Ariel Gordon discusses media representations of different female body types.
If a heavy woman walks into a room and starts making fat jokes, is the movie no longer sexist?
Most of us would say that’s still sexist as heck, but we let Hollywood get away with it. As long as we see a woman who has more than telephone cords for arms and legs onscreen, we let her get away with a lot. This has been proven time and time again by the likes of Mindy Kaling, Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, and various other “well-rounded” actresses.
We’d like to think the game has changed…. Alas, no matter how much society emphasizes the intelligence and humour of a starlett, if she weighs more than a bread box, the biggest message we receive from her comedy is bound to be how big she is. Keep in mind, Schumer and Kaling wouldn’t register as obese, or even particularly chubby. They’re simply human-sized. However, If Jack Black eats a box of donuts, it’s cute and typical of a man. God Forbid, a female lead eats her entire meal and thoroughly enjoys it, she becomes the woman who eats ferociously.
For unforeseen reasons, the sassy, voluptuous black woman is acceptably the character we have come to expect and love. Of course, Saturday Night Live’s own Leslie Jones tends to fill this role in a robust-manner quite well and repetitively (a fact I point out for the sake of recognition). Not all women are treated equally, lest we forget Margaret Cho, the elusive “heavyset” Asian. Where is her big breakthrough film of the year?
Yet, still, having a female lead is a novel idea. Even more so, having a female lead who doesn’t have the metabolism of a centipede. Even staunch feminists have put down their swords and gotten a cheap laugh out of a big-girl-eats-entire-refrigerator joke.
It’s painful to put a price on the head of a successful female comedian. Let’s be real, having a funny female star who doesn’t give a funk is a big breakthrough in comedy in itself. Unfortunately, women like Amy Schumer may be inching their way onto a dark path of never-ending misogyny in a way only Hollywood could possibly get away with. Going on stage and presenting yourself as a slutty, manly, ugly creature is not feminist. It doesn’t comfort young women. This is not a message of loving yourself, your body, your actions. It’s not a message of ignoring the comments of others, feeling beautiful despite societal beauty standards. None of this is expressed or implied. The message here is, “If you don’t fit the beauty standards of society, you can just assume you’re ugly and manly. Don’t feel bad about it, but it’s probably true.”
What more do women have to offer than their daintiness, ditziness, and good looks? The reality is, a woman onscreen can’t have everything. You can have a woman who is a successful doctor who captures the lust of any man she crosses paths with, but somehow anything relating to politics, or the real world in general, she is clueless about. If you have a woman who is tuned-in, well-spoken, and putting her life together, she can only do so when a man comes into her life and shows her the way. Not to mention, as long as she’s above the “average-television-weight,” her contract most likely mentions a quota of fat jokes somewhere in the fine print.
Some actresses, you can’t even research them online without being bombarded with links to lists of other chubby/fat/curvy females in media. You can’t even think about Melissa McCarthy without an article popping up along the lines of: “Rebel Wilson: Fat or Obese?!” or “Aidy Bryant: SNL castmember or Thanksgiving Day Parade float?!” or “Gabourey Sidibe: Why she shouldn’t wear anything pretty ever!!”
There is no reason this should be the focus. There’s no reason this should be okay. These women are being treated as bait. Thrown into the woods for their buxom bods to be feasted and gossiped upon. As many times as these actresses defend their roles and being typecast, no woman on television or in movies is working for her own health. A woman in front of a large audience, millions if not billions of impressionable females, is a role model. She must work and live in a way to make other women proud. To help us progress, not to keep us at the bottom of the barrel. Not to let women’s rights, pride, and acceptance go ignored. That is what she is being paid for, even more so than making us laugh and cry. She is being paid to present women in a way we wish to be presented. To show the world what we can accomplish, without taking “no” and an insult for an answer.
Step up, ladies. This is our chance.