Today I read an article wherein Jennifer Lawrence (yes, that Jennifer Lawrence) talked about someone subtly threatening to fire her from a show if she didn’t lose weight at the beginning of her career.
In the November issue of Harper’s Bazaar UK, Lawrence says: "I was young. It was just the kind of s--t that actresses have to go through. Somebody told me I was fat, that I was going to get fired if I didn't lose a certain amount of weight. They brought in pictures of me where I was basically naked, and told me to use them as motivation for my diet."
Remember, we are talking about this Jennifer Lawrence:
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I started thinking about how totally prevalent this "fat talking" practice really is. As a costume designer, I’ve personally been asked at least 9 times (that I can think of!) if an actress has “gained weight” over the course of a series, but I’ve actually never been asked the same question regarding a male actor.
The fat asking goes down the exact same way on every single show. Each week, I hold a "rack check" for the executive producers, writers and network execs. I set the line of that particular episode's show looks up for all to peruse, in addition to a presentation of photos of all actors in said clothes.
It's basically a sales pitch -- I'm selling the assembled crew on my taste, style and choices. (As you may know, taste is highly subjective -- so this dog and pony show is practically a fool's errand, but I do it every single week regardless.)
Someone will faux-guiltily look around the room, tap his or her finger on a photo of the actress in question and ask in a low, hushed, slightly apologetic tone: “Has she gained weight?” Six sets of eyes rest on me, waiting for confirmation or denial.
Let’s press pause and review the choices available to me in this fleeting instant. I could protect the actress and blame the clothes -- in which case they will tell me to refit her in “something more flattering.” (If your actress really has gained weight, this is obviously an exercise in futility.)
My second option is to betray the trust that every actor and actress inherently places in me when they step into a fitting and take off their pants -- and that is the trust that I have their best interests at heart. That I will strive to make them look as good as humanly possible. That I will keep their secrets and do my damndest to hide their "figure flaws" (both real and imagined) from the world at large.
I could take the second option and whisper back, “Yeah, she has,” and they would mumble and grumble amongst themselves, frown disapprovingly and move on. But now that I'm a little more entrenched in my career, (and not in constant fear of getting fired) I usually go with a slightly stern "I don't think she has?" while staring directly at the question asker.
It's a "shaming the shamers" technique, for sure, and carries some inherent risk. Powerful individuals don't like things thrown back in their faces -- you're supposed to toe the party line at all costs.
I know it's a rhetorical question, but how can an actress who looks like this:
Have had this to say about herself:
"In Hollywood, I'm obese, I'm considered a fat actress. I'm Val Kilmer in that one picture on the beach."
But that's exactly what Lawrence stated in Elle magazine last year. I sadly believe her, because I've previously attempted to put an actress in a dress similar to the one she's wearing above and gotten thesegross notes on it:
Producer:"It makes her look kind of hippy."
Me:"You mean too hippie-dippy because it's granny style lace?" (I'm trying to give them an out here, but they never take it.)
Producer:"No, I mean her hips look too big."
Me:"Really? It's just a slight trick of the way the dress falls straight down from a high waist."
Producer:"We're pushing back on this, and would like to see something different."
Me: (silently) "Ugh." (out loud) "Of course!"
Because can you imagine if people thought she had hips? Every woman has to always be skinny skinny skinny sexy sexy sexy, right? Anything else would be UNCIVILIZED.
Lest you think I'm some sort of saint, I have a confession: in the past, I have been part of the exact problem I'm here railing about.
I once worked on a show with a very young, slim teen actress. She was (and still is) a beautiful, talented, adorable young lady. The catering on that particular show was quite terrible -- so the actress opted instead to have a burger and fries from the commissary every day. Halfway through the season, I cornered one of the producers and said, "I'm very concerned about the fact that <actress name> is eating burgers and fries for lunch every day. She's going to get fat!"
Looking back, I can't believe those words actually came out of my mouth. I've almost never thought that about a male actor -- and even when I did, nobody ever said anything to me about it, so I stopped thinking it immediately.
I kind of suspect it was The Bill Engvall Show where this "fat talking-to" happened to Lawrence -- as it was one of her first TV gigs where she had a major recurring role. (She appeared in 31 episodes, according to IMDB.) Before that, she appeared in two episodes of Mediumand a handful of small films. (Almost nobody gets fired in the middle of a movie for being fat -- it’s too difficult to replace someone.)
Television is an entirely different story. Storylines can change in an instant. I’ve had a (FEMALE!) network exec say, “A new neighbor could move next door to <character name> next season if <actress name> doesn’t lose some weight.” It happens every single day in Hollywood, and I love that actresses are finally speaking out about it.
Because even though Lawrence has gone on to a career few could ever dream of, she says the incident still stings -- but also has a few words warning for anyone who dares try to pull it on her again:
"They thought that because of the way my career had gone, it wouldn’t still hurt me. That somehow, after I won an Oscar, I'm above it all. 'You really still care about that?' Yeah. I was a little girl. I was hurt. It doesn't matter what accolades you get. I know it'll never happen to me again. If anybody even tries to whisper the word 'diet', I'm like, 'You can go f--k yourself.' "
Give 'em hell, Jennifer.
I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison.