Hollywood has a big fat problem and love has everything to do with it. The other day, I watched American Horror Story: Coven as Gabby Sidibe’s character, Queenie, stood in the dark and basically begged a Minotaur to love her. She spoke heartrendingly of her invisibility and loneliness to a beast because her romantic invisibility caused her to feel less than human. Granted, AHS: Coven is a boundary-pushing horror television show, but Queenie’s plea struck a nerve.
Where is the love for full-figured women in Hollywood?
I am afraid that we cannot envision these women in love because we are too busy laughing at them. I am sure Rebel Wilson is a smashingly talented comedienne, but previews of her show just make me cringe. I am wary of a comedy that makes her the butt of her own jokes and relies too heavily on fat-conscious, self-deprecating humor in the guise of acceptance. Nearly every curvy actress I can name plays or has played a comedic role in a sitcom. But romantic interests in movies, even supporting actress roles, are reserved for willowy damsels-in-distress, never women who are thicker than your average A-lister.
I watch romantic comedies because I like love. Unfortunately, rom-coms usually get “love” all wrong. They reinforce the worst stereotypes about desirability and mating, holding up thin, perfectly coiffed, “America’s Sweethearts” as paragons of beauty. Somehow, I still find myself a hopeless romantic about most of the films, tuning in only be turned off by disappointment.
The entertainment industry focuses its gaze on size only to laugh at it, pity it, or to change it (i.e. Biggest Loser and other weight loss “challenges”). But to love it as it is? Never.
I recall a kerfuffle a few years ago when Marie Claire contributor Maura Kelly complained that sitcom Mike and Molly grossed her out showing “obese” people doing things that people in love do. She was roundly and soundly criticized for the comments, but she spoke an ugly truth about America: many of us do not believe larger people are worthy of love. They undoubtedly experience it, so why aren’t more curvy women cast as the leads in romantic comedies?
I believe we are drawn to films representing our internalized images of attractiveness, and let’s face it, Paula Patton is pretty to look at. So is Katherine Heigl. And Channing Tatum. But they are not the only beautiful ones loving and living and worthy of screen time, and it is high time we change our stale pictures of what love looks like.
Besides Last Holiday and Just Wright, both with Queen Latifah, when was the last time Hollywood produced a romantic comedy starring a full-figured black woman? If women of size are marginalized in general, black curvy women are even more invisible in that regard. I want to go see Best Man Holiday and Baggage Claim because I have a soft spot for seeing black love on screen. But even black romantic comedies are scripted and cast predictably like their mainstream counterparts. The industry often typecasts larger black women as sassy sidekicks but rarely the heroine.
The fact is that representation in Hollywood both mirrors and affects societal views. One good role can influence other directors to cast rom-coms differently. Deliberately choosing an actress who is deemed “plus-size” would mean considering who her love interests would be. That every sentence from her mouth would not be a fat joke. That falling in love happens to all women, and not just the ones who can fit into a size 4 or less. We might actually have to see naked, curvy skin (gasp!).
Hollywood needs more full-figured rom-com leads because Gabifresh is more my style heroine than Carrie Bradshaw. Because Afrobella has her own Cinderella love story. Because it’s not just plus-size women who need to see themselves reflected in a happy ending, but America needs to see it. We need reminding that people falling in love–at every size–is always a beautiful thing to behold.