Get ready for a tidbit of pop culture blogging this week, little earbuds!
Women eating on-screen is my personal version of fan service. My favourite scene in any given movie usually takes place in a diner, with people just talking esoterically while eating waffles. In particular I love to see women eat on film, because it seems like such a taboo. Women can’t eat on-screen! Eating implies satisfaction and taking care of oneself and even, gasp, enjoying oneself. But this can’t be! Women are supposed to either be the eternal caretakers, always putting someone else’s needs before our own, or they’re supposed to be neurotic and unhappy basket cases in constant search of fulfillment. But no worries, by the time the final credits roll, she’s usually found that fulfillment via becoming a caretaker (be it of a romantic relationship or of children or both).
That’s why I love to see women eating. Not in any fetishistic sort of way, mind; I just like to see women enjoying themselves and having realistic characteristics (as opposed to what rom-com screenwriters assign to us; for example, I hate shoe shopping, despite what pop culture aimed at females would lead you to believe). I’ll admit, part of my love affair with Gilmore Girls (besides their completely unbelievable “friendly-quirky town” setting) is the junk food addiction of the two female leads. Sure, they still remain rail-thin, but I’m not fussed about that part. I’ve known real women who eat the junkiest junk food available and still retain a naturally thin body frame. Plus, the Hollywood machine is steeped in sexist stereotypes of all sorts, and you can’t expect it to change overnight (especially when sexism is still completely acceptable in society at large). So if I have to get my fill of women eating pie and french fries in the form of two socially acceptably “beautiful” women (i.e. white, middle class, heterosexual, and thin) well, I’ll take what I can get. For now.
And at least the character of Sookie was prevalent. Viva la fat* best friend! Yet even though Sookie was a skilled chef, we hardly ever got to see her enjoying the fruits of her labors. Why can’t we see fat women eat on-screen? We’ve broken down enough barriers to show thin women eating, but not fat women. Or have we? Lauren Zizes on Glee was not shy about demanding edible treats from her romantic suitor, and the Valentine’s Day episode that aired earlier this year even showed her relishing in a box of chocolates. It was totally badass. And yet, there was still an air of the humorous about it: look at the attractive jock who has a crush on the fat girl! That’s crazy! That would never happen in real life! Except that it does. Thin/muscular men find fat women attractive every day, just as thin/muscular women find fat men attractive every day, and thin women find fat women attractive, and thin men find fat men attractive, and so on and so forth. Romantic interest isn’t as segregated as Hollywood seems to think.
Lauren Zizes, it appears, is no longer a part of the Glee equation. She was there for a refreshing moment of truly awesome television, then she was conveniently whisked away at the opening of the current season. Boo. But there’s still Mike & Molly! Which relies on the stale equation of fat = funny. Okay, so what about Drop Dead Diva? Now here is a true conundrum of a show. It airs on Lifetime, aka “Television for Women” (aka here’s another frightening made-for-TV movie about a woman in peril: women, stay in your homes and care for your children, it’s a scary world out there!). Drop Dead Diva has what appears to be a rather insulting premise: a thin, blonde model dies and accidentally comes back to life in the body of a brunette size sixteen woman. Gasp! How horrible! Going from a model to a fat girl is worse than death! But as the show progresses we see “Jane” (the fat girl stuck with the former beauty queen in her body) learn to enjoy her new life as a lawyer (and use her mega brain, which the real Jane crammed chock-full of knowledge before her body got hijacked).
It’s old hat now to see a movie or TV show that demonstrates that fat people are beautiful and attractive and human, too. (Duh, says I. What idiot doesn’t know that much? And yet, it still seems to come as a shock to some people.) However, it’s still “okay” for fat-hating to exist, even in a seemingly fat-positive world like Drop Dead Diva. The most prevalent example of this is Grayson, former fiancé of Deb (the dead model). Throughout three seasons of this show we’ve watched Jane continuously win her cases in court (fat positive), date a myriad of attractive men (fat positive), and enjoy spending time with her friends (fat positive). However, despite all of her success in Jane’s body, she still pines for Grayson, who gets along with Jane and constantly goes to her for advice and support… yet serial dates thin girls exclusively. One would think that if Grayson were a well-rounded fellow who honestly loved Deb for everything that she was, eventually he would similarly fall for Jane, who has the exact same personality and nuances as Deb. The only difference is her looks. Yet in all of three seasons, Grayson never sees this connection. Which leads one to suppose that he is a shallow person who is only interested in looks. (It doesn’t matter if you only date fat or thin people; if your biggest concern is the outer package, then you, my friend, are the definition of shallow.) And Jane/Deb’s unwavering love for him makes us question her position as a strong female lead. Fat negative there, and a huge one at that (pun intended).
You know how the longer you know someone, the more attractive they become if they’re a good person? Similarly, someone conventionally “attractive” can become incredibly ugly if they are rude, mean, or otherwise undesirable in spirit. Shouldn’t this have happened with Grayson on Drop Dead Diva by now? Regardless of his personal physical preferences, if he sees so much of the woman that he once loved in Jane, it seems natural that he would have made more of a romantic advance after three seasons. Yet every time that he chooses another skinny stranger over the woman he once loved, the music swells and we as viewers are meant to sympathize with Jane/Deb, and never once do they present Grayson as a superficial jerk. Which, let’s face it, in real life he totally would be. But it’s seen as understandable that he wouldn’t fall for Jane, because she’s fat. Ummm, no. That’s not understandable in the slightest, unless, like Grayson, you are a fellow superficial jerk. If the premise of the show was that Deb came back as a reincarnated skinny redhead instead of a skinny blonde, it would be preposterous for Grayson not to fall in love with her all over again based on something as transient as outward appearance. As socially acceptable as fat-hating is, in any other context he would be seen as completely shallow and worthless. “Maybe he’s just not attracted to Korean girls… Maybe he’s just not attracted to girls with blue eyes… Maybe he’s just not attracted to girls with big noses.” See how shallow that sounds? Who would want to hang out with that asshole, let alone be in love with him?
And that is my big fat problem with Drop Dead Diva. The main character is fantastic and a great role model for women. When Jane goes on dates and wins in court I’m more invested because she’s more like me physically than almost any other character on either the big or small screen. But the fact that she remains in love with a superficial asshole makes her seem stupid, which makes me question her status as an empathetic and watchable character. Maybe that’s the trade-off for having a fat character on TV or in film: they have to stick to old outdated clichés such as being a “funny fattie” or understanding why their love interest doesn’t feel the same for them and accepting it because they’re fat. At least that’s what the diet companies want you to believe! You know what, in the real world, if someone doesn’t like me based on my weight, I know that person is a shallow moron, and I move on. But Jane/Deb is stuck in this constant cycle of NOT being able to move on, and that’s what’s truly sad about such an otherwise engaging show.
However, on the bright side, there are (finally!) shows with fat leading ladies available to critique. Not many, and the few out there are flawed (as are most portrayals of women in pop culture) but still. Progress is progress. And so, to wrap up this little ode to fabulous fat ladies, I leave you with a great video by the excellent Romeo Void. Don’t forget to continue the good fight by demanding better female characters, and keep questioning pop culture. We can and will evolve, it’ll just take some time. And perhaps a second helping of pie.
*I use the term “fat” as a non-judgmental descriptor with no negative connotations.