The 86th Academy Awards ceremony was preceded by a lot of buzz. Much of the speculation included talk of which film would win Best Picture, how Ellen DeGeneres would host the show, whether Leonardo DiCaprio would win an Oscar, and who would win Best Supporting Actress. This category sparked a great debate over who would take home the golden man: Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle or Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave. Lawrence has had a year of crazy success—winning an Oscar for Best Actress in 2013 and winning the world over with her disregard of social norms. Nyong’o is a newcomer on the scene—a graduate of Yale University, earning an Oscar nomination for her powerful debut in a feature film. This was a difficult race, and as it has played out, I have observed a strange phenomenon.
The battle between these two women extended far beyond the awards ceremony and and become a competition of who is the better woman. Somehow, this has translated into support for one woman and the bashing of the other. All over social media, people—mostly young women—who were rooting for Lupita did not fail to add that they were getting “tired of” the once praised J-Law. Lawrence’s once-relatable awkward demeanor, at odds with the rest of Hollywood, was now being called an “act.” Lawrence’s body garnered even further scrutiny. The actress—who once remarked “I can name a lot of things that taste better than the way skinny feels”—was regarded as a champion for self-esteem and a positive body image. Yet more recently, The Huffington Post published an article that echoed a number of other critics. The Post argued that her body, though curvy, still fits the dominant ideals of beauty, de-legitimizing her as a “body-positive role model to young girls and ‘chubby’ women.” Even on the very day of the awards show, when Lawrence took a fall on the red carpet, her clumsiness was no longer considered as charming as it was last year.
This shift in opinion towards Jennifer Lawrence appeared to have happened overnight, but I think it made a lot of sense. Perhaps some of the backlash against Jennifer Lawrence resulted from rooting for the underdog, who, in this case, was Lupita Nyong’o. Or perhaps some backlash stemmed from the nature of the two performances given by the respective women—Lawrence played the ditzy Rosalyn in the crime comedy-drama film American Hustle and Nyong’o played the tortured Patsey in the historically significant movie 12 Years a Slave.
But let’s recall the Oscars of the year before—when this exact situation played out between Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence. Hathaway was seen as the “annoying theater kid” and Lawrence was quirky and exciting. This rise and fall of Oscar actresses is reflective of the nature of women. As women, we cannot unsee the differences between one another. We are always pointing out what one woman has and, by default, what another lacks. This becomes extremely destructive when applied to women in the film industry. There are already too few leading roles for women and too few chances for women to succeed in the industry. When we reject any up-and-comer in favor of a popular leading lady (or vice versa), we also reject the need for greater representation of women on the big screen.
The concept of one “America’s Sweetheart” or one “It Girl” is destructive. The Huffington Post article is a perfect example of how this behavior is counterproductive. It rejects Lawrence as a supporter of positive body image when we are lucky to have one in the first place. Writer Roxane Gay once said that “young women in Hollywood cannot win, no matter what they do.” How can we get closer to achieving gender equality if we cannot first embrace fellow women? Anne Hathaway, Lupita Nyong’o, and Jennifer Lawrence all embody inspiring ideals with which young girls can identify. If you aren’t completely charmed by these three actresses, then find other actresses that you can support. Let us cultivate an array of successful women who represent all shapes, sizes, and personalities, and let them be recognized.