Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Enjoying Entertainment Used to be Easier: Kate's Weight, Fat Pam, and Beyond

I love to be entertained. I mean, who doesn't love to sit back and laugh at a hilarious new sitcom, or fall in love with the quirks of the main character in a blockbuster movie. I have a touch of social anxiety and recently discovered that I am an introvert, so it makes sense that my primary source of entertainment is television and movies. Between my cable provider, Netflix, and Amazon Prime, I pretty much have access to all of the entertainment I could ever want. And it was great. Until I stopped hating my body.

Much like what I wrote about in my last blog post, it's increasingly difficult to enjoy social media without being inundated with weight bias; I'm bombarded with ads for weight loss supplements and plans, before and after pictures and weight loss success stories, health "concern" trolls, and outright fat hate every day when I browse Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It insidiously inserts itself into my online shopping experience. Ordering books like Intuitive Eating and Body Respect trigger a skewed algorithm that tells my Amazon home page to offer up myriad titles of diet and "lifestyle change" books in my "Recommended for You" and "Inspired by Your Shopping Trends" lists. But I persevere, take a breath, and move on.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that mainstream media prefers to display thin, sculpted bodies that adhere to the traditional societal image of beauty. It probably also isn't a revelation to hear that often times the fat person in a television show or movie is there for comedic purposes; the butt of the joke, the best friend, the DUFF. But it's much more pervasive than that. The rabbit hole of fat bias and stereotyping goes very deep. The breadth of this didn't register in my consciousness until I decided I wanted to stop hating myself, to put an end to my nearly 30 year battle against my own body. And now I can't seem to tune it out. I have to believe that people who identify with other marginalized groups face the same turmoil as they fight for respect, equality, and legitimacy in society. And considering all the nuances of intersectionality, how can it not get overwhelming? My favorite line from one of my social media friends is, "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention." I said it before, but it bears repeating, it gets exhausting to be so angry all the time, to have to keep justifying my right to exist the way I am right now (which can often be a fight in my own mind). And not just my right to exist as I am, but my right to be respected as a human.

The messages in entertainment that shame and marginalize fat people, some subtle while others opting for more blatant tactics, are everywhere. The pilot episode of the Netflix series Jessica Jones shows a fat woman eating a cheeseburger as she works out on an elliptical while the lithe and athletic main character provides her disdainful narrative (there is so much wrong with that scene, I can't even). I excitedly watched the pilot episode of HBO's new series, Divorce, and caught three separate instances of fatphobic dialogue, including health concern rhetoric. Finally having a television show like This Is Us feature a character that actually looks like me (with respect to her body type), I felt a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Then I watched the pilot episode as Chrissy Metz's character, Kate, is introduced to the audience as every fat woman trope out there. I want to make it clear, these are three examples of television shows that I really like but I struggle through much of the content (seriously, I love This Is Us). I have to watch around the stuff that gets under my skin. Just watching the commercials for American Housewife was enough to allow me to conclude I didn't need another fat-lady-making-fat-jokes-about-herself television show in my life. (On a side note, learning about the whole "Fat Pam" narrative confirmed that I made the right decision there.)

Before getting involved in Fat Acceptance (and the less diluted realms of Body Positivity) and deciding to ditch diet culture in favor of adopting intuitive eating and the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement, I would have watched those examples above and, if I thought anything at all, I probably would have agreed with the messages they conveyed. More likely, I would have just unconsciously internalized it and engaged in self-hatred and disordered eating for a while. Knowing how omnipresent these messages are makes me hesitant to do things like re-watch my favorite movies. I don't want to tarnish the good memories of my favorite characters and story lines by watching them through eyes that are no longer encumbered by my own, internalized fat hatred, with a mind now acutely aware of how cunningly subtle the messages of fat hate can be.

While I think that the Kate character in This Is Us is a very real representation of a lot of women (regardless of their size), my hopes are that her character will evolve into a woman who learns to stop hating her body. Being fat and accepting it (I'm not at the point where I can say I love my body, but I'm trying) doesn't mean that the world is easier to navigate. There will always be places I don't fit (literally and figuratively) and people who want to hate me simply because of the way I look. I think it's good to show that in a television show (like Kate's perception of people snickering and side-eyeing her on the dance floor) because it's real. But I'd also love it if those same characters didn't always turn that inward to substantiate their self-loathing and internalized hatred.
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