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Florence Pugh just reminded us why we should never comment on a woman’s body

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The Fighting With My Family star was called “chunky” in a review, and she isn’t here for it.

In Fighting With My Family, Florence Pugh is a revelation.

She plays Raya, later known by her pseudonym Paige, the youngest child of a passionate wrestling family from Norwich who is plucked from obscurity to become the youngest female champion of the WWE, befriending Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson along the way. Outwardly steely but desperately unsure, vulnerable and lonely, Pugh’s performance is lived-in and human, the very opposite of what we expect a wrestler to be, which is what makes it so moving.

It’s a funny, fantastic film that will make your heart soar – and well deserving of the four stars we gave it in our review.

Florence Pugh as Paige in Fighting With My Family (2019)

Florence Pugh in Fighting With My Family

On the whole, film critics have been positive about the movie, which currently has a 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes. But there is one review that stands out, a piece on the Evening Standard that describes Pugh as “the film’s main weapon”.

So far, so fine. However, the piece goes on to say that “the 23-year-old turns out to be an effortlessly nuanced comedian. With chunky thighs. Her character is based on real-world WWE champion Paige, whose legs are significantly slimmer. How cool! So many actresses offer an idealised version of real women. Pugh is changing the ideal.” (The italics here are our furious own.) 

Say what now? Of all the words to use to describe Pugh’s performance in Fighting With My Family, you want to go with chunky? It is never OK to comment on the size of a woman’s body on screen in this way, and Pugh explained why in an empowering Twitter thread.

“Oh dear. Singling out my ‘chunky’ thighs doesn’t help normalising an ‘all shape & size’ Hollywood,” Pugh wrote. “In fact, that’s part of the problem. I do hope people take more away from the film than the circumference of my hams.”

When Pugh received responses from some who argued that the review was a celebration of her curves and not a denigration of them, and that the use of the word ‘chunky’ was positive rather than negative, Pugh explained that they were completely missing the point. 

“No one’s upset because of the word ‘chunky’,” Pugh added. “Whether positive or negative there is totally no need in a film review to highlight how big OR small any part of my body is. Commenting on it like this doesn’t educate, it only highlights unnecessarily and that is why people are upset.”

Pugh’s right: no matter the intention of the comment, it only goes to highlight just how backwards the film industry is when it comes to thinking and conceiving of women’s bodies. Big or small, chunky or slim, a woman’s body does not exist to be remarked upon in a film review. It is there as a vehicle for the performance, exactly the same as a man’s body is.

Hollywood desperately needs to move forward and into an era when women of all shapes and sizes can tell their stories on screen. But this isn’t going to happen when their bodies are called out in film reviews precisely as a point of comparison.

This needs to stop, and it needs to stop now. As Pugh herself noted: “I do hope people take more away from the film than the circumference of my hams.” 

Images: Getty, Robert Viglasky / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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