Critics' attacks on actress Jennifer Lawrence for being too hefty to star in the Hunger Games are threatening to undo all the positives of having a strong female character in a megahit movie, say experts. The New York Times zinged the choice of Lawrence for the role because her "womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian fantasy about a people starved into submission," although it made no similar comment about the male characters. The Hollywood Reporter grumbled about Lawrence's "lingering baby fat."
“These kind of messages are toxic,” Yale psychology professor Kelly Brownell tells ABC News. “They pressure people, especially girls, to be at odds with their bodies. They force into the public psyche an arbitrary and unrealistic ideal that is attainable by few, and leaves a great many scars in its wake.” Having a "strong woman character is always a positive,” adds Carol Bernstein, an associate professor of psychology at New York University. "It's unfortunate that the discussion has been sidetracked. It’s upsetting the media puts so much focus" on weight, "which makes young girls who are very susceptible to eating disorders think twice about how they look.” So far Lawrence, like Katniss, is fending off all attacks. “I’m so sick of these young girls with diets," she said in a recent interview. "I think it’s important for girls to have people to look up to and to feel good about themselves.” (Read more Suzanne Collins stories.)