For those of you who own a TV and would actually spend time watching Barbara Walters’ interview people her yearly special on people she thinks are fascinating is airing soon, mind you she’s interviewing famous people. I’m pretty sure she isn’t interviewing activists, community builders and others who spend their lives helping people in need (but that’s another post entirely.) If watch her yearly special you will be able to see an interview with Jennifer Lawrence, where she talks about how Jennifer has been critical of the way the media talks about the bodies of women on red carpets and elsewhere.
If you aren’t aware Jennifer has made comments about body policing quite a bit in the past and continues to make comments that appear on their surface to be body positive. Though overall her career she has also made quite a few problematic statements that make me wary of almost anything she says.
This is what she had to say,
Because why is humiliating people funny? And I get it, and I do it too, we all do it. But I think when it comes to the media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls that are watching these television shows and picking up how to talk and how to be cool. So then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing an ugly dress or making fun of the girl that’s, you know. And the word fat. I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?
Most of what she said about how the media creates and participates in a culture of body policing is true. They are pivotal in the way women in the media are spoken about and continue to create new media that feeds off of promoting white cis heteronormative thin beauty ideals. The issue with her statement is the way she is blaming this kind of climate on people using the word fat and not on how they use it as a weapon.
This kind of thinking has been around for awhile, particularly within body positive spaces where discussions about “fat talk” or negative body talk are being discussed. The framing of fat as a negative word, a word that hurts people, is completely ignorant of how the word is being used and the context of the statements being made. The word fat is nothing more than a description of someone’s body type, but when someone like Jennifer Lawrence is telling the world it should be illegal there is a huge issue.
When people are calling someone who looks like Jennifer Lawrence fat we shouldn’t be telling them that they shouldn’t use that word. We should be thinking about how fat phobia and stigma is so pervasive in our society we body shame people who live in thin bodies by making them fear fat people, appearing to be a fat person or becoming fat themselves. It’s not a coincidence the people who are telling others to not use the word fat are more often than not never going to be defined as “overweight” or “obese” and revel in a thin privileged reality by being able to frame words like fat as something that should be considered illegal. Nor is it a coincidence that the people who face the real harm are fat people, not the thin people being called or taught to fear fatness.
Their bodies will never be pathologized or thought to be inherently diseased like fat people’s bodies are. They will find no problem in denying how fat positive communities have used the word fat to build spaces where fat political identities are empowering fat people daily. That’s why when I hear statements like the one Jennifer Lawrence said; I know that those words are not for me. They are only for the people who look just like her.
If we wanted to actually challenge the media to create a landscape where white cis heteronormative thin beauty ideals aren’t able to thrive, we need to deconstruct how body policing isn’t just about saying mean words but a structure that denies people with specific bodies access to it. We need to question why we fear the word fat but are completely comfortable with using medicalized terms that imply pathology like “overweight” and “obese,” in all of my years dealing with the media they fear using the word fat but will drop o-words in a second. We need to question why we are only talking about the media being critical of the bodies of women who already have access to those spaces, but not the people who are regularly denied jobs within the industry due to issues with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia etc. (the list continues).
Once Jennifer Lawrence starts talking about that, I may take the time to listen.