Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Lawrence are adding their voices to the growing list of major Hollywood stars who are coming forward with their stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault within the industry.
On Monday, both Witherspoon and Lawrence got candid about their respective experiences as young acting hopefuls at the Elle Women in Hollywood event, noting that they were encouraged at the time to keep quiet about their encounters.
“When I was much younger and starting out, I was told by the producers of a film to lose 15 pounds in two weeks,” Lawrence said at the podium, where she was accepting the magazine’s cover honor. “One girl before me had already been fired for not losing enough weight fast enough, and during this time a female producer had me do a nude lineup with about five women who were much, much thinner than me. And we all stood side by side with only paste-ons covering our privates.”
Lawrence explained that the embarrassing lineup wasn’t the worst of the experience, however.
“After that degrading and humiliating lineup, the female producer told me I should use the naked photos of myself as inspiration for my diet,” she said. “I can laugh now, it’s OK.” Her director at the time, she said, was trying to use other tactics to get Lawrence ready for the part.
“He asked me to star in a porno as the character, among many other things that are too inappropriate to repeat here,” she said. With her own scarring experience in mind, Lawrence then pledged to support a proposed commission aimed at ending sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.
“I stand here today to bring the message home and into the hearts of everyone who has felt threatened in this industry,” she said. “We will stop normalizing these horrific situations.”
Fellow Oscar winner Witherspoon, for her part, revealed that she had been sexually assaulted by a director when she was just 16 years old – and that the recent headlines surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s inappropriate behavior had brought those memories back.
“I have my own experiences that have come back to me very vividly and I find it really hard to sleep, hard to think, hard to communicate a lot of the feelings that I’ve been having about anxiety, honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier,” she said. “[I feel] true disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment. And I wish that I could tell you that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly it wasn’t. I’ve had multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault and I don’t speak about them very often.”
The Oscar winner added that one positive is that she’s felt “less alone this week than I have ever felt in [her] entire career.” And, she said, “I feel really, really encouraged that there will be a new normal. For the young women in this room, life is going to be different because we’re with you, we have your back and it makes me feel better. It makes me so sad to talk about these issues, but I would be remiss not to.”
Other actresses have come forward about their own experiences in the past week in response to both Weinstein’s fall from grace and Alyssa Milano’s “#MeToo” campaign, including Rose McGowan, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd, among others. On Monday, America Ferrera shared her story in a post to Instagram, recounting how she was first sexually assaulted when she was just nine years old.
“First time I can remember being sexually assaulted I was 9-years-old,” she wrote. “I told no one and lived with the shame and guilt thinking all along that I, a 9-year-old child, was somehow responsible for the actions of a grown man.”
“Ladies, let’s break the silence to the next generation of girls won’t have to live with this bullshit,” she added.