There is nothing that gets me heated faster than the poor representation of plus-sized female characters. Plus-sized actresses are a rarity in Hollywood, especially in content for younger audiences. When there is plus-sized female content in media, it’s usually in comedies that use the plus-sized actress’ weight as the big punch line. Not only is this an inaccurate portrayal of the world around us, but it’s unhealthy for young girls struggling with body issues and low self-esteem.
Actresses like Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy are two great examples of plus-sized actresses that have made it big in Hollywood through comedy. These women are both writers and producers, as well as actors, creating parts that they want to play. Both women create roles for themselves that aren’t just about their size. Their talent gets to be center stage. Unfortunately, these women are the exception and not the rule.
Lack of plus-sized representation and fat erasure are still big problems in movies and TV shows today, especially media targeting younger audiences. In the 2018 movie, Love, Simon, an adaptation of Becky Albertalli’s book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Katherine Langford plays the main female character, Leah Burke. Many fans of the book, including myself, were outraged. In the book and the sequel, Leah on the Offbeat, which focuses on Leah, she is described as chubby or fat. As you can see by the picture of Katherine Langford below, the actress is neither.
Photo from Fanpop
This isn’t the only example of fat erasure of young female characters in media. Another recent example is the character Art3mis in the movie adaptation of the book, Ready Player One. In the book, the character is unapologetically curvy. She owns her size, with her videogame persona the same size as she is in real life, which is a rarity in the story. In the movie, however, Art3mis’ videogame persona is extremely thin, with the actress portraying her very thin as well.
Photo from Variety
Not only is fat erasure a big problem in media targeted for young adults, but problematic representations of plus-sized girls are as well. Netflix’s Insatiable has actress Debbie Ryan wear a fat suit for scenes where she is portrayed as the stereotypical unpopular “fat girl” in high school. She is bullied and called “Fatty Patty.” The narrative is even more problematic than using a fat suit in the year 2018. Debbie Ryan’s character loses weight after breaking her jaw, unable to eat anything but a liquid diet for three months. She returns to school after summer break completely transformed and starts her journey to become a beauty pageant queen. This series not only shows young viewers unhealthy eating habits, shown during Patty’s “binges” throughout the show, but also portrays the problematic narrative of the “fat girl” magically being treated like a real person after losing weight.
Photo from Medium
Another Netflix creation that showcases bad plus-sized representation is Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. When I first heard about the movie, I was excited because they had cast a great, plus-sized actress named Shannon Purser. The narrative, however, was problematic. The movie glorified catfishing and kissing without real consent. Sierra is afraid the love interest Jamey, played by Noah Centineo, will not like her because of her size. She never gives him the chance to make that decision for himself, instead opting to trick him into thinking she is someone else. Sierra even ropes in the popular girl, Veronica, to go on a date with Jamey. The catfishing itself is problematic, but the movie completely lost my respect when Sierra kisses Jamey without consent. On the date, Veronica tells Jamey to close his eyes and switches with Sierra so that Jamey unknowingly kisses Sierra instead. Besides excusing the fact that Sierra kisses Jamey without consent, the movie shows that plus size girls only get the guy because of their personality. For a movie that was marketed for body positivity, it is the opposite.
Stories about plus-sized girls matter. We’ve been shouting it into the void for years. Luckily, in Dec. 2018, young plus-sized girls now have a movie they can see themselves in. Netflix’s Dumplin’, an adaptation of the book written by Julie Murphy, has a heartfelt story about body positivity. Starring plus-sized actress Danielle Macdonald, there is not only one main plus-sized female character but two! Furthermore, Willowdean and her love interest, Bo, have an honest conversation about her insecurities involving her body. I cried the first time I watched Dumplin’. The movie was long overdue. This is how you have plus-sized girls in a beauty pageant done correctly. Willowdean not only gains more confidence in herself, but the movie shows that bodies of all shapes and sizes are beautiful. It was empowering, truthful and relatable.
Photo from Danielle Macdonald’s Instagram
Having role models and characters you can relate and look up to is important. One movie with good representation does not fix the problem, but it is taking us in the right direction. We need more plus-sized characters, but also plus-sized characters that are not defined by their weight. We need more characters like Parks and Recreation’s Donna Meagle. She is not defined by her weight, but by her attitude and personality. She is confident in her beauty, worshipped by her many suitors and is a well-rounded character.
Photo from Pinterest
Characters like Donna Meagle and Willowdean are what we need to see more of in our media. Everyone deserves to have characters to which they can relate. We don’t need skinny girls in fat suits, the “frumpy girl” winning over the guy because of her personality or the former fat girl’s problems magically going away after losing all of her weight. We need stories about overcoming insecurity and owning our bodies. Body positivity is so important. Having more plus-sized representation is a big part of that.