Earlier this year, a show about a previously fat girl losing all her extra weight because her jaw was wired shut was released. There was an uproar, and appropriately so in my opinion. This is a theme that’s been around for a while. Almost everytime there is a character that is any amount of overweight they are either the comedic relief sidekick or they go through something that makes them lose weight and become more traditionally attractive. Sometimes it’s a makeover, sometimes it’s about confronting emotional issues tied to food, and sometimes it’s some sort of medical issue (because obviously fat people are unhealthy).
This is so harmful to those out there that struggle with body image issues. It sends the message that the only way you can achieve success or happiness is by being skinny. So I want to point out some characters that aren’t a size 0 and still find fulfillment in their stories. These people can be confident and powerful at the size they are without feeling the need to match an impossible ideal.
This amazing character was the first person who came to mind when I wanted to write this post. She’s the main protagonist in the musical and film Hairspray. She is a high school student who loves watching a tv show where other kids from her high school dance and sing together. Her biggest dream to be on that show and to perform in front of people. But every step of the way, people are telling her she’s too fat and doesn’t have the same slender, delicate frame that all the other girls on the show have.
People are really cruel to her, but she keeps her head up and focuses on what she wants instead. She treats everyone she meets with kindness and fairness, and it’s that ability to make friends that help her overcome the hurdles stopping her before. She does have a makeover moment, but instead of it being all about hiding her size or losing weight, it’s just her buying a new dress that she couldn’t afford before and pampering herself and her mother. She learns to be her true self and that she’s good enough just as she is.
This character is a bit more on the fringe between being a legitimate character with depth and just some comedic relief. Obviously, she’s very funny and usually a bit out of touch with what’s going on, which makes her even funnier. But I really think that we can learn a lot from how Fat Amy faces her weight and how others perceive her weight. The fact that she calls herself Fat Amy and asks others to as well shows that she’s acknowledging her weight and that it’s not shameful. She knows that people make fun of her and talk behind her back, so she’s saying, “Look, I know I’m fat. It’s not hard to figure out. Let’s move on.”
At the end of the day, and the end of the movies, she is who she is. She doesn’t let her weight or appearance stop her from getting on stage and singing and dancing with all the other girls. She’s confident when she speaks to guys and is a good friend to those around her. Sure, they went a little too hard on the jokes about Fat Amy not being athletic or loving to eat, but whenever skinny characters make jokes like that, no one blinks an eye. People just call it relatable and move on. I think, deep down, none of us want to be put down for cardio.
Here we have another character who weighs a lot more than any other character on the show and is also the funny guy. Using a goofy fat guy as the butt of the joke is so common on TV, but Lost seemed to avoid most of that. Sure, Hurley is often the one to break the tension, but he does so with wit or by being affable. I’ve never completed the entirety of Lost, so most of my knowledge of the character comes from the first two seasons and what I’ve read online.
His origin story does follow the typical fat guy story where he turned to food to deal with trauma and blames his weight for many of his problems. However, I think the moral of his story is that he blames his weight for too many things that aren’t related to that. When he steps on a deck and it collapses, he blames his own weight, despite the fact that the deck was way over capacity already. He wins the lottery and has a long string of really bad luck. He believes he can’t find a relationship because of his appearance.
As a person on the island, he is very caring and selfless. He’s the one who protects Claire, who is pregnant, post-crash. The easy joke would be to have him stealing all the food for himself and gorging on it constantly, but the only food he stole initially was for Claire since she’s eating for two. The show does address the fact that it’s hard for a bigger guy to be working in the heat and that he sweats a lot, but it’s never the punchline, but just another struggle of surviving. He uses his past of being mocked and abused to connect with the other misfits of the group, such as Sayid, an Iraqi man who faces some racial bias from other survivors. He’s also one of the most pragmatic of the survivors, making a census to track all the survivors, moving everyone into the shelter of the caves, and building a golf course so people won’t be so stressed out.
Cameron Tucker is my favourite character from Modern Family. He’s confident, outgoing, and loves being the center of attention. One could argue that he’s flamboyant and feminine, but he provides a juxtaposition with his husband Mitch’s more toned down mannerisms. He’s dramatic but also very sensitive to criticism or insults. Cameron wears his emotions on his sleeve, which is contradictory to the average fat character. Usually, they tend to hide behind others, are shy because of their appearance, or try to make themselves smaller socially to make up for how big they are physical. While Cameron’s feelings are hurt when someone comments on his appearance, he doesn’t let that quash his personality. Eric Stonestreet, the actor who plays Cameron, has been quoted saying that he strongly opposes using his size as the butt of the joke since it’s lazy writing, which I completely agree with.
Winnie the Pooh
I know I’m calling a stuffed bear that a young boy brings to life with his imagination fat, but stick with me here. All of the animals in the 100 Acre Wood are anthropomorphized to some extent, and that caused Pooh to be “the fat one.” It’s mentioned all the time that he has a big round tummy and loves to eat and eat honey all day long. He says himself, “I’m short and fat and proud of that!”
And he really is. Even in kids shows, the idea of losing weight or becoming skinnier is still strong. If there is a fat character, they’re usually the villain or so absurdly fat that they can barely move. Winnie is neither of those things. He’s the purest, most caring heart in the world and while his size does have a bit of an impediment on his walking, it’s not the butt of the joke. At one point he gets stuck in Rabbit’s front door, or burrow hole. I don’t think the punchline of that adventure is how fat Pooh is, but rather the hijinks that occur while the gang tries to get him out and how unbothered Pooh is throughout the hole ordeal (get it? Hole ordeal?)
So there you go: 5 characters that I think avoided the terrible treatment storytellers usually give fat characters. Who’s your favourite on this list? Did I miss someone who has inspired you? Let me know in the comments.