Jennifer Lawrence is the highest-paid actress in the world. Reese Witherspoon is an Oscar-winning actress and producer whose show Big Little Lies won five Emmy awards last month. While the two are now among the most respected people in Hollywood, they didn’t always hold the power they wield today; both endured years of sexual harassment and abuse on set.
Speaking at Elle‘s Women in Hollywood event Monday night, Witherspoon and Lawrence shared their stories.
Witherspoon told the audience that she had been sexually assaulted at the age of 16, reports USA Today. “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. Witherspoon went on to describe feelings of “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.”
While experiencing assault at such a young age was the most traumatizing incident of Witherspoon’s career, it wasn’t the only one of its kind. “I’ve had multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault and I don’t speak about them very often,” she admitted.
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People reports that Lawrence told the audience that film producers once demanded that she lose 15 pounds in two weeks—and that she was required to do “a nude lineup with about five women who were much, much thinner than me.” She stood side by side with the women, with “only paste-ons covering our privates and “after that degrading and humiliating lineup, the female producer told me I should use the naked photos of myself as inspiration for my diet.”
When Lawrence tried to complain about the unrealistic weight requirements, a producer basically told her that she looked fine to him—he’d sleep with her.
Witherspoon and Lawrence credit the women who spoke up about the harassment and assault they’ve experienced at the hands of long-time movie producer Harvey Weinstein with giving them the courage to share their experiences (Weinstein reps have denied all allegations).
“After hearing all the stories these past few days and hearing these brave women speak up tonight about things that we’re kind of told to sweep under the rug and not to talk about, it’s made me want to speak up and speak up loudly because I actually felt less alone this week than I have ever felt in my entire career,” Witherspoon said.