A week ago, the much-anticipated movie “The Hunger Games” opened to huge audiences and mostly decent reviews. Some of those reviews, however, took a disturbing turn when some critics brought up the film’s lead, Jennifer Lawrence’s, weight, with a few suggesting she was too healthy looking to play a girl from a poor district. Though he praised her overall performance, Todd McCarthy from The Hollywood Reporter rather oddly mentioned her “lingering baby fat” while Jeffrey Wells in “Hollywood Elsewhere” called her a “big-boned lady.” Interestingly, all but one of these critics (Manohla Dargis of The New York Times) are men, and none of them criticized the well-fed physique of co-star Liam Hemsworth, who comes from the same impoverished background as Lawrence’s character.
Nearly anyone who’s ever seen Jennifer Lawrence would agree that she’s got a fit, healthy (and slender) figure, and the fact that these critics are dwelling on her waistline instead of her performance illustrates a dangerous and worrying preoccupation with actress’—and, indeed, women’s weight. For Lawrence to perfectly fit the character’s body description in the book (particularly the latter parts of the story), she would have probably had to starve herself, or at least go on an extreme diet, and she would have had to do it quickly—she had six weeks to get ready and train for the part. That’s a dangerous and potentially life-threatening prospect that can have far-reaching health implications—among other things, rapid weight loss can cause hair and muscle loss, electrolyte imbalances, and gallstones. The actress herself has claimed she takes a healthy approach to life—she exercises regularly but refuses to diet. Shouldn’t that be celebrated instead of derided?
Between this and the Vogue story about the mother who put her 7-year-old daughter on a diet, young women’s bodies have been in the news quite a bit this week. There’s a lot of pressure on women and girls to be skinny, no matter what their genes dictate, and Hollywood has often been guilty of advancing the skinny=pretty idea, leading many young girls to embrace crash diets, unregulated pills and supplements, and eating disorders. Criticizing an actress in mainstream newspapers for refusing to starve herself for a role and derisively calling her “big boned” when she most definitely is not is sending the wrong message to many. It’s time to focus on the performance rather than looks and get the message straight that it’s not about fitting into a size 0, it’s about being fit and healthy.
How do you feel? Did Lawrence’s appearance affect the movie for you? Were the critics right to point out the weight discrepancies between what’s onscreen and on the page? Or is it much ado about nothing? Share your thoughts in the comments below.