The Devil Wears Weight

Body Image And Movie Stars

Devil Wears Weight

Devil Wears Weight

For some time now Jennifer Lawrence has been challenging the idea that anyone is going to push her into losing weight to satisfy someone else’s idea of how thin she should look for any particular role.

Harper’s Bazaar UK reports how she explains that she was bullied as a young actor to lose weight. She was told she could be fired. “They brought out pictures of me where I was basically naked and told me to use them as motivation for my diet.”

The experience made a big impression and understandably she is still torqued about it. Today she says, “If anybody even tries to whisper the word ‘diet,’ I am like, “You can go f— yourself.”

Lawrence’s immense talent and success at the box office puts her in a position to back up her convictions on this point. It is pretty clear that if she diets, it will be her decision. Not many actors or actresses gain that degree of clout.

As attractive as she is, she does not have the bone and tendon look that is the fashion for some leading actors and those who diet in an attempt to match the look.

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence

Her conviction on this brings into public view the idea that there is another way to present oneself. She talks about how for The Hunger Games she worked hard not to waste away but to look physically strong and capable. Some have argued that the lead character in a movie called The Hunger Games should be emaciated. But that misses the point: in this movie she is a formidable warrior and to be believable that requires certain physicality.

As a model for young girls, it is helpful that she emphasizes a healthy body over the eccentrically thin. Talented professional actors have long impressed their audiences with their ability to gain and lose weight.

When asked how they do it, answers generally represent two mind sets. One group minimizes the effort they had to put forth and says that it is just a matter of counting calories. Set a limit and don’t go over it and the pounds roll off. The second group says for that for them it is very difficult to lose weight. Consider

Christian Bale, a co-star with Lawrence and others in American Hustle. He says he gained 43 pounds to play the part of a con man. In 2004 he lost 60 pounds for his role in The Machinist.

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey

Matthew McConaughey lost 40 pounds for his celebrated role in The Dallas Buyers Club

Anne Hathaway lost 25 pounds to play the tubercular prostitute in Les Misérables.

She explained that for her role in the The Devil Wears Prada she was told to gain 10 pounds. After she did, it was discovered that she was too big for the couture and had to lose 10 pounds.

“Yes, there were tears,” she said.

Playing the lead in the same film, Meryl Streep said “it killed me” regarding the seven pounds she had to shed for the role.

When asked if she had been told to lose the weight: “They wouldn’t dare,” she said.

In the end she did lose it, because she wanted to look a particular way for the part

The ability of these highly disciplined actors to gain and lose weight for a particular purpose is notable.. Their motivation isn’t to appear fashionable or to boost their self-esteem by claiming a certain look; it is to be physically prepared to play a particular role.

On some level, the desire to appear reed thin is an effort to claim the aura of a modern leading woman or man. This can be done without serious health consequences, but it can also start a spiral toward anorexia, particularly for girls.

Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders report that 47% of girls in the fifth through twelfth grades say that they want to lose weight in order to match body shapes they see in magazines. The study also calculates that the body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by only 5% of American females.

In cases of anorexia there is more going on than the effort to mirror the culture’s perceived reverence of thinness.

Whatever examples of ideal body weight the society approves of, it bears keeping in mind that the United States obesity rate has climbed steadily over the years and in 2013 reached the level of 35.7% of all adults and 17% of children.

In other words, the razor thin look, however fashionable it may be, seems to have little relevance as a positive model in the effort to help prevent obesity. For some, very thin may be seen as the reverse of the obesity problem. For others, it becomes the trigger for obesity when efforts to meet an unrealistic weight goal alternate with food binge episodes.

Thoughtful actors and actresses are well aware of weight and image issues in our society. Consider what Meryl Streep told the audience of The View in an appearance a few years ago. “I have three daughters. There is an epidemic of eating disorders in this country and it is sick, sick, sick.”

Even the actors who appear to be comfortable not being perfect are often transmuted by popular media. Recently Lena Dunham, the creator of HBO’s popular series Girls, was featured on the cover of Vogue magazine where it is clear that Photoshop was used to change her ‘normal’ body size image. This retouch sparked quite a controversy from Dunham’s fans who value her openness and self-acceptance with her non-Hollywood body type.

All of these examples suggest that Hollywood standards can be interpreted in many ways.

What is important is the ability of a person to tune into their relationship with their own body. Many are sensitive about their weight and when it comes to that particular subject shut the world out. It is not necessarily easy, but opening up on the subject can be important. Better weight strategies benefit from conversations with health care professionals, nutritionists, trainers. Relying on external, Hollywood standards of beauty take people away from their relationships with themselves and can set them up for selfdefeating behaviors that work against individual well-being and growth.

Christian Bale

Christian Bale

So with that in mind, Jennifer Lawrence’s bristling in public over the idea of an employer pressuring her about weight may send at least some girls a little support for the idea that they don’t have to fit someone else’s idea of what a body should look like. It is their responsibility and their decision and it can be empowering to accept that. Whatever their particular body type, the goal should be, as Lawrence says for her part in The Hunger Games, to work to have a strong, healthy body.

Jill Weber, a licensed clinical psychologist, practices in the Washington, DC area. Dr Weber writes a blog for psychologytoday.com and is the author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy: Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships. Follow her on twitter @DrJillWeber
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