The superhero saves the day, the monster ends up killing everyone and, in the end, the hot guy gets the beautiful girl. Films are magical to some, an escape from reality, and even if for just two hours, they feel a part of something great. However, stereotypes are a huge problem in Hollywood and it’s no mystery why. Corruption and sexual abuse allegations have painted Hollywood in an extremely negative light, which is why now is the perfect time for them to redeem themselves.
As the average size of a US woman increases, stigma against being plus-size gets worse. This doesn’t help the young girls who can’t relate to the size zero actresses on TV and in movies. When a plus-size woman is finally given a role, it is often the typical stereotype of either “the invisible girl who hates the way she looks,” or “the funny fat friend that everyone pokes fun at.” This narrative is unacceptable and we shouldn’t be teaching young girls that this is all they have to offer.
Although rare, there have been some amazing representations of plus-size women in film. One example is Nikki Blonsky as Tracy Turnblad in the 2007 remake of Hairspray. Blonsky’s character, Tracy, although outcasted by some for her weight, never lets herself get down on herself. She remains content in her body as well as in who she is and her dancing abilities.
Blonsky was critically acclaimed for her performance and went on to get nominated for a Golden Globe. Despite her amazing singing and acting talent, Blonsky failed to succeed in Hollywood. Starring in a few small roles, Blonsky has been working as a hairdresser in her native Long Island, New York.
A new Netflix original film called Sierra Burgess is a Loser has taken the internet by storm. Centered around a smart but overweight girl who is outcasted by her peers, Sierra is content in her brains and sees nothing wrong with how she looks. Though the film is flawed, Sierra makes some bad decisions throughout the film including catfishing, cyber-bullying and impersonating a deaf person, seeing a teenage boy fall for a plus-size girl is an amazing narrative that is very underrepresented.
Simply, it is so rare to see a plus-size girl actually get the guy or the kiss at the end of a movie. Although not perfect, this story can pave the way for plus-size leads to come. “But definitely being a plus-size woman and being a romantic lead in a movie is pretty wild. I didn’t see really anybody [on screen] who looked like me growing up. The idea that I get to kind of redefine what is beautiful and whose story deserves to be told and showcase that you know, big women have love lives and complex colorful lives like everybody else” Shannon Purser, star of Sierra Burgess is a Loser, told Teen Vogue.
A huge problem for plus-size actresses is that they are forced into their characters being pigeonholed as plus-sized and nothing else. Films portray them not as a woman, but clearly defining them as a plus-size woman. Their size cannot go unacknowledged and unnoticed like it would be for a slimmer actress.
The Pitch Perfect movie series is a perfect example of this. The character, “Fat Amy,” played by Australian actress Rebel Wilson, is centered around Amy’s weight. In the first movie, she states that she only calls herself Fat Amy so other people won’t put her down behind her back. Her character often makes fun of herself in order to be involved in the conversation or just to make someone laugh. This creates a horrible example for girls because it shows that it’s okay to be defined only by size, not by brains, humor or other notable characteristics.
According to a study done by Refinery29, out of the top 100 films of 2016 there were only four lead roles of a women size 14 or greater. This number includes one female role played by a male actor in a body suit and another played by a thin actress that used prosthetics to appear larger. The study also states that over half of women in film and most 13 to 20 year-olds on screen are considered thin or extremely thin. Little girls and teens watching romance movies should be able to see female characters of all shapes, sizes and races, not just the typical beautiful blonde that is so often seen.
As if they’re sweeping it under the rug, plus-size women are often openly ridiculed, especially on TV. Monica, a character played by Courtney Cox, on the much-loved sitcom Friends, struggled with being overweight when she was a child and was constantly bullied. She loses the weight later in life but is constantly ridiculed because of it. She is still the same person she was as a teenager, with her neurotic quirks and love of cooking, but a slimmer version. Most, if not all, of the jokes directed at her in the show, are about her being an overweight child.
It is revealed also during the show that the reason she decided to permanently lose the weight is because she overheard her crush (later husband), Chandler, making fun of her appearance. This teaches young viewers that if you are considered “bigger,” you qualify as a joke. Also, that if you lose weight, you will come out on top and finally get the guy you’ve always dreamed of.
Plus size women need to start being treated like women. We are not a joke. We are not something that can be chewed up and tossed aside. We should be represented in film and TV, as any other woman would be. Young girls need to be taught that you should love how you look, no matter what size, and Hollywood needs to catch up.