In the past week, actresses and their weight have been front and center. When moviegoers suggested that Kate Winslet was too fat in the 3-D rerelease of the 1997 blockbuster "Titanic," she responded that she's now thinner than co-star Leonardo DiCaprio. Jennifer Lawrence was described as not hungry enough in "The Hunger Games." Supermarket tabloids plastered photos of Scarlett Johannson's cellulite thighs. And Ashley Judd, in her must-read Daily Beast essay, insists that if there's going to be a conversation about her weight, she wants it to be feminist, "because it has been misogynistic from the start":
"The insanity has to stop, because as focused on me as it appears to have been, it is about all girls and women. In fact, it’s about boys and men, too, who are equally objectified and ridiculed, according to heteronormative definitions of masculinity that deny the full and dynamic range of their personhood. It affects each and every one of us, in multiple and nefarious ways: our self-image, how we show up in our relationships and at work, our sense of our worth, value, and potential as human beings. Join in—and help change—the Conversation."
The media is largely responsible for propagating these negative images of women. Because it sells papers and lures eyeballs, the media deploys a build-them-up, tear-them-down approach to celebrity coverage. And we're not just talking about sensationalist gossip sites and tabloids.
Actors have become our fashion and beauty models and marketing mouthpieces. This isn't news. But somewhere the already tenuous line vanished between celebrity and human being. Actresses know that they face constant dissection and comparisons: they are too thin, too fat, or look too good (have had work done). Not only are they held to ridiculous professional standards and ridicule; so are their fans. Women and girls are taught that "perfection" earns them attention, and fame, and value. That pursuit often ends in rehab, death or extreme scrutiny in the arena of careers gone beserk (watch that disturbing 60-second video of Lindsay Lohan aging).
Happily, "The Hunger Games" is kicking ass at the box office as it presents a parable that offers an admirable athletic heroine survivor along with a scathing review of our culture. Inevitably, Lawrence has been hit with the usual criticism about her "womanly figure" and "lingering baby fat." How many actresses have we watched starve themselves after such unwelcome appreciation? Is Katniss Everdeen too healthy-looking to believably exist in her world? That's no different than our noisy media promoting a narrow range of acceptable womanhood, as skin-and-bones young women are praised for "rocking a bikini." This kind of dialogue is also damaging to our daughters, our friends, and ourselves.
Psychologist Kelly Brownell:
"These kind of messages are toxic. They pressure people, especially girls, to be at odds with their bodies and to fight against whatever natural weight they might have. They force into the public psyche an arbitrary and unrealistic ideal that is attainable by few and leaves a great many scars in its wake."
"[Lawrence's] male co-stars look even healthier (and have some seriously big muscles) yet no one thinks they are too healthy or big boned or big boobed or just plain old fat."
Many of us have trouble with accepting a powerful female as feminine and/or sexy. Recall the attention to Angelina Jolie's leg at the Oscars? We laugh, because it's absurd.
The physically powerful female (see Lisbeth Salander) disrupts the idea that men are meant to be the burly heroes. It's sending Hollywood folks to their doctors for $10,000 per year HGH prescriptions–and what starts in Hollywood will trickle down.
These attacks on actresses challenge our ability to accept ourselves and each other. We are not showing young girls (or boys) ways of finding or accepting their own intrinsic value. We put celebrities on a pedestal and feel better about ourselves when they crash and burn. We are impressionable and easily controlled by our insecurities (see: the economy), and it's eating away at us. This is how our culture works. But who does it help?