We all know the trope. The main character is skinny, white, pretty. She can be goofy, but rarely at her own expense. Her love stories are the focus of the plot. She always has a funny sidekick, often a woman of color, and most commonly a plus-size woman. She’s there to provide emotional support and a witty one-liner or two. Think of Sookie in Gilmore Girls, who plays second fiddle to thin and quirky Lorelai Gilmore. Or think of Etta Candy in every incarnation of Wonder Woman. Even children’s shows, like Total Drama Island, Good Luck Charlie, and Austin and Ally repeat these tropes. Don’t fat women deserve better?
It’s nice to see fat women in the media, for once, but why do they always have to be funny? Almost every larger woman in TV or the movies is basically a walking joke. Sure, it’s gotten more diverse, but the representation itself has barely improved. Fat women are still relegated to comic relief or goofy sidekick. You might say we’re a long way from the Fat Monica gags on Friends, but that’s not true. Think about Insatiable, featuring Debby Ryan, which treats its main character as a joke until she loses weight. That’s the same formula, isn’t it?
Let’s consider some of the most popular plus-size actresses around now. Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson both broke into the mainstream years ago, and their popularity has rarely floundered. They’ve both been in dozens of TV shows and movies, usually playing comedic roles, which they do brilliantly. Rebel Wilson just recently had her first starring role in a romantic comedy, for which she garnered critical praise. Melissa McCarthy won an Academy Award for her dramatic lead role in Can You Ever Forgive Me? However, if you ask most people, they primarily think of them as comedic actors or side characters. Why is that? They’ve both shown that they have range, and both immense comedic and dramatic talent. They’ve both played lead roles. So why do we relegate them to comedic side characters when they’ve proven that they’re capable of so much more?
These two women are success stories, however. Most plus-size actresses never get the chance to expand into dramatic acting. Skinny comedic actresses have plenty of opportunities to break into dramatic acting, even if they’re not particularly talented actors. Skinny comedic actors also get totally different treatment. Actresses like Jennifer Aniston and Anna Kendrick are in plenty of rom-coms, but when they’re funny, it’s quirky and cute. They’re rarely the butt of a rude joke. Furthermore, these skinny comedic actors are able to break into dramatic roles with ease. Plus size actresses have to prove over and over again that they’re worthy of serious roles, whereas skinny actresses can easily transition from comedy to drama and vice versa.
The problem I see with this is that plus size women constantly have to prove their worth to others time and time over to be taken even remotely seriously. They need to be funny and willing to make jokes at their own expense in return for our consideration. We require humor and self-deprecation from fat women, in return for the common human decency we all return. Fat women don’t need to put on a performance to earn their keep. They are capable of the same range of emotions and humanity as the rest of us.
We deserve more fat women on television, and not just as comedic sidekicks.
I want fat women in periodic dramas, with pretty dresses and dramatic love triangles. I want to see fat women in rom-coms, having meet-cutes and falling for handsome heartthrobs. Let’s see some fat girls in coming-of-have fantasy stories, as the chosen one, as the hero.
Plus size girls and women have every right to just as beautiful, dramatic, and tragic as their skinny counterparts. For once, I’d like to see a version of Gilmore Girls where a plus size mother and daughter are the protagonists, and get to be cute and quirky and fun. I’d like to see a fat Wonder Woman too.
A woman’s value should never be dictated by her size, and that’s true in television as well as in real life. Let the big girls be the heroes for once. They deserve it.
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