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Fat Women on Film: It’s Getting Better Maybe? Mostly?


Fat women are usually, well, nonexistent in mainstream TV and cinema, and when they do exist they’re usually existing as clowns or a villains. (Being a sassy best friend is also acceptable.) Which is why I found Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat” so remarkable.

In both films, Melissa McCarthy plays a woman who is professionally and romantically successful. In “Bridesmaids,” it’s evident from the start that Megan is all set, career-wise. But she’s obviously looking for love (or at least sex) and a friendship with Annie. And she’s successful at winning both. As I said in a previous entry, the focus was on Megan’s awkward lovability, not on her weight.  

The same goes for “The Heat,” where it’s clear that McCarthy’s character loves her job and has no problems in the boudoir. Here, again,  the focus is on Shannon’s –dogged, questionable-tactics-using–pursuit of the bad guys and her burgeoning friendship with FBI agent, Sarah, not her weight.

Louis CK’s show did the opposite–the introduction of a fat woman to the show was all about her being fat.  Counter-intuitvely, the episode worked–it was mostly funny and poignant, a tough and tender look at what it’s like to be fat and female. HOWEVER. I had one problem with Vanessa: It’s that she maybe probably kinda sexually harassed Louis. I’m not sure how else to put it. She repeatedly made romantic overtures towards a man who clearly wasn’t interested. Now, in the end, he seemed moderately interested, but until then, watching Vanessa (charmingly) throw herself at Louis was painful to watch. Not for the reason you think–I’m perfectly ok with a woman experiencing rejection. I’m less ok with women exhibiting behaviors we would probably call out in men. It’s for similar reasons I was mildly uncomfortable with Megan’s overtures towards the air marshall in “Bridesmaids,” but because that was played in such an over-the-top, humorous way, I was able to better deal with the discomfort.

These issues aside, I’m glad to see fat women on the screen. Better still, they’re fat women who are characters, not caricatures.

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