Last week, Variety reported that Quentin Tarantino’s next film will center on a true American horror story: the Manson Family murders. Though details are scant, Tarantino is supposedly considering Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt (whom he worked with on Inglourious Basterds) and Jennifer Lawrence for starring roles. Many immediately mused that Oscar winner Lawrence is in the running to play Sharon Tate, actress and wife of director Roman Polanski, who was one of five brutally murdered by Manson and his cult in Los Angeles in 1969.
One person of note isn’t convinced that Lawrence should read for the part, however, and it’s the person who owns the rights to Tate’s likeness: her sister, Debra. Based on the casting rumors, Debra told TMZ, “I don’t think as much about Jennifer Lawrence. Not that I have anything against her, but she just—I don’t know—she’s not pretty enough to play Sharon. That’s a horrible thing to say, but you know, I have my standards.”
Debra’s words sparked outrage on the internet, as just about everything does these days, with many outlets turning her quip about preferring Robbie to play her sister—“the way [Robbie] even carries herself is similar to that of Sharon,” she said—into character assassination against Lawrence. BuzzFeed, for example, published a piece titled “Someone Said That Jennifer Lawrence Wasn’t Pretty Enough For Something And It Was Fucking Savage,” devaluing Tate’s sister as merely "someone.” Because as much as Lawrence has been called out as of late for trying too hard to be relatable, there are as many people who love her for her talent, beauty and two left feet.
As Debra’s comments continued to provoke a swarm of think pieces egged on by the echo chamber of social media, some surmised that perhaps Lawrence is instead being considered for the role of Tate’s killer, Susan Atkins. Either way, no matter how Tarantino casts his first foray into true crime, the stain of Tate’s comments endures nearly a week later, and it’s because the impact of someone criticizing a celebrity with the words pretty enough feels strange and uncomfortable to us all. Who would ever think we’d live in a world where Jennifer Lawrence would be called “not pretty enough”?
It’s rhetoric most of us participate in any time we scroll through social media, stalk our ex’s new flame and obsessively edit, tune and filter our selfies.
Let’s start by saying this much: Debra shouldn’t be villified for her comments. If anyone should be allowed to talk freely about who gets to play Tate, it’s a member of her family, whose long-term suffering is incomprehsible. While her comments might not be kosher in our politically correct culture, they weren’t laced with Real Housewives-level vitriol or ill intent. This is Hollywood, after all. Poll any number of actresses and the majority will likely tell you how many times a smug casting director has called them “not pretty enough.” That doesn’t make it right, but it is commonplace.
What’s more interesting about Debra’s comments setting the internet ablaze is just how aware—some may even say trigger-happy—it seems we’ve become when it comes to the ickiness of judging another’s physical appearance, let alone a celebrity’s. One would think we’ve reached a point when the masses truly understand just how toxic phrases like pretty enough can be—and yet, it’s rhetoric most of us participate in any time we scroll through social media, stalk our ex’s new flame and obsessively edit, tune and filter our selfies. Debra’s comments, then, are upsetting because of her candidness plays into our own insecurities. It makes us all of us question, if someone like Lawrence can be evaluated as not pretty enough, who the hell is?
Coincidentally, at the same time news of Tarantino’s latest venture broke, a new study confirmed that society’s worst kept secret is still true: men like women who are young and skinny. The unnecessary research, reported by Red Online, found the most popular female body has a body mass index of 19, which is “borderline underweight” and “associated with youth.” Go figure.
The study also revealed that the “popularity”—a strange, unquanitifiable unit of measurement by any means—of a woman’s body drops as her BMI increases. So unless you’re a woman who is borderline underweight, you’re deemed less attractive. These results are generally a reminder that we’re not as progressive as we like to believe, even in the age of body positivity movements and marketing campaigns based on them. And yet, our jaws drop when someone calls a celebrity “not pretty enough.”
The nexus between this study and Debra’s comments amounts to the irony of how much we’re willing to admit outloud. Debra Tate, 64, survivor, doesn’t owe us or Lawrence anything—not even decorum. But we do owe each other that, especially since so many eagerly come to the defense of an actress who may or may not be auditioning for a role in a movie she may or may be cast in. Thus far, the public’s response to digesting the phrase not pretty enough is promising in how it demonstrates how conscious we’ve become of the battles women face everyday. At the same time, it’s a phrase that’s uttered in bars, on Tinder and amongst friends all the time. So yes, while jarring and shameful, we do live in a world where Jennifer Lawrence is not pretty enough. But we have the power to change it.