It’s time to see us as fully realized beings—on the screen, and in real life too
Fat people fuck too.
If you frequently consume TV and movies and you yourself are not a fat person, you might not believe this. The stories regularly told to us in pop culture are those of skinny people finding skinny love with other skinny hotties. We celebrate these stories for giving us narratives of different flavors of skinniness: maybe they are a prostitute (Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman), maybe they are a tween trapped in a grown woman’s body (Jennifer Garner in 13 Going on 30), or maybe they are a whitewashed hottie of (not really) color (Emma Stone in Aloha, Scarlett Johansson in, um, anything). This much is clear: fat people are nowhere to be seen, especially in romantic roles.
Rebel Wilson’s recent film, Isn’t It Romantic, seems to flip that script, as does the Netflix original Dumplin’. In both films, our leading lady gets with skinny, conventionally attractive men. God forbid a fat woman be anything other than a cis-het straight person, right? Although both do a good job creating fat characters with depth and nuance, neither seems to get the memo that fat people do more than smooch, even within the constraints of a PG-13 rating. Considering Willowdean, the lead character in Dumplin’, is supposed to be in high school, I’ll let it slide, but it’s not like the American public rejects the sexuality of underage women—anyone remember Thirteen? Or Oscar winner American Beauty?
Maybe we lack fat representation and sexuality because many people believe being fat is a personal, moral, and social failing, and that those who are failures do not deserve love and sex. This belief, however untrue, permeates our culture. When fat people display confidence, voice, and sexuality, they are lauded for being “brave”—even though the CDC categorizes more than 70% of Americans as overweight and nearly 40% as obese. When the vast majority of the people in our lives are fat, why are we calling them brave simply for existing?
Fat people who don’t openly show insecurity about their bodies are considered a social anomaly, so much so that when celebration of fat bodies occurs, social media blows up. For instance, when model and blogger Tess Holliday appeared on the October 2018 cover of Cosmopolitan UK in tasteful lingerie, the internet lost its collective mind. Conservative talking head Piers Morgan feigned concern for Holliday in an op-ed for the Daily Mail after harassing her on Twitter for weeks, demanding that she lose weight for her children, stop promoting her dangerous obesity, and get better friends who would fat-shame her into weight loss. Not only was Morgan’s piece condescending, rude, and fake, it was also a trap: agree with him that being obese is unhealthy and you condemn Holliday, defend Holliday and you are a promoter of carefree purposeful obesity. This sort of binary narrative is one that permeates our society, but it ignores countless environmental, social, and genetic conditions that are inextricably tied to the way people are shaped—physically and mentally.
Although there continues to be research published illuminating the complex reasons behind body shapes and steering us away from individual blame, society and pop culture at large continue to point. This narrative is toxic and unhelpful, leading to a host of negative physical and psychological effects on fat people. Blame and public shaming of fat people doesn’t work as a public health strategy, nor does it work on a socio-cultural and personal level. Once we stop thinking of fat people as a problem and begin to see them as fully realized humans, we can engage in the validation and celebration of their humanity—sexy time included. Tess Holliday in lingerie on the cover of Cosmo is a perfect example of how the sexuality of fat people is valid, present, and obvious. Ya’ll, she looks good.
Those who would rail against the validity of fat people as sexual beings might point out that shame can be an important tactic for change. After all, haven’t we shamed smokers into lower and lower numbers since the ’90s? In short: no. The decline of cigarette smoking in the past few decades is due to a complex web of factors such as sales tax hikes, anti-smoking bans, and the regulation of flavored tobacco products. Shame played no real part in this trend.
Numerous studies prove that once again, shame is not a potent agent of change. If the public, Piers Morgan included, really cared about the health of fat people, they would leave them alone because they would acknowledge the negative effect of body-shaming on people’s bodies and minds. That’s true consideration.
The sterilization of fat people in pop culture is coming to an end. Fabulously fat singer Lizzo was on the Ellen Show, the Tonight Show, the cover of the fashion magazine the Cut, and featured in Playboy all within the last month, each time wearing an equally scandalous yet stylish outfit. Meanwhile, despite not including any sex scenes, Isn’t It Romantic played an important role in lifting fat girls into the romantic lead. While Seattle writer Lindy West’s autobiographical book Shrill is now a TV show with the same name starring Aidy Bryant, a real-life fat lady.
It’s about time, because I’m here, I’m fat, and I’m waiting for representation of fat people as fully sexual and sexy beings—because I certainly am.