There are so many Film & TV characters, both from my youth and in current media, that we are told were fat. Some very obviously, and some more subtly. When I look back now, or look at characters more closely, I realise that they actually weren’t fat at all! Or even if they were, the fact that they were fat meant that they were portrayed in a certain, stereotyped, pigeon-holed way. From the humorous sidekicks to the heartwarming protagonists, we’ve all encountered characters who were introduced to us as “fat” in the media.
These films just keep on reinforcing those impossible beauty standards that women face all the time. It doesn’t matter how thin you might be; watching these movies and TV shows can make you doubt your own body, wondering if even your slim figure is somehow labelled as fat.
And for us, the beautiful fat women watching, it’s yet another painful reminder that our bodies are still not considered acceptable for the screen, even when the storyline supposedly centres around being fat. It’s disheartening to see that even in these narratives, even now, we’re left feeling marginalised.
We’re not defined by the screen though; we’re defined by how we feel about ourselves, how we show up in the world, how we spread the message of body positivity. Not films. Not TV shows.
So let’s have a look at some of the best examples I could think of. And by the way, I make no apologies for the fact that I’m possibly about to ruin some tv shows and films for you now!
By the way, if you would like to listen to this one as a podcast episode you can do that here…
Monica Geller (Courtney Cox Arquette) - Friends
Would this even be a post about film and TV if I didn’t include a Friends reference somewhere? Of course, Monica Geller gets pride of place on this list.
Young Monica was fat, according to the show and the script writers. But look at her – even wearing the fat suit she still wasn’t really fat. There’s a whole other conversation to be had around various levels on the fat spectrum, but let’s just say that Monica would probably work out to be a small fat for sure.
Yet they portrayed her to be the very stereotypical fat person. She was clumsy, overweight, bursting out of clothes, undesirable, always eating. They made references like “she’s finally full”.
Then she lost weight. Monica lost weight because of a comment Chandler had made that she’d overheard. She lost weight because of the opinions of others, because of how they saw her, and not for herself. Only when she presented herself as thin was she then seen to be accepted and attractive.
Nessa and Smithy (Ruth Jones and James Corden) - Gavin and Stacey
I love Gavin and Stacey, and all of their characters. But I don’t love some of the aspects of how they are portrayed when we’re looking at fat characters in tv shows and movies.
Smithy and Nessa, for example, are given very similar characteristics. They eat a lot (think of the scenes where they all order chinese takeaway!), drink to excess, and smoke. They are the funny ones, and the sidekicks to the main characters.
There are jokes about how many pills Smithy would need to take for his body size, and how he’ll just have a small breakfast because he’s not hungry, and then proceeds to pile up his plate.
Not only that, but let’s not forget that in Gavin and Stacey, Pam is always on a diet, and knows a woman called Big Fat Sue!
There are some body positive aspects – like how Nessa tries on a black PVC outfit at the wedding fayre and says she feels great in it, and how there are references to great fat sex – but on the whole throughout the episodes it’s more of a joke than an appreciation.
Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) - Pitch Perfect
Fat Amy – the one that says she will call herself fat before anyone else can use it against her. She’s the funny one, the one that people don’t really take seriously. She wears the baggy t-shirts. There are jokes about her splitting her clothes, and how hoisting her up into the air for a show is problematic.
At one point, someone says they want to kiss Amy, to which she is then in a position of questioning whether they actually do, or whether it’s a joke because she couldn’t possibly be attractive enough.
To add to this, that male character has the guilt and shame attached to fancying a fat person. That’s a real thing in films and TV too – the thinner characters get much more male attention, and more body positive comments than the bigger bodied characters.
Amy (Mayim Bialik) - The Big Bang Theory
I love Amy. She’s my favourite character in The Big Bang Theory. Now she’s not technically fat, but she is portrayed as the frumpy one. She’s not as thin as Penny, and refers to Penny as her hot bestie. She, for a long time, doesn’t think that Penny would be friends with the likes of her.
Amy is geeky and nerdy, Penny is less smart. Penny is the one being drooled over by men, while Amy is the one chasing Sheldon, desperate to be loved. Penny wears the skimpy body con dresses, and Amy wears the tights, long skirts, and knitted cardigans. There’s a whole load of stereotyping going on there.
Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) - Bridget Jones’ Diary
This is possibly one of the WORST of all the examples of films fat shaming women that I came across. It is blatant, it is offensive, and it makes no apologies for it.
The film is all about Bridget Jones and her mission to lose weight and bag her attractive boss. They describe how she has “ballooned”, and “has a bottom the size of Brazil”. Another character comments saying “I thought you said she was thin?”, implying that she was absolutely nowhere near thin.
And let’s not forget that scene where she’s got the big pants on – the ones that suck you in and smooth your curves. They were portrayed to be shameful, unattractive, but necessary.
And what about the fancy dress outfit – the bunny costume. She shows up looking incredibly cinched in at the waist, very thin, very glamorous, for later in that scene to be made to feel fat in it.
She was tiny though. Her aim in the film is to lose a set amount of weight. That weight would take her below 9 stones! I know I don’t talk numbers here, but 9 stones is low for ANYONE. It’s wholly unachievable for most people, yet the risk was that following this film that’s what people would be striving for. It’s so dangerous and irresponsible for the script writers to have done that.
Eddie (Jennifer Saunders) - Absolutely Fabulous
This was the show of my teens (alongside Friends, obviously!!). I loved everything about Absolutely Fabulous. I would cry with laughter at how Patsy was this desperate older woman, trying to cling on to any man she could, while swigging a bottle of champagne. And how Eddie was this crazy, chaotic woman, trying to mould and shape her body into something much smaller, squeezing into designer clothes, doing every fad diet going.
Of course Eddie was the clumsy one, the fat friend, the one who watched as her mate was chased after by the men. She was the one who had a crazy mad lifestyle, disorganised, and not to be taken seriously.
They made reference to many fad diets, and multiple weight loss treatments and surgeries. It really was the premise of the whole show now I look back at it.
And the sad thing was that Eddie wasn’t fat. Jennifer Saunders at that time, playing that character, was very much straight size, yet being portrayed as the person who was fat and needed to lose weight.
Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) - Love Actually
Love Actually – it’s got to go down in history with regard to box office sales, right? It was incredibly popular, and scenes from that movie still show up in memes today. But again, it centres around a woman who is deemed to be a bit frumpy, trying to win over her boss. Deja vu anyone??
Natalie is the Prime Minister’s secretary, and she is often referenced as the “chubby one”, the one with a “sizeable ass and huge thighs”, and “plumpy”. And apparently “No one’s gonna fancy a girl with thighs the size of big tree trunks”. I beg to differ – I speak from personal experience here!!
But Martine McCutcheon, when she plays Natalie, is definitely straight sized, and a small straight size at that.
Andy (Anne Hathaway) - The Devil Wears Prada
Finally on my list is Andy, from The Devil Wears Prada. This is all centred around the fashion industry, and what it takes to make it there. Andy comes on board as a second assistant to a big fashion icon, and…. you guessed it…. doesn’t fit in.
She is not deemed to be thin enough, attractive enough, made up enough. She is made fun of for being a size 6. She isn’t good at her job, loses her boyfriend, and wears long skirts, clumpy shoes, and knitted jumpers (seriously, what is the deal with knitwear being used alongside weight stigma??).
Then she has this big glow up. She loses weight, has her hair cut, learns how to do makeup, becomes an incredible assistant, wears designer clothes, and impresses a man.
Anne Hathaway has spoken out about the fact that she had to gain a heap of weight and then lose it again in order to play the part, and how a butt pad was used to make her look bigger in the early scenes.
Since when is it appropriate to ‘bulk up’ to a size 6?? Why does that show think it’s appropriate to fat shame someone at that size, and make them cut down to a 4, or even smaller?
I loved that movie, but hell is it ever problematic.
Films and TV that are bringing us body positivity
You know what is more positive though, is that now writers of tv shows and films are seeing body positivity as a cool thing to create in their work. Most recently we’ve seen Survival of the Thickest hit netflix. It’s a series about being body positive in the fashion industry, how people should be individuals, and makes really good references to fat personal relationships. It’s so good. Give it a watch!
Then a little while back there was I Feel Pretty, in which Amy Schumer plays Renee, a girl who has an accident and wakes up thinking she’s the hottest thing on the planet. Now admittedly, the fact that they have used a straight size actress and fat suits isn’t great, but the message for the film is. I won’t spoil what happens – you’ll have to go and watch it for yourself.
Then before that there was Rae, in My Mad Fat Diary, which looked at how you feel in a bigger body as a teenager.
And let’s not forget good old Miss Piggy from The Muppets. She was fabulous. She was not skinny, yet she was glamorous and was always being chased by Kermit who absolutely adored her.
The positive characters and scripts are there. It’s just a shame that they are so few and far between isn’t it. Here’s hoping there’s much more to come.
Do you have any examples that I haven’t mentioned here? Who springs to mind when I ask you to look back at people in movies and TV who we were led to believe were fat? Come over to Instagram and let me know, or jump into the Facebook group and join the conversation there about it.