It was one of those holiday moments where things were not quite going according to plan. The whole house was grumpy, and all day long it seemed anything that could go wrong did. But I had made it through to that magical part of the day known as bed time, and I decided to curl up in bed and watch a Christmas movie to reward myself for getting through the day without having a giant mommy tantrum. I had recently asked my Facebook friends to list off some of their favourite holiday flicks, and chose Love, Actually from the list. It has been a few years since I last watched it, and I settled in for some nice, light romantic comedy. Unfortunately, I discovered that my experience of the movie has changed. What used to be just a sweet film has somehow morphed without me noticing it into a propaganda ad for fat shaming.
As the movie went on, I lost count of the number of times a character was referred to as chubby, plump, or just plain fat, in a negative and derogatory tone. Three separate characters in the movie are harassed about their weight by friends, family or co-workers. By the end of the movie I had to wonder: “Who the hell wrote this and what is their deal?” Well apparently Richard Curtis wrote and directed it, among other films like Notting Hill and Bean, both of which I remember enjoying, but I wonder if I still would now. In an interview he said that “Anything that is wrong with a film will come back to haunt you forever, so I take a long time writing, fix everything, underline bits that I thought were funny when I first thought of them because they won't be funny when I look at them later.” Well I guess even after he did his second look, he still found that in a two-hour film, more than six references to various characters’ fatness are totally ok.
Using fat characters as comedy punch lines is nothing new in film, I know that. There is such a long history of it in fact, that body positive activist Jes Baker recently commented on how pleasantly surprised she was when she watched Fantastical Beasts and found that Jacob Kowalski ‘s weight was not used as a punch line for a joke. When we spend a whole movie waiting for the fat character to be the butt of a joke, you know it’s happened a few times before (Pitch Perfect 2 anyone?). I’m just tired of finding that when I turn on a show to wind down at the end of a hard day, I wind up angry and frustrated. I know things are changing. Films today can’t get away with the rampant homophobia and racism that used to be common place. But fat shaming is still everywhere in our popular media, and I just can’t take it anymore. I can’t sit there and watch it and laugh at all the other beautiful moments in a film when they are marred by repeated moments of body shaming. I get enough of that crap every time I line up at the grocery store and have to look at those hideous magazine covers.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask of our entertainment that we find better ways to make a joke. More intelligent ways, and more compassionate ways. Because I love a good chick flick, and sometimes, I just want to lie in bed and have someone tell me a really good story.
P.S. I was recently published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology, Curvy and Confident. I am super proud to be included in this collection of 101 stories about learning to love our bodies and our selves. The book comes out Dec 27, 2016 and you can purchase it wherever books are sold!