By Kaye Toal
Hey, SPARK readers! Let’s play a game!
First: think of some men who do not fit “traditional” or socially-acceptable male beauty standards but still feature in TV shows and movies where their roles revolve around something other than their weight. Men like, say, Seth Rogen. Or Chris Farley. Or Jack Black. Or Danny DeVito. Or John Belushi. I could go on.
Next, ask yourself: Do these guys get a “hot” girl despite their appearance or flaws in their personality? Because man, I can’t tell you how many times something like Knocked Up has happened to me in real life. You know, where my gorgeous, successful friends have sex with some asshole with no job and no motivation and decide to stay with him despite the fact that he’s a child in a man’s body. What does that hot girl look like? Seriously. Think about it. She’s probably thin, right? Probably white? Gorgeous head of hair that looks perfect regardless of when she went to bed or how drunk she was beforehand? Perfectly “natural” makeup? Boobs for days? Even if she’s not Katherine Heigl, she’s basically Katherine Heigl. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Katherine Heigl – she’s gorgeous – but I’m like 99% sure women who don’t look like Katherine Heigl are also in relationships.
Round Two! Think of some women who aren’t thin or white or have perfect hair or the skin of a newborn fairy-child, but still feature in TV shows, movies, and the like where their roles revolve around something other than their weight. Notice how thin women are always bosses of people, or wedding planners, or farmers or professional cat-wranglers, but fat women are always fat women. No matter what they’re doing otherwise, their weight is always the defining part of their identity. Can you think of any? I’ve got Queen Latifah. And she’s had roles that revolve around her weight, but at least she’s also had roles that don’t. Recently, there was a fat character in Bridesmaids whose weight was part of her identity but not the only part. In fact, other aspects of her personality (her forcefulness, her sexuality, her humor) were more important. Whether or not she was an altogether positive example of a fat role notwithstanding, that was incredibly refreshing. Can we get more of that?
I bet you can see where this game is going! Do these women get a “hot” guy despite their appearance or the flaws in their personality? And more importantly, is he genuinely into her? And I’m not talking about the farce that was Shallow Hal, where they strapped Gwyneth Paltrow into a fat suit and had Jack Black’s character fall in love with her inner beauty … while he was hypnotized and couldn’t see her outer self. The message there is that men need to be convinced of a fat woman’s worth, like it’s this huge shocker that she could be beautiful, successful, powerful, funny, well-liked, AND fat. I know. I’ll give you a second to fetch your smelling salts and recover from your swoon.
So who wins this game? I bet you could see this one coming, too. It’s the dudes. Dudes win everything, seems like. For one thing, there is a much wider variety of socially accepted male beauty than there is for women. Women, to be considered worthwhile and “hot,” have to be a certain body type. It’s not even about breast size or hair color anymore — it’s almost entirely about weight. Thin women like Emma Stone and curvy women like Christina Hendricks are generally considered equally beautiful by mainstream culture (as they should be!) while women like Nikki Blonsky and Gabourey Sidibe are commended on their bravery or their boldness if they wear a sleeveless dress. And God forbid Gabourey Sidibe go out without putting on her makeup one day – when Cameron Diaz does it, it’s because she’s carefree and natural, whatever that means. When a fat woman does it, she’s a slob.
And yet a woman’s weight is seen by American culture as an outward manifestation of her personal worth. If she is overweight (a tricky term that I hate – over what weight?), she has failed as a woman. If she is overweight and not actively seen to be doing something about it (exercising for sixty-eight percent of her waking hours, eating three pieces of lettuce and a tomato for every meal, going to a nutritionist, going to a gym, going to a personal trainer, hiring a personal chef, getting costly and dangerous surgeries to butcher the shape of her stomach, publicly demeaning herself and her body so that the world knows she understands it’s not good enough), she has failed as a woman. If she is overweight and feels like eating a hamburger instead of a salad one day, she has failed as a woman. All this regardless of the fact that diets have a 90-95% failure rate and that body fat is not directly correlated with any major health problems other than, of course, the derogation, harassment, and general hate aimed in the direction of a fat woman. Her body isn’t her property, whether she’s fat or thin, but it seems that the more body she has the less the world is willing to let her have control over it.
For more information on healthy body image, size acceptance, and the Health at Every Size movement, visit the NAAFA website. I also suggest that you read Kate Harding’s fantastic FAQ about fat acceptance. Go on! It won’t bite!