I’m going to be brutally honest; there’s something utterly devastating and soul-crushing about being plus size in a world that idolizes thinness. That’s just a fact. Right now I’m sitting pretty at a size 20-22 jean and a 3X shirt and sometimes don’t want to leave the house because of the potential to be seen by some jerk who thinks they know what’s best for me. Los Angeles, California (and really the whole world?), just doesn’t have the infrastructure and chutzpah to love someone like me. Further still, I grew up in San Francisco which, while a notoriously liberal and accepting culture, definitely has no problem shaming fat people for being ‘unhealthy’. (The whole city is proof positive that hating fat people is the last remaining ‘acceptable’ prejudice. Yikes, right?)
And I’m one of the lucky ones; the vitriol infini-fats, and plus size POC and GNC people suffer is beyond cruel. If you squint I’m an ‘hourglass’ shape, (and I’m not going to lie, my face is super cute which doesn’t hurt). I can fake being thinner than I am in pictures. If I stick with above the waist selfies or angle things just right I look more conventionally attractive.
But I wish I didn’t have to.
As an aspiring screenwriter, I’m not in front of the camera and in many ways I’m safe. I can stay at my computer, tippy-tapping away and hoping for the best. If I met any potential agents or managers, I’d still have to look super put together to a point of being uncomfortable, but I tell myself that maybe everyone else does too. Maybe some other women are wearing two pairs of spanx under their dress shirt and slacks.
As for writing itself I can try to add plus size characters to my work; change the whole game from the inside! That seems like a good, long-con sort of approach to making audiences fall in love with us plus size people (as we justly deserve!). I daydream about powerfully stipulating in my million-dollar screenplay contracts that certain characters must wear a size 18 or higher. (I also daydream about other stipulations regarding representation; race, sexuality, disability. Ooh nelly if I had my druthers…)
I’m not nearly successful enough to see anything come of writing dynamic fat characters in regular stories any time soon. Plus, on the off-chance one of my scripts is bought, the director in question will probably scrap any fat-positive messages I try to put into it anyway. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. Screenwriters can’t be naive about that sort of thing. But that’s not going to stop me from trying.
What if I want to be in front of the camera though? I’m still at that point in my journey of self acceptance where I can’t help but imagine how much braver I would be if I were thinner. I would dance more, I would flirt more, I would live more. Because the truth is I wanted to be in front of the camera for a long, long time, but my weight scared me away from even trying. It’s probably too late now. Maybe it’s better that I didn’t expose myself to the shattering reality of being plus size in ‘the industry’ as a younger woman, but part of me wishes I had. If only to honor that chubby girl I was in sixth grade who was hoping to be cast as Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter movies, or to be a shoe-in for the romantic lead in a school play. That girl was already pretty good at hiding her insecurities behind humor, but she was dreaming about being more while doing sit-ups in vain on her bedroom floor, stuffed animals knocked off the bed.
And things are changing in the industry… sort of. Seeing Chrissy Metz as a lead character in a massive television show seems like it would be a real win. If she can do it, so can I, right?
Not really! Nearly her entire character arc centers around weight – hers and everyone else’s. The struggle is a story that needs telling, sure, but it’s one I don’t want to be reduced to. Can’t she be the lead in a romcom? Can’t she be a successful writer, nurse, architect, lawyer, astronaut without her weight being the story? ‘This Is Us’ is groundbreaking, no doubt, but can’t we have more? Can’t she date a hot guy, even? Her character’s romantic partner and eventual husband was someone she met in a overeaters anonymous meeting; he is a big guy already and they made the actor playing him wear a fat suit.
(Frankly, I don’t know which would’ve been harder for me if I had pursued a more ‘in front of the camera’ life; being made a punchline as is the traditional role fat people embody, or being made to tell the same story about my weight being an obstacle over and over again. I bet Chrissy Metz is a strong woman.)
It’s especially frustrating because it’s truly not beyond the realm of possibility that fat people can have lives outside of their fatness. Hollywood may not know it, but there’s a whole world of us out there. There’s plenty of body-positive and fat-positive people: bloggers, models, youtubers, influencers who are living boss ass lives. They’ve probably written about being fat much more eloquently than I have here; their stories don’t sound nearly as one-dimensional as Kate in ‘This Is Us’. These awesome people are doing the damn thing while fat, making money while fat, falling in love while fat. It’s not like we don’t exist! And more importantly, it’s not like we’re letting ourselves be crippled by this ongoing narrative that all we care about is losing weight.
I spent so much of my life hating my body because of that narrative. It was devastating when I was fully invested in it by dieting and working out until I felt sick. And it’s still devastating now that I’m trying to remove myself from this mindset.
The truth is I don’t know how to balance my life as a fat person with my chosen profession in the film and television sphere. I wish I could end this mini-essay with a tangible solution but I don’t know if there is one. Like I said at the beginning, it’s devastating being a fat person in a thin world. Even just trying to succeed in the film industry — an industry that so notoriously idolizes thinness — feels almost like a betrayal to some core part of me. I’m subjecting myself to something cruel and sharp and it hurts to run your finger against that blade. I’ve decided I can’t throw that knife away, but is my only other option letting it cut me until I can’t take it anymore?
I’m fat. And I’m a story teller, even if the industry hates women who look like me I can’t stop writing stories. The best I can do is try and honor both those sides of me and help others along the way. Maybe things will be different one day.
(I can’t end this post without giving a special shout out to the TV show Shrill which is such a masterpiece of fat representation. That’s the sort of thing I want to create as much as I want to see it. Thank god for Shrill)