Jennifer Lawrence vs. Joan Rivers, a plus-size Barbie, and female body image

An image created by artist bakalia for a Worth1000 illustration contest.

An image created by artist bakalia for a Worth1000 illustration contest.

After all of that holiday eating, many people will ring in 2014 with a New Year’s resolution to lose some weight and get fit. But as consumers are looking at their waist lines, there’s a battle going on over female body image. Jennifer Lawrence of the “Hunger Games” films and Joan Rivers are duking it out over Lawrence’s crusade to change the way Hollywood looks at women’s bodies. Almost simultaneously, Plus-Size-Modeling.com posted an image of a plus-size Barbie, championing the idea that Barbie dolls promote an unhealthy expectation for women’s bodies. If you’re taking media studies or women’s studies this fall, it’s a good idea to brush up on the issue of female body image in the media.

Jennifer Lawrence vs. Joan Rivers

The feud started with a seemingly innocuous comment that Jennifer Lawrence made in a November interview with Yahoo! She was asked about the pressures that women, particularly actors, face to stay thin and stylish. The star shared her frustrations, claiming that snarky television shows like Joan Rivers’s Fashion Police on E! fuel the fire.

“The world has a certain idea – we see this airbrushed perfect model image,” Lawrence said, quoted by Nardine Saad in the Los Angeles Times column “Ministry of Gossip,” December 27, 2013, in the article, “Jennifer Lawrence vs. Joan Rivers: ‘Fashion Police’ feud heats up.” Lawrence continued, “What are you gonna do, be hungry every single day to make other people happy? That’s just dumb…. And there’s shows like the ‘Fashion Police’ and things like that are just showing these generations of young people … that it’s OK to point at people and call them ugly and call them fat and they call it ‘fun’ and ‘welcome to the real world.’ And it’s like, that shouldn’t be the real world.”

Rivers immediately responded via Twitter, claiming that Lawrence had loved Fashion Police when they complimented her every week. “But now that she has a movie to promote,” Rivers wrote, according to Saad, “suddenly we’re picking on all those poor, helpless actors.”

On December 25, Rivers lit into Lawrence again, pledging, Saad recounted, to ensure “Jennifer Lawrence grows up and realizes how lucky she is and calms down.” Rivers also claimed that for someone who champions female body image, Lawrence’s posters and photographs are heavily airbrushed. “Look at her posters,” Rivers said. “She doesn’t have a nose, she has two holes. She just has to learn, don’t talk if you’re doing it.”

Lawrence’s crusade against body image goes farther than her feud with Rivers. In an interview with Barbara Walters for an ABC News special, previewed in “Jennifer Lawrence: ‘It should be illegal to call somebody fat’,” written by Lauren Effron for ABCNews.com, Lawrence said she thought it should be illegal to call someone fat on television. “Because humiliating people is funny?” she asked. “The media needs to take responsibility for the effect it has on our younger generation, on these girls who are watching these television shows, and picking up how to talk and how to be cool.”

Plus-size and life size Barbie

Speaking of teaching young girls about body image, there are fewer representations more common and long-lasting than the Barbie doll. So it’s no surprise that Barbie has become the focus of questions about body image – particularly in the case of Plus-Size-Modeling.com’s recent Facebook post asking followers to comment on whether there ought to be a plus-size Barbie to counter the too-skinny, too-tall doll’s prominence in the market. As Ellie Krupnick of Huffington Post covered in “Plus size Barbie on modeling site sparks debate over body image,” the reactions to the suggestion were polarizing.

Credit: Sheila Pree Bright, “Plastic Bodies”

Credit: Sheila Pree Bright, “Plastic Bodies”Nikolay Lamm’s “average” Barbie doll modelNikolay Lamm’s “average” Barbie doll model

Although the post gained 35,000 likes in support of the idea, the extreme size of the plus size doll bothered many, who felt encouraging obesity was just as bad as proclaiming that thin is in. “There were also those who wondered aloud where the ‘average’ size bodies were – meaning, bodies that are neither ‘plus-size’ nor a size zero,” Krupnick reported. Artists including Sheila Pree Bright, who created “Plastic Bodies,” and Nikolay Lamm, who designed a doll based on average proportions of a 19-year-old woman, have already created some stark images of those comparisons.

What do you think about the way the media and dolls portray body image? Tell us in the comments.

3 replies
  1. Erokhane
    Erokhane says:

    The media is simply information. Outlawing expression of opinions is simply bad and will complicate the legal code. Even with laws restricting what people can express, no one will EVER stop expressing there opinions and will simply find other means to express themselves.

    The media is simply the messenger. If the messenger is restricted or killed, another messenger will simply be found.

    Societies control their media and vice-versa. Even in very strict societies, the public has immense power if provoked or inspired enough.

    The media is as it should be. Nature is nature. Freedom of expression is of utmost importance. Harassment should always be outlawed. For example, walking up to some old lady and calling her a bitch without her permission should be outlawed. Now if she’s asked for permission and grants permission, then that’s perfectly legal.

    As for audiences who willing observe certain media, it’s perfectly legal. No one is being forced to observe. The freedom to observe or not observe should always remain.

    If children are watching a show that their parents don’t approve of, the parents can simply prevent that. Maybe not so easy. But that’s not the media’s problem. And the parents have no right to restrict what others freely choose to observe or freely choose to show.

    Reply
  2. Alana Joli Abbott
    Alana Joli Abbott says:

    Fair enough — and I don’t think asking for *government* restriction on something like body image would be the way to go. And I agree with your assessment about the public impacting the media. A few friends and I had a conversation on Facebook, around the time that Disney put Merida in sparkles and rebranded her for the princess line, about the importance of letting media companies — especially big ones like Disney — know when consumers are unhappy about the way that characters are portrayed. Media companies do express a certain image of beauty — and if consumers don’t express their opinions (by actual conversation or by purchases), then those media companies can’t know that their consumers want change.

    I especially love the way that artists like the ones above are highlighting those issues (which is one of the reasons I chose to write about it!).

    Reply
    • Erokhane
      Erokhane says:

      I agree with you that communication is necessary. Outlawing expression of opinion is unnecessary. Beautyism is only bad if it’s applied in the wrong context. For instance hiring a sales clerk based on their beauty is wrong. Even though some could argue that studies have shown that beautiful people are generally more successful in life. But companies are required to higher people based solely on their ability to execute tasks in that job. Again, one could argue that a salesperson might be more successful if they are more attractive. Of course the law doesn’t allow that. I personally agree with laws like those.

      But those laws are only restricted to employer/employer and business/consumer interactions. No one can restrict anyone from working or shopping based on physical properties and/or opinions.

      However a company should be able to sell whatever it likes. Disney and Mattel inc. should be able to sell whatever they like. If they want to sell KKK dolls or white-hate posters, they should be able to in my opinion. But that’s why you speak of communication. Of course even in that situation, I’m guessing even without explicit communication, they would lose lots of business.

      But they’re right to sell whatever they want should be fine as long as they don’t harm others. Also, they can discriminate. For instance if for some odd reason a black person decides to attend a KKK church, the KKK church can’t discriminate. Now if it’s a private venture, I think they can discriminate. But any business open to the public can’t. I’m not exactly a lawyer. But it’s something like that.

      It works the other way too. A shopper can’t tell a company what to sell. They can communicate as you speak of, and which I agree with, but they can’t force the law to force them to start selling fat Barbie Dolls. They also shouldn’t be able to force the law to ban the public from expressing their opinions.

      For example I love this online game called World of Warcraft. However, I like variety. I’m not racist, and if I was, it would be my right to be. But I’m not because I think it’s stupid. But I do love diversity. And World of Warcraft is based more on white characters and British accents. I have nothing against whites or the British. Now I doubt they are racist. The U.S.A. is around 70% white. Most people don’t realize this. Some expect more minorities to be in movies. But I tell them that if they were in China, who has almost no whites, blacks, or Hispanics, they really wouldn’t force movie production companies to have a white, black or Latino in every movie. But that’s what some do in the U.S.A. The black population in the U.S.A. is below 15%. Whereas Latinos make up around 15% as well. Then there are the white Hispanics. I’m not sure how they figure all that. My birth certificate says I’m white, while my mom is Hispanic and my father is black.

      But I would love more racial diversity in World of Warcraft. But instead of crying racism, which I doubt they are, I would simply make a suggestion to them. Communicate, as you speak of.

      I would suggest to those who cry to the law. I know it’s not easy when feelings are hurting. But I’ve been rejected because of race, status, aristocracy, age, weight, etc. I’ve also succeeded because of those same properties.

      So I agree with you that communication is necessary, and the law isn’t. If they really believe they can shut Joan Rivers up, they are extremely naive. But I’d say society is wising up overall. Tolerance of differences is growing. I feel sorry those that get hurt, even me of course. But I still prefer the truth even it hurts.

      Reply

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