'Hunger Games' sparks latest round of body image debate
Like many of the thousands who have made the film a massive blockbuster, Burns-Howard, the mother of two grown daughters, adored the movie. She was particularly taken with the performance of actress Jennifer Lawrence, who portrayed Katniss, the story's heroine.
So she was taken aback to learn that some critics reviewing the film criticized the actress as being too curvy to convincingly play a teenager living in a world ravaged by hunger.
Burns-Howard, who is also a grandmother of two young children, thought the comments illustrate our culture's unfortunate focus on appearance and, specifically, weight.
"It's a terrible message," Burns-Howard said. "I think weight is focused on too much in our society."
A Hollywood Reporter review praised Lawrence's performance, but also mentioned her "lingering baby fat." A New York Times review mentioned that Lawrence "might have looked hungry enough to play Katniss" a few years ago, but her now "seductive, womanly figure" made her a bad fit for the role.
The comments have drawn fire from many who found them inappropriate and unwarranted.
Another "Hunger Games" fan, 13-year-old Danielle Peterson, of Stratford, said she heard about the controversy and thinks it's ridiculous. Like Burns-Howard, she said Katniss and her guy pal and hunting partner Gale are supposed to be fit and self-sufficient -- not rail thin.
"They're definitely not supposed to be starving," she said.
Lawrence isn't the first public personality to find herself the focus of this sort of "weight-gate." Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet, for instance, was criticized early in her career for her non-stick-like figure -- particularly in her breakthrough role in "Titanic," which is being re-released this month in 3D. Others who have taken heat for not fitting the rail-thin Hollywood mold include singer Adele and entertainer Jessica Simpson, who drew heat for gaining too much weight during her recent pregnancy.
In fact, the debate over women, body image and the media has been going on for years, said Rich Hanley, associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden. "There's just this American obsession with weight, in particular the female form," Hanley said. "We can't get over the fact that human bodies come in all different shapes and sizes."
Fairfield therapist Andrea Goodman said women, particularly young girls, still receive too many negative messages about their bodies. "It's not just from Hollywood," she said. "It's advertising. It's TV commercials. It's this emphasis on looking thin and losing weight."
Goodman said she sees many women grappling with weight issues who are struggling to live up to an unrealistic societal standard about looks.
"There's a disconnect between what might be better for you physically and how you believe you need to look to fit the standard of the culture,'' she said.
Though she's always been slim, Burns-Howard said she has long been alarmed at how our society values a lean body. She said she's always more shocked when she sees an actress who's experienced a dramatic weight loss than when she sees a woman with some meat on her bones.
"When I watch the Academy Awards and see women like Kate Winslet or Meryl Streep, they look healthy to me," she said.
Peterson, meanwhile, said she doesn't think girls and women should compare themselves to an unrealistic standard of appearance, but should just be themselves. "If you're happy with how you are, stay how you are," she said.
As for the "Hunger Games," Burns-Howard said she did have a problem with the physical appearance of one of the actors. But it wasn't Lawrence. It was Josh Hutcherson, who plays Katniss' love interest Peeta -- a boy who works at a bakery.
"I actually thought he should have been a little chubbier," she said.
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