Weighing in on weight & pop culture

When we think about stereotypes in the media we consume, I’d assume that for most of us the immediate focus on race and gender. It is likely the easiest way to think critically about popular culture–in casual conversation or even for those term papers. But when we begin to think even deeper than those two descriptors, that is where we can further explore the subtle cues that subconciously serve as signifiers of what we should associate as “important” in our own lives.

One of the most “important” things the media teaches us is the definition of beauty. We’ve seen lots of efforts related to the concept of rethinking beauty. Some awesome, some not so much (all important)… but if you do some channel surfing, you will likely find the characters to be attractive in a very similar way. Namely, by being physically attractive. And by physically attractive, I mean thin.

This morning I came across a great article about something that gets pretty overlooked in popular culture–the issue of weight. Primarily the notion of size as a definer of character.

Queen Latifah & Nikki Blonsky

Queen Latifah & Nikki Blonsky

Plus-sized individuals have their own stereotype in most media–just like every other individual that does not fill the white American heterosexual type. As a media minority, the article suggests that heavy-set characters almost “hurt” the entertainment industry: People don’t like seeing overweight people on screen. We are responding to the media messages we hear over and over again that tell us being overweight is ugly.

When I first heard the popular song ‘Just the Way You Are’ by Bruno Mars, it immediately made me think ‘Aw, this song is so cute. And this guy could be singing this to a REAL (aka a girl with physical features songs don’t sing positively about: plus sized, braces, crutches, bald, freckled) girl.’ But alas, the video fails to demonstrate otherwise. Instead, he chose to sing to a VERY beautiful girl. Damn. There was so much potential there!

All in all, the article made me consider my own media habits. On a personal note, I’ve had issues with weight my whole life. Relating that to my own media usage, perhaps these programs aren’t successful because maybe others (like myself) almost avoid programs that attempt to provide a ‘it’s okay to be the way you are’ agenda because we have long-developed a ‘no, it is not okay’ mindset. There are a few plus-sized characters and celebrities that do allow me to feel slightly more empowered (ie. Mercedes in Glee, Queen Latifah in general-Love her). But overall, movies &TV don’t necessarily cut it as far as encouraging self-esteem.

So readers, consider the roles heavy set individuals play in your favorite programs. You’ll notice that weight is almost always an element of plot or characterization. & it almost has to be. An overweight individual’s appearance on screen almost always has to be justified in some way. Are there any examples out there that incorporate plus-sized characters without any explanation for their purpose, or mentioning of their size? When we think of films like Precious and Hairspray, would their characters be perceived (and received) any differently if they were thinner? Discuss.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply