Faux-acceptance and representation of fat people in media

Today my sister came over. I came downstairs to find her talking with my mom about some Disney channel show they were allowing my niece to watch. The way they were talking about it, I was wondering why they were letting my niece sit in front of it.

They were talking about the fat character in this particular show (I have no idea what show it actually was. I don’t watch that channel). My sister commented on how all the fat, or even just not skinny girls, were always the dorky friend. Or they were awkward, or just absurdly dumb. Or all the jokes made at this person, or even just the jokes this person made about herself, were either food related, or fat related.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be an isolated case with whatever Disney Channel show this was.

Is it too much to ask that there be a fat character, or characters, that are just…normal people? Or at least treated like normal people? It seems like the way fat people are represented in movies and tv is less about accurate representations of people with larger stature, and more about constantly reminding the audience that “HEY!! Don’t forget! This character is FAT.”

Take, for example, this new movie “Pitch Perfect.” The character “Fat Amy” says she calls herself that so she can get to it before the skinny girls do, because she thinks they will call her fat anyway. So right off the bat, we have a character that straight up gets introduced as FAT before anything else. She’s not Amy, she’s “Fat Amy.”

And not only is everyone shocked that Amy, this fat person (don’t forget!) is actually able to sing, but she’s damn good at it. The message here is clearly “don’t judge a (fat) book by it’s cover,” which is a good message indeed, but it’s lost among all the jokes about Amy being out of shape, awkward, or obsessed with food. And it’s supposed to be so “empowering” and”progressive” that all the skinny, pretty girls let the fat girl join. …Do they want an award or something? And here I was thinking that anyone with talent and singing skill should be let into a choir group regardless of what she (or even HE) looks like. So congratulations to them for doing what they should be doing anyway.

Or, for another example, Bridesmaids. Don’t get me wrong, I like this movie. But lets look at the character Megan. She’s introduced and set up as boisterous, loud, unfeminine, and of course…likes food (there is a food fetish sex tape that she makes at the end of the movie a short way into the credits that references an earlier food fetish tape in the movie). She is pretty much the only fat female character. (It should be noted, that there aren’t a whole lot of fat male characters anyway.)

There is a scene where she comes to one of the other women’s houses and tells her to suck it up and get back on her feet after a falling out. She tells her how she was fat and awkward as a child and got teased a lot. So she worked hard in school and now has a very high-ranking government job. The message being don’t let snooty people get to you, and again, don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Again, a good message, but would it have the same level of importance if this character were not fat? Why does the media seem to have such a fascination with fat people achieving things in their lives? Is it really THAT hard to believe that fat people can actually do the same things that other people do? Like…y’know…do well in school and have good jobs?

One other example I can think of is kind of older, but the small side character of “Big Rhonda” on that 70’s show. She was a some-time girlfriend of the character Fez. She had been mentioned in the show before she actually made an appearance. Made out to sound like an absolutely enormous girl, when she finally appeared, she was no taller than Donna, and no wider than Hyde. She looked pretty normal to me. She was put in clothes that hid her figure, and turtleneck sweaters that came up to her chin. But despite the unflattering clothing, “Big Rhonda” wasn’t all that big at all.

I think if we are going to move toward a more realistic view of fat people and even just people with average bodies, we need to have better representations of them in the media. It’s not enough to just have a fat character in your show or movie. Because that point pretty much disappears if you turn them into a caricature. It’s not progressive if your fat character is shown always having food in their hand. It’s not accepting if your fat character is always shown as out of breath or making jokes about how they can’t run without needing a soda. And it’s not open-minded to have an average sized person be depicted as “big.” Especially when she really isn’t, even when wearing figure-hiding clothes.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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