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From Shrill to Work in Progress to Euphoria, fat women are no longer the butt of TV jokes

  • "Fat, it seems, is the new frontier," says Robyn Bahr. "And auteurs like (Abby) McEnany and Shrill's Lindy West have been working to shift the narrative for TV's fat women, who have often been relegated to chipper sidekick roles or the zoo of gawking reality television, to reveal the truths of living in a body that is painfully visible and invisible simultaneously. Series like Shrill, Work in Progress, Euphoria and TLC's new reality show Hot & Heavy demonstrate that fatness is no longer just joke fodder and that these characters/subjects can indeed find love (and be loved by people who don't physically match them, à la This Is Us and Mike and Molly). Refreshingly, these new shows aren't fixated on weight itself — losing/gaining, physical transformation —  but the weight of weight: the family pressures, romantic stigmas and self-hatred endemic to inhabiting a fat form in a disapproving environment. Thanks to social changes that occurred during Industrialization, we've come to see fatness as a perversion of femininity: a trait that both over-sexualizes and de-sexualizes a female body that should ideally take up no space at all. From this perspective, fatness is desire; fatness is anger; fatness is failure. It's everything a woman isn't supposed to be. The year 2019 was the year fat women broke through to the mainstream, with Lizzo, Beanie Feldstein, CupcakKe, Aidy Bryant, Naomi Watanabe and others proving that female fatness isn't a monolith that equates to one overarching cultural value (historically, either hypersexuality or comic chops). As a fat woman myself, I'm particularly attuned to how women who look like me are portrayed in popular culture, and I've been astonished to see so many thickly built female celebs suddenly wearing their experiences openly and proudly, which I partially attribute to the successes of the Fat Acceptance Movement and fat feminism. Beyond public personas and body-pos soundbites, however, TV's structured stories are helping expose the molten human core of conflicts surrounding weight."

    TOPICS: Shrill, Euphoria, Hot & Heavy, Work in Progress, Body Portrayals and TV