Recently, a couple articles surfaced about how plus-size figures influence young women. After the “fat Barbie” article, the internet started spitting venom about this being a terrible idea. Most people argued that Barbie is a figure to be idolized, and by creating a fat version, it encourages girls to be fat. Barbie or no Barbie, fat girls and boys exist. It’s time the media gives these people a voice.
The main reason the media, specifically television programs, need more fat heroines is because girls and women need to be deprogrammed about their bodies defining them. Movies, books and television shows encourage these ideologies by their lack of body diversity. The 2013/2014 television season took a major step towards diversifying the racial images on TV. Most major shows picked up for full seasons contained at least one lead character that was a minority. This change deserves praise and admiration, but it’s not enough. Of all the shows on American television right now, I can count a handful with plus-sized main characters. We need more of them.
From my understanding of the television world, several reasons prohibit shows from banking on a plus-size lead. The first is lack of appeal. The studio heads don’t believe many people will tune into a big girl falling in love, dealing with life or just being normal. We’ve seen endless amounts of reality shows that cast pretty people over interesting ones. Many shows even lack characters who wear more than a size 2-dress. But shows with plus-size leads have proven very successful in the past. Ugly Betty aired for four seasons. America Ferrera did slim down through the course of the series but the show’s premise was an “ugly” girl trying to make it in the fashion world. Right now Lifetime’s Drop Dead Divas is preparing to air its sixth season. Then we’ve seen how Melissa McCartney has become an America sweetheart due to Mike & Molly. But the success of these shows seems more like the exception rather than the normal for producers.
In 2010, ABCFamily attempted to create a show surrounding plus-size teens. The show entitled Huge didn’t last a full season. There were many problems with this series, but it doesn’t represent the appeal of a show following a plus size teen. The UK show My Mad Fat Diary has huge cult following that includes American viewers. It’s becoming one of the few teen shows to unite people of all cultures. It seems that plus-size characters do not discourage viewers, it’s badly written storylines and terrible marketing that do.
A second factor that stops producers from creating more plus-size friendly programming is they feel it’ll be too controversial, or it will encourage teen girls to be fat. This argument is crap. Not only has television become more racially diverse, it’s been more sexually diverse. Almost every show has (or will have) a gay character. Now even more shows are adding transgender characters. Many religious extremist argue this encourages homosexuality. Yet people still add these characters. Why? Because they represent real people who need their voices heard and seen in the media to incite change. Then what makes being fat so taboo for the television industry? A fat girl on television doesn’t cause people to be fat, just like seeing a gay person on TV doesn’t make someone gay. I personally believe people are born gay. It is beyond their control. People aren’t born fat, but they shouldn’t be shamed and disregarded for it either.
By showing more variety, it helps women and girls build confidence, because they see bodies similar to their own. If anything, this can be an opportunity to educate. Too often, things are written about plus-sized women or girls that rely heavily on stereotypes. We need more shows not afraid to show society’s cruelty towards them. We need shows that humanize plus-size individuals. Many TV programs have these characters just as someone to abuse for comedic purposes. This needs to stop. A plus-size or fat person is not synonymous with a clown.
Isn’t it time for America to include more plus-size women and men on television? Why not develop a show that doesn’t ostracize them, but one that shows their struggles? One that doesn’t feel the need to constantly say, “You’re fat, so you’re worthless.” Why must all the shows with fat reality characters be about their weight loss? We as a nation don’t just need plus-size Disney princesses or Barbies, but plus-size romantic leads, political figures, superheroes, best friends, etc. We just need more plus-size humans on television shows, films, and in books.