I really hope you all don’t kill my love for my girl, Jennifer Lawrence. But after keeping track of the live buzz during the Oscars it’s starting to get there.
It started when she tripped on her way up the stairs to accept her award for Best Actress. Tumblr was awash with textual squeals of how adorable and real and human she was. And she totally was. I giggled, like anyone else, over her closing, flabbergasted, “Thanks!” But then I had to stop. Because a little while ago the internet was saying quite the opposite of Kristen Stewart, when she limped out on stage with Dan Radcliffe to present.
Of course, this starts well before this moment. The Kristen Stewart hate has been going on for a while, starting out as a reaction to her participation in one of the most successful/reviled franchises in recent memory along with her barely-there performance as Bella Swan. It’s been accelerated by her fidgety, nervous demeanor when in public and blown to epic proportions when an affair she had with her Snow White and the Huntsman director hit the presses. While her filmography is active and ever growing (she got reinstated as the lead for the Snow White sequel, yeah girl), she has a favorite punching bag for the masses.
So I wasn’t surprised when people commented on her mouth twisting and hairs out of place as she announced the nominees for Best Production Design. I was thrown, however, by how insensitive people were being to someone who was visibly in pain. Even if you didn’t see her on the red carpet with crutches, it was fairly clear that she was limping, not wobbling due to high heels or the centrifugal force of her own awkwardness.
Jennifer Lawrence is also part of a successful franchise based off a YA series, and since she became a reputable name after gaining recognition for her performance in Winter’s Bone, she’s fostered a down-to-earth persona of a girl that shoots from the hip and cares little about what people think of her. For the most part, people find it charming, even when some of what she says is insensitive or downright offensive. When she presented by herself she didn’t look much more relaxed than Stewart – her shoulders were practically up to her ears and she seemed to be making an effort to read the teleprompter as robotically as possible. Still, it seems like to many the 22-year-old Oscar winner can do no wrong.
It wouldn’t be hard to feel the same way about Stewart; the public often chooses its loyalties rather arbitrarily. One could easily drum up some sympathy for her obvious anxiety about being under public scrutiny, as it’s something that few people are built for. One could also compliment her for sticking to her commitments to the Academy Awards even after injuring her foot. But no, people want to act like if she’s not smiling like an empty automaton all the time then she’s actively wasting their time and ruining their lives.
What irritates me the most is that Lawrence’s and Stewart’s respective brands of awkward are really not terribly different. They both say seemingly spontaneous things that no veteran actress in her right mind would say in an interview, they both flail and gesticulate when they talk, and they make it clear that being dressed and dolled up for the cameras is not their natural element. Yet, Lawrence is deemed the more palatable of the two, perhaps because she smiles more, maybe because she’s more traditionally attractive. Maybe it’s just because she didn’t screw her director. Yet. (I kid, I kid.)
There’s also a bit of a “one of the boys” element going on. Neither Stewart or Lawrence are particularly girly, but their versions of butch are different. Lawrence has the persona of the girl that guy’s think they want to be around. She talks about food, sleeping in, and drinking, and has a round muscular body that fills out a swim suit beautifully. Stewart is more edgy. She’s not as skinny as people think she is, but she is pale and angular and wears her hair messy and her eyes smoky. She wore a see-through pant-dress to a premiere (which was awesome, by the way). When she played Joan Jett in The Runaways it was hard to tell what was more terrifying (and tantalizing), her jagged haircut or her bad boy slouch. She’s not the cool friendly chick next door, she’s the weirdo at the back of the class who is nonetheless way prettier than your girlfriend.
The appeal of Hollywood actresses will probably always be estimated by their accessibility. We all want to imagine them as our friends or our lovers. When an actress refuses to play the game, it often results in blowback. Jennifer Lawrence appeals because she reminds women of themselves or who they want to be, and men what they wish more women were like. Stewart bares herself in a more confrontational way. You can see her nervousness, her insecurity, the things we don’t want to be reminded that exist. She is a walking emblem of how hard it actually is to be an actress in Hollywood, to be a young woman whose whole life has become a form of entertainment. Nobody wants to be reminded of the fact that there are consequences to our intense need to be entertained 24/7 by beautiful people. God forbid, we might actually have to admit to some accountability.
There is many an actor that acts the way Stewart does. Her boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, presented with Amanda Seyfried last year at the Oscars and it was cringe-worthy. Most people just laughed. This year, Joaquin Phoenix gave a shake of his head when his name was called in the list of Best Actor nominees, and there was barely a peep. Kristen Stewart pushes her hair behind her ear and the whole world declares her an ungrateful bitch.
I almost feel like I shouldn’t be writing this, because I don’t want to create another dichotomy between prominent women. Stewart and Lawrence are not enemies and I’m not trying to make them out to be. I mean, things get even worse when you step out of white, young, attractive Hollywood starlet box. What about the heat that Quvenzhane Wallis has been getting for no other reason other than existing being proud? Or when M.I.A. at last year’s Superbowl flipped the bird, the same thing Lawrence did to the press room after the ceremony? M.I.A. got reamed for it, whereas everyone shrugged at JLaw and called her a bad ass.
It’s not about individual women. It’s about the labels and categories we apply to them to make us feel better, and often times that is based off of how we think women should be. And sadly, public opinion is fickle. There are already many critics who call Lawrence’s casual persona a schtick that is highly packaged and calculated. Now that she has the highest award Hollywood offers, the tides may turn on her and probably for petty reasons. This is why we need to support all of our Hollywood girls and not treat them all like dancing monkeys. They’re jobs may be to perform, but believe it or not they are not in fact obligated to smile when whenever we want them to. They’re allowed to be flawed, they’re allowed to be different and rebellious and proud of who they are, even if those things make us uncomfortable.