She's... the most interesting fat girl in the world
I recently had a tweet thread go viral, and here's what it said:
"When will we see a tv show with a fat woman main character that isn’t based entirely around the fact that she’s fat? And why in 2018 is it still okay to portray every fat woman in a show or movie as a desperate, cake-obsessed stereotype? Couldn’t there be a show about an interesting person who just happens to be fat? I’ve had a really weird life. Being fat is absolutely THE least interesting thing about me. And I hate cake. I’m in a super happy relationship. THAT’S not even the most interesting thing about me. My pet bird dropped dead in front of me. I competed in the national spelling bee. I’ve been an actual radioactive biohazard on 2 separate occasions. I met the president of East Timor. I’ve been on the national Norwegian radio. I can rap in German. I’m incapable of small talk. I don’t like kids. Babies gross me out. I’m kind of crusted with dirt all the time. I picked up my biopsy results from the records office, called my doctor and informed HIM that I had cancer. I sneaked into a callback for a broadway musical that I didn’t earn. I didn’t have enough money to pay for a taxi in London so I jumped out and ran in the middle of the night. I’ve spent 4 hours alone in a room with Pauly Shore. I have weird nightmares about the end of the world. I didn’t know that Frère Jacques was a monk until I was an adult. I grew up on a mountain in Alaska. I flipped a coin and decided to go to Greece on a whim, where I ate cheese pie with communists. I worry that I’ll have to eat human thyroids to survive in the apocalypse. I failed algebra 3 times and now I’m a standup comedian. I always find a way to bring the conversation around to how life is short and we’re all going to die someday, even at the grocery store checkout, and, if it still seems like something that just absolutely needs to be addressed so the audience can relax, I happen to be fat."
I grew up watching shows and movies where nearly every fat woman was portrayed as either a sad, lonely object of pity, or a disgusting, food-obsessed, man-crazed (which of course was meant to add to the humor, because no man would ever actually WANT to be with a fat woman) caricature whose entire existence in the show or movie was just a punchline in the male principal characters' storyline. I remember when I was a teenager, reading an article in one of my mom's magazines that had quoted a Hollywood executive as saying, "The truth is, we can't have someone who's not skinny playing a character who has a boyfriend."
Eventually, we evolved to the point where we FINALLY started to see a few fat women on tv and movies who were at least likable characters - but their storylines were usually centered around their weight, or they were relegated to a one-dimensional sidekick. The funny fat friend. Or the lonely fat (and 'fat' might even be a stretch here, because we were shown size-10 actresses and were told they were fat) woman who dreams of losing weight so she can ____. Then there was Fat Amy! I LOVE Rebel Wilson. LOVE her. And I enjoyed Pitch Perfect. But why couldn't she have been just Amy? Just super funny, unique and interesting Amy?
In HBO's Girls, a show that I really liked, Aidy Bryant had a small recurring role where the whole time I watched her on screen, I had three feelings: one, I was giddy with excitement that someone who looks like me had a part in a major cool young-people show that I liked. Two, I was jealous of the teenage girls of today who have her as a role model to look up to, and Three, I cringed in fear, waiting any minute for SOMETHING to be said about her weight. About how her character started dating a non-overweight male character. Amazingly, that moment I feared never came, and it felt groundbreaking. (For which I am truly grateful to Lena Dunham, Judd Apatow, and whoever else may have been responsible). But what if that WASN'T groundbreaking? What if Aidy was the lead in a romantic comedy with, I don't know, Ryan Gosling, and nobody cringed, or cared, or thought anything of it? Better yet! What if Aidy decides in the romantic comedy that Ryan is a great guy, but she's really committed to an amazing career opportunity, and doesn't really want to have a family, but wants to go fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a social worker in India, and tells him - 'hey, let's be friends and I'll send you something cool from Chennai'?
As a comedian, I've been told by several industry people that I should talk about being plus-sized, that I should 'use it', that I could 'speak to the plus-sized women' as a performer, by addressing my weight in my standup. And while all of those industry people were well-meaning, and I absolutely would love to 'speak to the plus size women as a performer', I don't think I need to center my personality around my weight to do that. There are comedians and actors who do address their weight, which is fine if that's what's on their mind. It's just not something that I feel is interesting or relevant to what I have to say, FOR ME. I never have. Sure, even now, I'm trying to eat healthier, exercise, and I'd like to lose some more weight - for me - because it makes me feel better physically. I don't think there's anything wrong with that either. I've never considered it anyone else's business what I do with my body. As I said in the tweet thread, it's literally the least interesting thing about me. I tried really hard once, after I was given some advice from someone I respect that I should talk about my appearance on stage, to write a joke about being fat. I gave it a shot, and I think even the audience could tell that it was weird and forced. I'm not hating on anyone who does create humor about their OWN appearance, if that's what they want to do, it should be their choice.
But as a comedian, I can't tell you how many women have come up to me after shows and said how inspired they were, and how refreshing they found it that I didn't make self-deprecating jokes about my appearance. I'm not claiming any kind of moral high ground, it just simply didn't occur to me.
I also want to reiterate that my first tweet about ‘when will we see a show’ and that fat women are portrayed on ‘every show’ was just me writing as I would talk, you know, with some hyperbole. [I'm not a journalist, I'm a comedian/actor. :)] I’m not insisting there’s NEVER been a SINGLE show or movie that portrayed fat women as complex people, and I don’t mean to erase the important influence of the fat women actors and creators who paved the way to get fat women seen on screen.