Fed up with the stereotypes

There are a couple of things I have issues with. One of the major ones is large women playing loud, obnoxious, often gross klutzes in sitcoms and films. It really really upsets me. Now I realize that a lot of people are okay with it – because, well, it’s not a thin person pretending to be a fat person. It’s not essentially a size-ist version of “blackface”. But I still find it incredibly distasteful. (I also have a problem with thin people putting on fat suits, but that’s something I’ll leave for another post).

As an overweight woman, who doesn’t proudly fart in public, make lewd suggestions every chance she gets, stuff her face till there’s food dropping off her chin at the buffet, or sexually harass anything in pants… I take exception to the stereotype being propagated by actors.

Yeah, sure, if you’re a big woman who’s found a place in Hollywood, that’s awesome. But let it be because you’re a great actor, not because you’re willing to make a fool of yourself and others like you for whatever sad amount of cash they’re offering you. And a fat woman can still be funny without being obscene.

There are a handful of actors who are guilty of this. And on principle I won’t go see their films because I just don’t find them funny. And it’s not because “it hits too close to home”, because I honestly don’t identify with their characters. If anything as a fat woman I would rather try to blend into the background, to not make a scene than be loud and brash and insulting. And most of my friends on the larger size of “normal” are the same.

As a counterpoint, it took me absolute ages to watch Pitch Perfect, simply because all my thin friends kept going on about “Fat Amy”. It was only when some of my “rounder” friends expressed the same delight that I relented. And it was fun. I laughed – a lot. Even at Fat Amy. But there was still an element of “making myself the clown because I’m fat and that’s the only way people will like me” that didn’t sit well. Let’s not even go near the vomit scene.

It carries a whole heap of terrible history, but it reminds me in part of black actors who were cast in shows where they had to play the subservient. I watch those old films and when I was younger I just assumed that they were there because they wanted to be. But as I got older I realized that these were men and women who dreamed of being actors, but that the only roles they would be given were caricatures. Sure they didn’t HAVE to take them, but it was that or let go of the idea of ever living their dream. So they wrung their hands and bowed and scraped and said “Yes massa” in more ways than one.

I’m horrified to think that there may still be an element of that out there. If you’re not the perfect shape the only role you can hope to get is as a clown. We’ll cast all the pretty women as the important characters and you can just be there for comic relief.

Now I know there are a smattering of films out there where larger people play leads – and that’s great – but we’re still seeing films hit the circuit where a person’s measurements may as well be the only description given to the character in the original script. I want characters with more depth than “they were the fat kid at school”, “they can eat 18 pies in six seconds”, “they fart when they bend over”, “we can add a comical thunderous beat to the sound track when ever they enter the room”.

Oh and another thing… When you do give me the serious plus-size leading lady, please don’t let the overriding story arc be about how her weight makes her miserable.

Yes, obesity is a serious problem around the world. Yes, we need to be solving the problem. But the fact of the matter is that large people are a reality. Treating them like a joke is not going to help solve that problem, and neither is ignoring them.

There are so many talented writers and actors out there, I don’t believe for a second that wobbly, jeering, crass women is the best we can do.




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