Fat Shaming In Movies: Will It Ever End?

fat shaming Image Source: Unsplash

Fat Shaming In Movies: Will It Ever End? By Frankie Wallace.

Fat shaming in our media has long been the norm. Especially in movies, when you see a fat person, you can usually correctly assume they’re the funny sidekick or the subject of the movie itself is about their fatness. Regardless of a fat actor or character’s role, the character is likely to experience shaming for their weight and health. 

There is very little representation of fat people in movies. Forty percent of Americans are overweight, and most of us have to look to cartoons like Steven Universe for a portrayal of a fat character whose fatness isn’t the focus. When you look at a movie, 67% of the women you see on screen aren’t a size 14 or higher — but they are in real life. When is this going to change?

Note: The remainder of this blog includes spoilers about Avengers: Endgame.

Fat Thor and Avengers: Endgame — A Conversation Starter

I’m not the only fan who looks forward to the obligatory Thor (Chris Hemsworth) shirtless scenes in most of the Thor and Avengers movies. That didn’t change once I saw him shirtless in Endgame, but there was something different about Thor this time: Thor became fat.

After experiencing the loss of most of his family and Asgard itself, the closure of his relationship with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and his failure to save half the living beings on Earth from Thanos’ snap, Thor has a lot to be depressed about. He’s also got centuries of battle and trauma under his belt, and while he’s an expressive person, this is clearly a struggle Thor can’t fully handle. 

Thor shuts himself away with his sidekicks in Norway, where people are happy to ply him with mead while he plays video games and gets fat.

It makes sense, but it hits home, especially for American audiences under the stress of stagnant wages, student loans and lack of access to quality healthcare. Thor’s such a lovable character, and he’s gained weight as an obvious result of some serious depression.

Instead of helping him through that or suggesting counseling, Thor’s Avengers teammates make fun of him. Those defending the character development aren’t seeing the larger context of fat shaming in movies, especially the way fat shaming and mental and physical health issues can greatly affect each other, as we see with Thor. 

Why Do Writers Use Fat Shaming in Movies?

Fat shaming in movies in a contemporary context has no excuse, but it helps to understand that comedy in particular is often very physical. For a character like Thor, much of what he does is physical. Now more comfortable as a comedic talent, it’s not far off to say that Hemsworth might wish people would see him as more than a walking six-pack (of muscles — or beer).

Fat, however, has always been a universal enemy, even for fat people. We’ve been told it’s wrong and we need to fight it, and that can get translated as an attack on a fat person.

Those who haven’t struggled with weight gain and related health issues don’t understand that fat isn’t changeable due to a mindset.

Instead of fat shaming, writers could present characters who talk about their feelings and their bodies. They can also present fat characters who aren’t there simply for a punchline, and who have other plot points and goals that don’t have anything to do with their bodies.

Picking on someone’s physical appearance is often reflective of a greater oppression. While men and women are equal targets of fat commentary in movies, men make the fat shaming commentary so often that our media essentially reflects fat shaming as a component of the male identity. 

Instead, we need more male characters who can express their emotions through ways other than violence and redirecting anger on characters who are targets because they are fat. This isn’t great behavior to model and it’s important for viewers to remember that our Avengers superheroes are quite imperfect and flawed.

As the documentary Fed Up indicates, lobbyists have their claws in the sugar industry. Let’s keep them out of writers’ rooms.

From the Screen to the Doctor’s Office: Discussing Fatness

Now that Avengers: Endgame and other movies have us talking about the causes behind weight gain, it’s time to look at how that translates to health and wellness in real life. Many overweight people go to the doctor for help with weight loss or other conditions, and they’re told to diet or exercise before further treatment or evaluation.

The problem with that: obesity is a secondary condition caused by many other disorders, medications and genetics, and doctors dismiss overweight patients and women (especially women of color) at a higher rate than lean patients and men. 

When doctors dismiss overweight patients, they can miss a variety of other health conditions that obesity worsens. Conditions like deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can have devastating impact on the length of a patient’s life; the CDC has estimated that between 60,000 to 100,000 patients die of DVT each year

When doctors refuse to do in-depth examinations or testing on overweight patients until they lose weight, they put the patient at risk. Media poking fun at weight gain only adds to this problem instead of encouraging people to ask about underlying conditions.

More than 93 million American adults fight obesity. This is a widespread problem and a crisis. By showing a superhero like Thor facing this realistic crisis, filmmakers bring attention to the struggle. However, they must present the character’s struggle as not only realistic, but with a path for acceptance. It’s difficult for Thor when his friends joke about his weight, and it might have been more uplifting for him to have at least one friend who found that behavior unacceptable and further damaging to Thor. 

One thing is clear: we need to be able to talk about fatness, from body positive representations to health concerns, and we need more media that enables us to do that.

Fat Characters are Still Worthy

Before the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame, Thor realizes he is still worthy to wield Mjolnir. He is worthy without this tool, but able to retrieve it as well. Seeing a fat person struggle with issues of self-worth is inspiring. Furthermore, while Thor’s appearance made the usual changes when summoning Mjolnir, he was still portly under that armor.

Overall, his appearance skews more towards his late father Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) look, as Odin was never especially slim. While fans still debate the harshness of other Avengers’ treatment of Thor, we’re generally glad about Thor’s “worthy” status. Hopefully, movies portraying fatness can continue to provide a similar message about the value of fat people.

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