We Need More Plus-sized Women in Film!

The average size for women in the U.S is 16-18, but women in Hollywood are all around size 0-6. It’s been made pretty clear over the years that everyone wants to see themselves represented in media. We all want to feel included and find reflections of ourselves in someone we admire. That being said, Hollywood is only representing the physical “ideal” and ignoring the existence of everyday people.

Models like Ashley Graham, Philomena Kwao, and Tess Holiday are changing beauty standards for the better. We’re seeing more “plus-sized” women in modeling but why aren’t they in film? (I use “plus-size” even though most of the women in this category represent the average woman in the U.S)

Women in media face constant scrutiny over their bodies, whether they are a size 2 or 20. There is constant pressure to be at a ‘healthy weight’ and even when they are being praised for their bodies, the focus is still on their appearance and not on their careers.

Oprah’s weight was always newsworthy. Whether she slimmed down to a ‘great new body’ or gained it all back, her body was a constant topic for paparazzi. She even became the face of Weight Watchers to ‘inspire’ women like her to lose weight. Oprah is inspirational, but she inspires through the work she put into her life and career and the differences she has made for women of color in the entertainment industry. She has, unfortunately, struggled to embrace being a plus-sized woman in the public eye.

Often in Hollywood, small actresses are marked as “fat” even when they are well below average. Jennifer Lawrence faced body shaming despite being a size 6. Alicia Silverstone was famously ridiculed for her weight in Batman & Robin and faced body shaming at a very young age, while simultaneously being publicly sexualized.  Seeing such small women in film has distorted our image of “healthy” weight and shoved size diversity into a corner.

We’ve had Melissa McCarthy in films like Spy and The Heat and while they’re amazing movies, McCarthy’s characters are almost always portrayed as aggressive, goofy, and masculine. Plus-size women in film are mostly cast as comic relief, the best friend, or the “ugly” girl.

One of the first times a plus woman broke this barrier was the movie Precious, starring Gabourey Sidibe. Her role showed plus women of color in a role they hadn’t had before. But since Precious, we have had few plus women star in genres other than comedy. Sidibe regularly receives criticism over her body and told People Magazine that she dreads getting ready for award shows because she knows no matter what, she will be criticized. She also revealed that many designers refuse to work with her because she is ‘too fat’. Sidibe is an accomplished actress who inspired many with her roles and continues to work for body positivity, yet even so she faces cruelty online and constant scrutiny of her body.

Huge action movies like The Hunger Games and Wonder Woman feature white, thin women as the leads. Movies like these made strides for women as lead characters, but still conform to the Hollywood standard of beauty. We don’t see plus superheroes, plus women fighting or running in movies because we, as a society, are convinced that they aren’t physically capable of these roles.

The plus-size modeling industry has shown us that curvy women are gorgeous and just as physically capable as straight-size models, so it’s time we bring these beautiful women to the big screen. If plus women can be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, or walk the runway at Fashion Week, then we need to see plus women in major box office movies outside of just comedy. We need plus women in drama and action movies, whose story arc doesn’t revolve around losing weight or their own insecurity. We need representation for the everyday people in our country so that the next generation grows up seeing that they are capable and strong.