The film and television industry is making me a feminazi

And I really don’t want to be one. I consider myself a feminist in that I am a woman who thinks that women should be able to do whatever the fuck they want with themselves and have equal access/opportunity as men. But I don’t like getting militant about it, because that’s usually when people start writing you off as a nut and rolling their eyes and generally tuning you out. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try to keep an even keel, eventually the effect of a hundred slings and arrows reaches the point that there’s nothing left but the Boudicean rage of a thousand years of repression and oppression. On that note, let’s talk about Vanity Fair.

Sexism AND racism – it’s a two-for-one deal!

Vanity Fair takes a lot of shit for being a super whitebread publication that has several annual issues pertaining to the entertainment industry and then failing to reflect the ever-increasing diversity of those entertainments. Put simply: They always put white chicks on their cover with a token woman of color thrown into the background on the inside flap. Today VF has released their May issue, which is dedicated to the “Ladies of TV”, and they put a not-white person (Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara) on the cover…and then stripped her down and stuck her between the sheets. Overall, this VF cover shoot is very…booby. The ladies on the cover—Vergara is joined by Juliana Margulies (The Good Wife), Claire Danes (Homeland) and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey)—are tucked into sheets with cleavage busting out, or, in Dockery’s case, bare back exposed. The inside cover fold-out is an equally egregious offense—a collection of women posed in vintage-inspired lingerie, boobs out.

Giving credit where it’s due, this is one of the most diverse spreads VF has done in recent memory, which isn’t really saying much, but let’s take progress where we get it. Besides Vergara on the cover, the fold-out includes Kerry Washington (her new show Scandal begins in April), Archie Panjabi (The Good Wife) and Grace Park (Hawaii Five-0). We’ve also got some positive body-image stuff happening with the deliciously voluptuous Kat Dennings—I’ve never been a huge fan of hers, but GODDAMN her body is crazy—and the normal-sized Emily Deschanel (Bones), plus proud curvy girl Vergara. And the ages are fairly well represented. Dockery is the youngest cover girl at 31—Margulies and Vergara are both over 40—and only three of the seven women featured on the fold-out are twenty-somethings: Dennings, Revenge’s Emily VanCamp and Shameless’ Emmy Rossum. So, yes, progress. There is SOME diversity in color, age and body type.

But is it enough?

I might not be so sensitive to this except we’re just coming off the appallingly racist reaction to casting decisions in The Hunger Games and the issue of how progressive we really are is on my mind. There’s something I heard about the movie Hitch once that has stuck with me and the VF cover calls it to mind. Hitch was developed as a vehicle for Will Smith, and in the initial casting cycle they auditioned several well-known leading ladies who happened to be white (Hitch, if you haven’t seen it, is a romantic comedy, albeit a pretty terrible one). Then someone decided that America wasn’t really ready for an interracial rom-com, but they also worried that white audiences wouldn’t support the movie if Smith was partnered with a black actress (I am dying on the inside, writing this out). The compromise? Enter Eve Mendes, a Latina actress. This was seen as “the answer” to the interracial “problem”—dark enough to “match” Smith but still light enough to qualify as “interracial”. I don’t even know which part of this offends me the most. Literally years later and I still can’t process that this happened in the twenty-first century. But the VF cover reminds me of the Hitch thing. I don’t know that Vergara’s inclusion on the cover over, say, Taraji Henson, who is the female lead on the popular new Person of Interest, is a Hitch-like compromise, but knowing the decision has been made at least once before, I can’t shake the nagging suspicion.

And what of Melissa McCarthy, Oscar nominee and Emmy winner for her CBS sitcom Mike & Molly? That’s an awful show that I wish would cease to exist on principle, but you can’t argue that this has been McCarthy’s year, between the success of Bridesmaids and her Emmy win. And now she’s producing, too, developing pilots and getting them to network. Why not put McCarthy on your cover? She’s a long-time television presence—Suki!—who has turned into a burgeoning power player. She was the first—and most obvious—exclusion I noticed when I looked the spread over. I thought, How can they not include Melissa McCarthy, who is the new queen of TV comedy? And then I thought, Oh yeah, because she’s a big girl and this is a lingerie shoot. Note to the VF editors: When an actress is having the kind of year McCarthy has had, you can’t ignore her, and if including her means you have to scrap your objectifying lingerie-themed photoshoot, YOU SCRAP THE OBJECTIFYING LINGERIE-THEMED PHOTOSHOOT.

Which brings us to the ogling.

This year in entertainment belongs to the female ass-kicker. This is the year we met Katniss Everdeen in the flesh—in ALL her glorious flesh, which we’ll get to—the year that Bella Swan finally does something approaching useful, the year that fairy-tale princesses put down the goddamn singing sparrows and take up arms, and that women on TV are some of the best schemers and politickers around, thanks to Revenge and Game of Thrones, and I have high hopes for Washington’s Scandal. So why then is the theme of VF’s TV issue “scantily clad eye candy”? Why not put them all in varying styles of armor, give them swords and shields, and stage it like a motherfucking uprising of amazing? Because the message here, as always, is that women can go so far before they must be sent back to the boudoir, because that’s the real domain of women. And if you think I’m being oversensitive, I want you to ask yourself what a similar cover shoot for men might look like. Unless it’s all the hottest dudes on TV doing this, then no, I’m not being oversensitive.

Your Body is Bad, and other lessons we need to un-learn

Before we get into the quagmire of double standards and learned body dysmorphia that surrounds The Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, I want you to read the following statement, and then repeat it back to yourself, out loud. I’m deadly serious—say this back to yourself, OUT LOUD. Go into the bathroom, your dorm room, your car, whatever, and look in a mirror and tell yourself the following:

There is no wrong way to be a woman. There is no wrong way to be me. This (point at yourself, for real) is right and worthy.

I talk a lot of shit about celebrities, most of them women. I’ll pick apart clothing and style choices, I’ll photo-assume the state of someone’s relationship based on one candid photo, I’ll judge a person’s worth in the arena of public opinion based on which designer she wears to the Oscars. I accept that all that means I’m a shitty person with a heart made of spiders and turpentine. But one thing I won’t do is criticize a woman—or anyone—for something she can’t help. That’s why excessive plastic surgery makes me so sad-mad—women slicing their faces into oblivion to meet some arbitrary (and let’s face it, probably male-determined) standard of beauty is infuriating. You are the way you are, and while there are certain parameters that can be adjusted, everyone has their basic shape and reality. And there is nothing wrong with that. There’s no wrong way to be a woman, to be yourself, and we’re each right and worthy in our own ways.

So the mere idea that the “fatness of Katniss” is a thing makes me BREATHE FIRE.

From the moment Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss Everdeen, there was discussion about whether or not she was the right choice, as there always is whenever a beloved literary character is brought to the big screen. And yes, I do remember people questioning whether or not Lawrence could accurately portray a character with a history of malnourishment, but one who also runs and jumps and shoots things and whose physical prowess as a hunter has kept her family alive. To me, yes, Lawrence embodied that Katniss. She was strong and athletic and capable—when she shot a bow and arrow you believed she could really handle that weapon. But her tiny waist and long limbs also suggested a willowy-ness, a hint of vulnerability under the steel. And speaking of Lawrence as a person, she’s GORGEOUS. She has an insane body that is all the more beautiful because it isn’t the Hollywood norm. She’s tall and has breasts and hips and an ass and thighs and it’s beautiful. She looks like a real person.

So far, it seems like Lawrence is handling the criticism of her body well, supposedly laughing it off and pointing out the double-standard that her equally fit male co-stars, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, are not being criticized for appearing too “well fed”. But the larger issue is what this is telling the girls out there who look up to Katniss and see in Lawrence that having jiggly bits is not only acceptable but also sexy and beautiful. The “fatness of Katniss” tells girls that while too thin is a problem so is strong. Because this isn’t about being overweight or childhood obesity, this is about a young woman with a very fit, athletic body that happens to be bigger than an A-cup being judged as too fat. Jennifer Lawrence is not a stick insect but she is far, far from fat. And I resent the implication that she—that anyone with her body type—is too fat. I resent it on behalf of the tall girl who slouches down, the short girl who wears platforms every day, the thin girl who binge eats and the plump one that purges.

So what’s the lesson today? That you can’t be too thin but you also can’t have any curves and the pinnacle of female empowerment is on par with being trussed up in lingerie and posed, boobs out, to be gazed upon as an object of desire. And too bad if your skin is dark, you’re still an also-ran and we’re deigning to acknowledge you.

Fuck that noise.

There is no wrong way to be a woman. There is no wrong way to be me. This is right and worthy.

25 thoughts on “The film and television industry is making me a feminazi

  1. jenhovel

    I’m so apalled with the katniss is fat declarations, I’m just disgusted with people in general right now.

    But don’t be too skinny either, at the same time. Like Kristen STewart, cause her body’s called into question for being not curvy or sexy enough or too boyish to be Snow White. Scott Mendelson RT;d a tweet from some reviewer saying that he can’t even get past that kristen is suppossed to be as hot as Charlize. I tweeted back that maybe men just don’t have to work at the suspension of disbelief muscles – I asked him if he had similar problems with Shia banging Megan onscreen, or jason segel banging Mila AND Kristen Bell.

    Damn, the message is loud and clear for young girls if the lovely Ms. LAwerence and Ms. Stewart can be used as polar ends of the same same debate— you can’t win either way.

    1. Yeah, picking on skinny girls is just as bad. Obviously, there are unhealthy sides to both ends of the spectrum, but some girls really are just built to be thin. Keira Knightley gets a lot of grief for being thin, too, and while I know she went through a “dangerously skinny” phase a couple years ago, I have seen her and she has the finest bone structure I’ve ever seen. I don’t see the difference between picking on one or the other.

  2. Toff

    I think Jennifer is gorgeous and has a fab figure, but you can’t honestly say that she has the physique you imagined from the book?! This is a girl who sat in the rain and looked so pitiful that peeta threw her a scrap of bread meant for pigs! Sure she could be fit and capable of shooting an arrow, but Jennifer does NOT look like she has ever been hungry and it did take me out of the story a little. When Katniss grabbed Peeta after he said he had a crush on her in the interviews .. i thought she was going to lift him up and finish him there and then! She could have a fair chance at kicking any guy’s ass.

    I think it was Lainey who said that it’s a good think that Gary Ross did not ask her to lose weight. I think that is fine in general terms because actresses are too f_cking skinny, but this was a big part of the character. She lived hand to mouth for years. There is nothing wrong with altering your appearance to fit the character’s description. It’s part of being an actor. It annoyed me when Jennifer said that at least she looked like a legitimate action hero, and that Keira Knightly wouldn’t frighten anybody with a bow and arrow.Yes, sure – if you are creating a character from scratch – but it makes no sense for a starving Katniss to be a well built girl. She wasn’t supposed to look like she could kick our ass. My friend who didn’t read the books was asking me why NOBODY looked hungry – Gale and Peeta both looked like they were regulars at the gym. And forget that Peeta was lifting sacks of flour, or that Gale was a hunter – both looked like they enjoy regular 3 course meals!

    It would be admirable of Ross if it was an original movie – but you don’t play around with such an obvious things as that. It’s like she was expected to be emaciated. Somebody like Saoirse Ronan would have been perfect as she is slim and delicate looking, yet she is fit after training for Hanna. She also LOOKS 16 – which Jennifer does not, in any stretch of the imagination. I liked Jennifer’s acting performance, but i don’t want to be told i am being anti-feminist or slamming people who are not skinny for thinking she should have chosen to fit the character’s physique, rather than deciding a skinny girl would look ridiculous. She is therefore saying book Katniss is ridiculous!

    1. What concerns me–and you are not unique in expressing this so don’t take it personally–is that we’re fixated on “she doesn’t look weak enough”. Instead of focusing on how strong and able Katniss is, we’re fighting each other over how weak she doesn’t look. What does it say about us and our fucked up self-perceptions that we need Katniss to look weak? So it doesn’t match the book–so fucking what? Daniel Radcliffe was way shorter than Harry Potter was supposed to be, but I didn’t care. Because he was bringing it as the character in every other respect.

      Ross and his crew made a very deliberate decision to cast a strong, athletic actress who yes, does look like she could crush Josh Hutcherson like a bug, as Katniss, and then deliberately elected to not make her thinnify. They chose to glorify Katniss’s strengths, and we’re bitching about her lack of apparent weakness. WTF.

      To me the more accurate criticism is that no one *acted* hungry. We never see Peeta and Katniss falling over themselves to stuff their faces on the train, and they act like the feasts they’re served in the capitol are no big deal. That’s where they could have emphasized the hunger issue and didn’t, so that’s where I lay my dissatisfaction–in so far as it exists, which isn’t much–on that topic.

      1. Toff

        No. I didn’t say she needed to look ‘weak’ at all. Book Katniss wasn’t described as weak looking (as far as i can remember), and that is where my Saoirse Ronan comment comes in. She can be strong and able and still fit the description. Somebody of Saoirse’s build would not be weak – but they wouldn’t look like they could kick every guys ass in the next season either. It’s not a fcked up self perception. Normally i am not a stickler for an actor having to look 100% like the book description if it is not important. If the book character is 5’11 and they cast a 5’4 actress i am like you – so fcking what! Unless their profession is a runway model it’s not even an issue. They could have glorified Katniss’s strengths and still had her look like she was slightly hungry or in need of a good feed. It’s not a negative thing to want the character to fit an integral part of the storyline. It’s called The Hunger Games… I’m not fighting with anybody over it, just discussing it. It’s not like i am seething about it, it just bothered me a bit as i watched the film. They made their decision to alter the character description, but i don’t have to appreciate it. It’s great for the people who are not bothered by it. I still think Jennifer looked great with a bow and arrow, but she would have looked greated of she thinniyfied a bit too.

        I feel like i can’t win with my opinion because people will say i am pro skinny and prejudiced against anybody with some flesh, no matter how much i say i just wanted her to look like she was from district 12!!

        I agree about the train scene. I was waiting for them to start diving into all the food and they just sat there …

    2. Elle

      but those are two different criticisms, I think. You’re saying Jennifer Lawrence didn’t look like the book-Katniss you imagined, and that’s perfectly fair. What is NOT fair, is all those jerks out there who couldn’t care less about the character and criticize Jennifer Lawrence herself for not being attractive because she’s fat. And they do say it.

      1. layla

        Elle – that is exactly my point of view on this. I think there ARE two different arguments here.

        JL is by no means fat. She is athletic and in the real world, lean. I for one, am proud to see someone represent us strong, lean, tall athletic girls. It’s a nice change from the bobble heads with the muscle definition of milk fed veal that we usually get shown as the body ideal. (And by muscle definition, I am not talking Arnold.. Im simply talking about a girl who can run a 5km, catch/kick/throw a ball without giggling and rough house with the boys and then go get all girlied up for a night out!).

        BUT – on the other hand…. was she too “healthy” for the role she was playing. Ummm. I think yes. I am not arguing weak vs strong. I am not saying that she should have lost weight to fit a ridiculous size 00 ideal because some pig director likes to sexualise his woman into skinny oblivion. But hunger and a struggle for food was INTEGRAL to the story and in that point, I think they missed the mark. And sure, she hunted so was perhaps healthier than others in her distric.. but sometimes all a hunter can catch is a squirrel. A squirrel that needs to feed an entire family for a weak, so the “but she’s a hunter” argument to me, is really weak in and of itself.

        I also think the casting of Peeta contributes to this issue. Im sorry, I can not even look at a picture of him and not see anything but a small awkwardly proportioned boy.

        But yes – Sarah – the rest of your article and rant are spot on. Thank you!

        And lastly – Im still reeling from that “Hitch” story. I simply can not believe that. Ugh.

  3. The “Hunger Games” racism literally makes me ill. It’s 2012. Not 1812. Those racists need to leave this country. And the free world.

    Also, your comment “There is no wrong way to be me. This is right and worthy.” reminds me of the line Aibeleen says to Mae Mobley in “The Help”- “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” It’s really sad that this many years later, we still need to tell ourselves this. Or have others say it for us.

  4. Brilliant. Superb. This piece of writing is worth every moment I spent reading it, and every minute I will spend telling friends about it. Thank you for your boldness. Also? This: “A visual representation of my feminine outrage.” Oh ya!!!

  5. Mo

    Man, you really need to get over your lady-boner for KStew. You mention her all too often. No doubt Charlize will make SWATH worth seeing… not the twitching, blinking, and mouth-breathing of little Bella.

  6. Elizabeth

    This whole “Katniss is fat” is much ado about nothing because if anything, Ross and Company Hollywood-ized Katniss. Made her more attractive by choosing an actress who could actually wear the same lingerie as the women in the VF cover that is derided in this same column, instead of choosing an actress with a compact frame who didn’t look as strong as the others but actually could be and where she wasn’t, she could make up for it based on her other attributes.

    But they made a choice to pick an actress who could do the swimsuit pictorials (which yes, Lawrence has done in past for Esquire and Rolling Stone during her Oscar campaign) and sexy Glamour layout because make no mistake, that stuff is important to selling a movie.

    Lucky for Ross and Collins and the movie, Lawrence can act but that doesn’t mean that the criticism of a few (and it was only a few) critics was invalid because it actually was a valid criticism given the description of Katniss and the premise of the story. And we can’t say, “Well, but Jennifer looked athletic and strong and that is how Katniss is!” because gymnasts also look athletic and strong and they are closer in body type to how Katniss is described than Lawrence is.

    And by the by, Liam and Josh got some criticism too about their healthy look but Jennifer is the lead so she’ll get most of the accolades and most of the commentary.

    But again, Ross et al made a choice and frankly, Lawrence isn’t hurting from any of it so as stated at the beginning, this is much ado about nothing.

  7. kl

    Why is it not okay to have a “lady boner” about K-Stew (which was what? two sententeces of praise?) but women are allowed to go on and on about how good looking R-Pats (apparently) is and no one is asking them to out a lid on it.

  8. Emster

    The ridiculous thing about the Fat Katniss arguments – aside from the fact that she is in no way fat – is that she actually IS supposed to be better fed than most of her competitors. She’s been illegally acquiring adequate amounts of food – fresh protein and plants – for five years. Sure, she could’ve been hungrier on the train and the fault is with the direction, but she’s an athlete and a moderately-well fed one at that.

  9. Very well said. I’m so proud of this article that I read it to my ten year old daughter. She’s 5’2″ and healthy. Her friends barely reach her chin and I catch her trying to slouch to match “their height”. I tell her everyday to be proud that she’s tall, a black girl, and smart. I also printed out that quote and taped it to my mirror. Just in case I forget how awesome I am.

    What really disappoints me is that movies rarely show us reality. In a matter of five minutes I come across ten different ethnicities. There are so many great actors/actresses that can’t get work because they are pushed aside for bland.

  10. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my
    comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all
    that over again. Anyhow, just wanted to say great blog!

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