Updated: Jul 11, 2018
A note from Melissa:
As Curves Ahead continues to grow, I am in total awe of how our tribe is sharing their stories or their talents and getting involved. Providing a platform is all that we ever wanted for our members and - man, are you guys showing up. One of our Curves Ahead Tribe members, Jamie Cooper House, raised her hand in the very beginning to write a blog post for us and share her perspective. A very big thank you to Jamie for this piece. I so appreciate your courage and sharing your beautiful gift of writing.
If you're interested in writing for the blog and have a topic you'd like to write about, please reach out to me via Facebook or email (email@example.com) and get on our schedule.
Confronting My Troubled Relationship with Pop Culture
I have been fat for basically all of my 37 years on this planet.
And, yes, I call myself fat. I have found that the euphemisms for fat (curvy, fluffy, full figured, etc.) do more to make other people feel comfortable than myself. Also, the term fat has so long been used as an insult that using it about myself helps take away its power. For these reasons, throughout this piece I will refer to myself and those it applies to, as fat.
When I was younger, like most people, I struggled with low self esteem. I spent a lot of my life thinking I was unworthy of love, that I was wholly unattractive, and that I needed to shrink away in shame, just for existing in this body. But where did that self-loathing come from?
Though I had bullies in school, I grew up in a very loving, positive, and supportive family. We did not talk badly about ourselves, or other people. So, for me, it was hard to understand why I felt this way.
Unfortunately, I have come to understand that some of it can be attributed to my life long love for pop culture. Movies and television, in particular, have always been a huge part of my life. It is impossible to deny their influences on me, and not all of that has been positive.
In my late twenties, I decided it was time for a change. I began paying closer attention to the messages I was receiving from my chosen forms of entertainment.
Most would agree that there is a definite need for more positive representation of fat women in television and movies. But how bad is it really? Typically, the best we can hope for is the funny sidekick. Beyond that, we’re left with being portrayed as villains, as the butt of the joke, as ignorant, lazy, and loathsome.
With VERY FEW exceptions, like the gone but not forgotten, Drop Dead Diva (seriously, I cannot recommend this show enough), fat women are never the romantic lead. Fat women are rarely given story lines that do not revolve entirely around their bodies, and their bodies as a problem. Our stories are often reduced to us trying to solve those “problems.”
Most modern sitcoms fail miserably at representing, and showing basic respect, for fat people. Time and time again, we see low bar fat jokes used for cheap laughs. This often occurs without a single fat person represented on the show. It is literally “laughing at us, not with us”. How I Met Your Mother, for example, was lousy with jokes of this nature.
The current state of representation is still in dire need of an overhaul. But, to get to the root of my struggle with self-worth, I felt it important to take a look back. I needed to examine what I was exposed to during my formative years.
Let’s talk about The Golden Girls.
If you were even a casual viewer of the show, you know there was always talk about their bodies. There were plenty of snarky comments about who had the smaller waistline or bigger posterior. And there were entire episodes about dieting.
In the episode titled “Blanche’s Little Girl” (Season 3, Episode 14), the ridicule of a fat character was nothing short of intolerable.
After being estranged for years, Blanche’s daughter Rebecca visits from Paris. She is coming to introduce her mother to her fiancé. Before she arrives, Blanche tells the other women that Rebecca had left school to become a model. She goes on and on about Rebecca’s gorgeous face and killer figure. Like mother, like daughter, of course.
Rebecca arrives, and is not what everyone expected.
Rebecca is fat.
Not that it matters but, by my estimate, Rebecca is about a size 20/22.
As soon as she entered the house, the following dialogue was said directly to, or right in front of, Rebecca:
Sophia (upon seeing Rebecca): What did she
model, car covers?
Dorothy: You’ll have to forgive my mother.
Rose: It’s just that we didn’t expect you to be this fat.
So, what brings you to Miami?
Sophia: My guess is a small barge.
Blanche: Let me take a look at you!
Sophia: It may take you a while.
This scene went on for a really long time.
If you could measure time by cringes, this scene would have been an actual eternity.
As the plot develops around Rebecca, we realize that her relationship with her fiancé is verbally abusive. It is apparent that this is a character we are supposed to have sympathy for. Seeing the main characters, which the audience already love and respect, treat her like bullies cripples the idea that we should care about this person.
At one point, Blanche insists that she can “fix” Rebecca. She tells her she’s going to put her on a diet and “MAKE” her stay on it. Rebecca insists that she is happy, and does not want to change.
Blanche responded by saying, “How can you be happy? Just look at you.”
I’ve had these very same words said to me, countless times, whenever I insist that I am happy in my body. And I certainly used to believe it. I believed happiness was not for someone who looked like me.
This brings me to Doogie Howser, M.D.
In an episode titled “She Ain’t Heavy, She’s my Cousin” (Season 1, Episode 9), Doogie’s and his best friend Vinnie are getting ready for a double date. Doogie’s girlfriend Wanda is bringing her cousin Yvette, whom they have never met.
They run down the stairs to greet their dates. They see Yvette and stop dead in their tracks.
As it turns out, Yvette is fat.
Again, just for the purposes of clarity, Yvette is around a size 18/20.
Doogie is upset at Wanda, and quietly asks, “Why didn’t you tell me that your cousin is a PLANET.” She replies, “She’s not that big. She’s just big boned.” (Big Boned. Ugh.)
Vinnie and Yvette are hitting it off. It is clear that they enjoy each other’s company. When Doogie notices that they are having a good time, he states that Vinnie is only enjoying himself because he knows that he will “owe him for the rest of his life,” all because he went on a date with a fat girl.
Yvette and Vinnie go on a second date. Yvette, in an attempt to protect herself from what she thinks is the inevitable, sabotages the date. She realizes she made a mistake, so she comes to Doogie for advice, stating that she is worried that Vinnie hates her. Doogie tells her, “He doesn’t hate you. You hate yourself.” Her response is, “I’m Fat, I’m ugly, I’m ashamed to look at myself in the mirror. What’s not to hate.”
This would be a great opportunity for someone to remind her that she is a fun, attractive woman who is worthy of confidence, love, and respect. Instead, Doogie convinces her to lose weight.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so disconcerting if the rest of the episode wasn’t centered entirely around positive self image for slim women. Doogie grows concerned for a patient who is addicted to plastic surgery, because she wants an impossibly perfect body. He becomes perplexed as he watches a friend, who has a thin body, stress about calories because she wants to “lose three pounds.” He wants to build up the self-esteem of these women, because he sees no reason why they shouldn’t have it.
With the exception of the fat girl, Doogie spends the rest of the episode trying to get women to see their worth, in the bodies they are in. This really drives home the idea that confidence and a healthy sense of self-worth are earned by having a thin body.
Unfortunately, there was no “lesson learned” moment, where Doogie returns to Yvette to tell her she can love herself too. I’m sure they just ran out of time, right?
Teenage heartbreak came to me in the form of Friends.
I have loved few shows, as much as I have loved the show Friends.
I watched it from the beginning, allowing myself to get wrapped up in each character’s story lines.
And then, we’re introduced to fat Monica. Oh, fat Monica…where do I even begin?
Fat Monica, in my opinion, is the epitome of lazy comedy writing. For a show that genuinely made me laugh, it truly broke my heart, watching what they did around Monica’s character whenever she appeared fat or her past fatness was discussed.
She is awkward, and it is sold as a result of her fatness. She is ALWAYS eating something, or talking about food. And worst of all, her family and friends made jokes at her expense.
“The One With The Prom Video”
(Season 2, episode 14)
Joey: Some girl ate Monica!
Monica: The Camera adds 10 pounds.
Chandler: How many Cameras were
“The One With All The Thanksgivings”
(Season 5 Episode 8)
Judy: Monica, finish these pies. I don’t have room left in the fridge.
Monica: No, thank you.
Jack: Well, Judy, you did it! She’s finally full!
“The One With Rachel’s Assistant”
(Season 7 Episode 4)
Ross: One time Monica was sent to bed without dinner, so she ate the macaroni off a Jewelry box she’d made.
Fat Monica existed as a multi-season fat joke.
They knew that putting a thin woman in a fat suit would get a laugh, every time. Showing her eating, dancing, or talking about picking up a guy, those were bonus laughs. As if the pain of those jokes weren’t enough, those who verbally mocked her were the very people she loved the most in life.
I still cringe, when watching episodes where Fat Monica appears, or when Monica’s previous size is discussed. Though I no longer internalized it all, I definitely recall a sense of dread and sadness, when it came to this particular character plot. I watched a body that represented my own, exist as a nothing more than a punchline. I worried that the people around me would eventually treat it as a pass to start making jokes about me.
It is upsetting, watching something you love treat someone who looks like you in a cruel way. But, most of my concern is the way it effects how others view fat bodies and treat fat people in the real world. If people see nothing but negative representation, they will believe that is all our lives are. If all people see are friends and relatives openly mocking the fat people in their lives, that behavior will be emulated.
Just as I gained negative ideas about my body from negative portrayals of fat bodies, so could others gain ideas of what is acceptable treatment of fat people.
Representation matters to people who actually live in these bodies. We have the same love stories, the same heartache, the same joys, as anyone else. We deserve the same love, respect, admiration, and adulation. And we deserve to see those stories unfold in the movies and television shows that are so ingrained in our culture.
We deserve better than having to see the same words our bullies use against us broadcast for the entire world.
I hope that one day I can comfortably watch a sitcom without dreading the inevitable fat jokes. Most of all, I hope one day to have more examples of positive representation than negative. Though my trip through the world of self-acceptance is far from over, I know that I am much better at filtering out the nonsense than I was before. But, that's not enough. I want better for the women who are still walking that path.