An issue I've always struggled with when watching fat characters in films — in particular fat female characters — is that their weight is so often mocked. Rather than directors utilizing diverse body representations to create body positive film characters, we're often just presented with the sexism that is inherent to sizeism, easily observed in established relationships on screen. For instance, a fat male character will often be paired with a thin woman, but the reverse is rarely true. It's not that the former is unrealistic, of course. It's that weight in those instances never feels like an issue (with the exception of maybe a single plot line in King Of Queens).
The fat female character, however, is used as a joke. Just look at about half of Eddie Murphy's career or a film that haunted my childhood, Shallow Hal. In the latter, a chubby Jack Black is seeking a thin, beautiful woman. Yet the idea of Hal being with a fat woman is perceived as ridiculous, even though Jack Black himself is on the fatness spectrum.
However, some filmmakers have been able to see plus size people for what we are: People. They've crafted positive, intelligent story lines that either address the issues with the way we perceive weight in the world or that ignore it entirely, focusing instead on a plot that has nothing to do with waistlines. These are nine of my favorite body positive characters, all of whom fight for size acceptance in their own unique ways.
1. Fat Amy: Pitch Perfect/Pitch Perfect 2
Fat Amy confronts the issues that plus size women face right from the beginning by calling herself fat before anybody can use the word against her negatively. Throughout both films, Wilson delivers a character that's lovable, funny, sexual, and interesting well before we consider her weight.
2. Motormouth Maybelle: Hairspray
Since everyone kind of obsessed over Edna Turnblad's journey to self love in the film Hairspray, Maybelle was arguably set aside. However, her character, as shown in this song and her activism throughout the film, loved herself from the get go. She didn't shy away from equating big (and blonde) with being beautiful. Maybelle even helped show Edna how to love herself too.
3. Tracy Turnblad: Hairspray
This film/musical has so many layers to it, and deals with complex issues in the campiest way ever. A major shout-out to John Waters, who sees the beauty and interest in those rejected by society. Tracy's weight is used as an insult by those who hate her, but she never lets it stop her getting what she wants. Not only that, but she uses her size to teach her mom how to love herself and secure an amazing sponsorship deal with Mr. Pinky's Hefty Hideaway to boot.
4. Divine: Pink Flamingos
Divine is an icon and my own personal idol. Her role as Edna Turnblad in the original Hairspray cannot be beaten, but her lead role in Pink Flamingos is my favorite by far. She's constantly turning heads and causing controversy. In this scene, for instance, she steals the show purely by strutting through town, only to poo on the lawn of those who've wronged her. At the end of the day, she didn't give a f*ck and neither should you.
5. Grandpa: Little Miss Sunshine
This entire film is essentially about Olive undoing the damage that her dad has done to her. Our parents often have the best intentions, but what they can say still has the potential to be totally toxic. Olive's grandpa teaches her to love herself no matter what... And no matter how much ice cream she wants to eat. The self confidence he instills is the kind we should be teaching all children, IMO.
6. Evelyn Couch: Fried Green Tomatoes
A story that is essentially about cannibalism turned into a journey of self love for Kathy Bates' character, Evelyn Couch. She learns to love herself, regardless of size or age, through her friendship with a pensioner. Although she might not initially be a body positive character, by the end of the film she definitely is.
7. Rome: Magic Mike XXL
Making a ladies club a juxtaposition to the many gentlemen's clubs that rule the country might not seem like the most obvious act of feminism, but the way that Rome runs her business is totally body positive. Her character celebrates all ages, sizes, and types of women.
8. Ursula: The Little Mermaid
OK, Ursula may be an evil sea witch and she may turn into a thin, beautiful woman during the film — but she's one of my favorite villains of all time. Firstly, she was based on Divine (are we seeing a recurring theme in my film choices?). Secondly, Ursula is a shape shifter. This means she can present herself in literally any way that she wants to, but she chooses to be a glamorous, half octopus, plus size woman. Her choice of representing herself as fat rather than thin is a bold act of fat positivity.
9. Miss Piggy: The Muppets Movie
I had the delight of dressing up as Miss Piggy for Halloween and felt the most beautiful I had ever felt on the holiday. Being a star in so many muppet movies, Miss Piggy is an icon amongst plus size women. I for one am so glad she got rid of Kermit. He was only holding back her fabulousness.
Without these characters, I doubt I'd be the same person I am today. Representations of fat women, ugly women, and women who aren't cookie cutter perfection have helped me learn to love myself regardless of societal or media pressures. Not only are these characters embodiments of so-called "flaws," but they're actually people with lives, loves, and interesting plots outside of their appearances.
Image: New Line Cinema (1)