On Representation

Disclaimer: I knew going into This Is Us that it would probably be too sentimental for my tastes. I wasn’t wrong, but my own personal bias against emotional manipulation in the media probs led me to hating it more than I might have without that bias. Maybe. Probably not, but there’s a chance, right?

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So, NBC’s This Is Us premiered last night, and the internet lost its shit. As a fat girl, I knew I had to check it out to see how they portrayed the fat character. I was weary about it for multiple reasons, many of which derive directly from shitty representations of fat women in the media. I saw a variety of folks lauding the show for having a fat character, which I get. It’s rare, and when it happens, it’s exciting. Except, we all know that women don’t really get the complexity they deserve from a lot of television shows or movies; make the woman a fat woman, and she’s basically going to end up as one of four caricatures:

  1. The fat funny friend–a.k.a: the Melissa McCarthy.
  2. The pitiful woman we sentimentalize: awwww, it’s just so sad. However did she get so fat?
  3. The inspirational woman: wow, she’s certainly working hard to lose all that weight, what an inspiration.
  4. The woman who is defined by her body, and basically lives in shame and hatred of herself.

Not to mention any of the truly atrocious films or shows that make the villainous, greedy women also fat, ugly, and undeserving of any human kindness. But, let’s not talk about those, shall we?

When the show first introduces Kate–the fat character–she’s staring at her fridge, the contents of which have been labelled with all of the respective calories/ things she ought not to eat. Awesome. Then we journey along with her to weight loss support group, where she meets Toby–a fellow funny fattie. Right away, we know he’s going to be the love interest, which is fine–except where’s my rom-com where Melissa McCarthy falls in love with Idris Elba? Because it’s okay for overweight men to land total hotties in our sitcoms, but the thought of hot dude banging a fat chick is somehow absurd? Please. The dialogue between them is cheesy at best, and more than a little cringe-worthy. See, example A:

Toby: I probably won’t lose the weight. (pause)
Kate: I can’t fall for a fat guy right now.
Toby: Well, then, I guess I’ll have to lose the weight.

Emmy worthy writing.

I have a problem with Kate, though, writing aside. Not because of the actor, or because I don’t think the character’s story is valid. I do. But it seems to reinforce so many harmful ways of thinking, like: if I lose the weight, I’ll be happy. I’ll love myself. Somehow everything will be better.

Spoiler alert: you may not be any happier when you lose the weight. When I lost a majority of the weight I did, I wasn’t happy. I was miserable. I was running myself into the ground, convincing myself that I was happy. But, my state of mind was always “here’s how I lose the next pound, and”I should probably cut this food group out next,” and “man that was way too much ice cream–god why am I so fat?” I didn’t let myself eat a chip for three years. I didn’t love myself any more because I was skinnier. I was harder on myself because I wasn’t losing weight fast enough. I still wasn’t skinny enough. I would never be skinny enough.

That isn’t healthy, and it all stems from that first glimmer of hope that if you lose the weight, you’ll be happy. It’ll all be okay, then.

Obviously, my story isn’t the same as everyone else’s. But, that’s the point. There are seven billion people on this planet, and yet the only stories we get to see about fat women are those that have already been told. How many times have we gotten the inspirational Lifetime-esque movie of a fat woman who goes to fat support group and manages to lose a lot of weight and then–finally then–she’s happy. She’s become her true self–whatever the fuck that means. How many times are we going to get force-fed the same story and accept it?

Why does Kate have to hate herself? Why does she have to feel so much shame? Why can’t we have fat woman on tv who love their bodies?  Why do we keep playing this story over and over and over again?  Fat women are so much more than their bodies, but we rarely get to see that, and it’s tiring.

This isn’t representation. It’s not enough to put a fat body on the screen and call it a day. You want representation? Look at the new Ghostbusters movie, where the woman demolished multiple pizzas, and there wasn’t a single word uttered about calories and fatness. They were woman eating pizza, and that was that. How revolutionary.

Maybe the show will prove me wrong. Maybe Kate will have character outside of her body. Maybe it won’t define her. Maybe it’ll tackle the harder issues, like the mental fortitude it takes to actually change your life in a meaningful way.

I’ll just be patiently awaiting that rom-com.

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