asked Facebookland for thoughts on this article from HuffPo. The gist is that the author has declared Jennifer Lawrence to not be a viable spokesperson for body positivity because she is fit and attractive.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, and I have a blog, so that works out.

The author of that post asks the Internet, “at what percentage of body fat does a woman get to be a person?” (this in response to JLaw’s statement that she would rather “look chubby on screen and like a person in real life.”)

A few things here: Of course all women are people. Jennifer Lawrence is 22 or 23 years old, and she is far more unbridled in her statements than any ingenue I’ve ever encountered. We all say slightly misplaced things from time to time, especially in our early twenties. Even so, I don’t read this quote as “skinny women aren’t people” and maybe that’s because I lived in LA. I know the people Ms. Lawrence is talking about. The human bobble heads and the walking skeletons, the taut skin and the globular breasts. The sad, unfortunate truth of the matter is that quite often women in Hollywood starve the person right out of themselves.

The other reality to consider is that what Jennifer Lawrence says about perceptions of thinness and beauty in Hollywood is all 100% true. I know it because I lived it. One year in Lala Land was enough to turn my 26-year-old self into the kind of person who thought about her looks all the time, and not in the way Narcissus thought about that dashing reflection. Everything fell under scrutiny, from potential agents, managers, and most of all myself. Like Rikki Lindholm, I too am nothing to shake a stick at in the real world, but in the pursuit of work as a film actress, my teeth were too crooked, my face was too average, and I heard far more than once that I could stand to lose five pounds. Which I can now say with confidence was patently absurd.

So I would like to ask the Internets: Isn’t it great when any actress in Hollywood, regardless of their age, shape or size, decides to be a force for good in an industry that boasts unequivocal misogyny and hostility towards women? I think it’s really f*cking great.

As for the Melissa McCarthy question – what would the reaction be if she professed the same statements made by JL? – It’s true, the reactions probably wouldn’t be great. Our society has an obnoxious prevalence of fat-phobia, and god knows the Internets like to Judge almost as much as they like to post cat videos. But declaring that everything Melissa McCarthy says about weight and food is a veil for “I’m sorry I’m fat and you have to look at me” is reductionist, purely speculative, and frankly, unfair to Melissa McCarthy. If Jennifer Lawrence has to deal with body-shaming sh*t in Hollywood (and I guarantee she does), then it can only be worse for the Melissa McCarthys and the Rebel Wilsons. Anytime a woman is able to break barriers and open diversity doors in Hollywood (for the colors, sizes, and ages among us), we ought to be celebrating. Women in Hollywood will never have full agency over themselves and their bodies if we gripe over who is and who isn’t allowed to be a positive role-model.

And so we come to the essence of what this is all about: Agency. The film industry – and the world! – will be a much better place when we see a multitude of women represented on screen, and they all have the agency to decide what is best for themselves and their bodies. This will happen only when a vast number of women demand that it happen. And anyone – even a loud-mouthed, beautiful, talented young actress – who wants to help get us there faster is a champion in my book.


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