Jennifer Lawrence Wants Body Shaming to Be Illegal, But Here's Why She's Wrong

Jennifer Lawrence Wants Body Shaming to Be Illegal, But Here's Why She's Wrong

She uses her fame to decry Hollywood's body problems, most recently telling Barbara Walters that she fears the impact that weight ideals have on her young fans. So naturally, as if on cue, Jennifer Lawrence is the latest celeb in an uninvited Photoshop gaff.

Last week, a GIF of J-Law's June 2011 Flare magazine cover showed a clearly retouched waist and face: 



The Oscar-winning actress has endured weight critique for years, and responds by refuting unattainable ideals that both she and her fans are measured against. Her candor has made her one of Hollywood's most beloved stars, yet directors and fans alike have still critiqued her body — notably Hunger Games "purists" who claimed her body was "too strong" to represent Katniss Everdeen on screen.

The debate over Photoshop is practically as old as the tool itself, but there's a clear line between retouching and physical manipulation. Brilliantly Weird's analysis of the cover in question points out that using Photoshop to retouch elements of a photo (lighting, et al.) is not the same as physically altering a person's body

There is no artistic reason to alter physical aspects of a photographic subject. But there is a clear commercial one: to fuel a global beauty market that is forecast to be worth $265 billion by 2017. 

In an interview with Barbara Walters, Lawrence asked why regulating sex and curse words occurs, but body shaming is fair game. "I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV," she explained. "Why is humiliating people funny?" 

First Amendment rights mean her dream will likely stay just that. An acknowledgement of retouched imagery (or not excessively retouching imges at all) in ads is possible and arguably necessary. But to regulate body shaming under laws that guarantee freedom of speech and the press is a separate beast requiring an industry code of ethics rather than government censorship, which is what Lawrence herself implies.

Nevertheless, her call to make body critique "illegal" begs a separate question about blame. In 2011, the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned two cosmetics ads featuring Julia Roberts and Christy Turlington. Yet press coverage of that ruling, as well as others that decried adverts for false product representation, sometimes blamed not those behind the scenes, but the subjects themselves.


A CBS MoneyWatch headline snapped, "If Photoshop is Banned In Advertising, It'll Be Julia Roberts' Fault." Likewise, coverage of the ASA's strike-down of a L'Oreal ad featuring Rachel Weisz proclaimed, "'Misleading' Rachel Weisz Ad Banned in Britain," leaving little doubt that the actress' image is as much of a product as Revitalift. But unless Roberts and Weisz moonlight as Photoshop editors behind closed doors, it's highly unlikely that they retouched the final photos. So why does rhetoric about unattainable ideals focus on the subjects rather than on those who manipulate their images? 


In this context, we can see why Lawrence fights back against those who view her body and image as "products" to dissect. As an actress in the public eye, she is the perceived "owner" of her image. But this perception negates the external editing that occurs sans her consent. Blame for perceived misrepresentation of characters, products and/or herself as a product thus unfairly falls on her shoulders.

So while global bans of ads that physically alter their subjects are crucial, we must also ask why Photoshop's subjects take more of a hit than those who use it. We need to frame "free speech" here in terms of protection for photographic subjects as much as our implicit protection from their images as "products" — and stop seeing bodies as products altogether.

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Lauren Maffeo

Lauren Maffeo is a Senior Associate on the Strategic Marketing team at The Advisory Board Company in Washington, DC. A Boston native, she earned her MSc from the London School of Economics. She has also written for The Guardian and The Next Web.

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