On the portrayal of fat women with a sex drive.

I have seen numerous debates on whether or not 2011’s Bridesmaids was a problematic film from a feminist perspective. Personally, I enjoyed the film, but as a feminist would not say that the film makes any strides in the female empowerment department.

One topic that feminist debaters only seemed to pay lip service to was the character of Megan, portrayed by Melissa McCarthy. If you are one of the few who has not seen the movie, Megan is The Fat One. She is more than just what Americans have deemed as “acceptable” fat (a generous size six with a toned tummy and meaty hips and breasts), she is fat.

But Megan as a character is so much more than fat. She’s hilarious. She’s undeniably the smartest of the main characters, having an extremely high security clearance with a very important federal government job. She has a great strength of character, is very convicted about her words and actions, doesn’t seem bothered when others obviously make fun of her and is there for Annie when no one else will be.

Most importantly, Megan is a very sexual character — probably more sexual than anyone else in the movie, despite others being shown actually having sex. Megan talks about her physical attraction to men very openly, as is demonstrated in the very first scene in which she appears. She is open and unapologetic about sex. But I’m left wondering if this does harm or justice?

I can’t decide — not only because I’m so torn but because as a woman who is 115 pounds of pure Taco Bell, I don’t really have the authority to decide. Portrayals of women like Megan don’t affect me. But I certainly am among the privileged bunch of people who gets to laugh at those characters.

Another similar character is Artemis, a bit character on FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or Pam on FX’s animated comedy Archer. Though we know less about Artemis, Pam is portrayed similarly to Megan — probably one of the most competent employees at ISIS and extremely confident about herself, a superb fighter, a talented artist and even, according to Archer, great in bed.

Characters like this are, on one hand, a revolt against the lack of portrayal of fat women at all, let alone ones who have a damn sex drive.

But is this communicated in the right way? Where does the humour come from when we laugh at characters like Artemis, Pam and Megan? As a thin person who has probably laughed at my share of fat people in the past (I try not to, but I can’t deny that I was a catty, mean girl in my younger years), when I laugh at these characters, much of the humour is derived from the “mismatch,” that fat women are not “supposed to” be sexual.

Is this healthy? Are we laughing with them or at them?

As I said, I cannot answer that. I would, however, like to know what women who are more affected by these characters think. Are we laughing at or with characters like Megan? And what is the best way to portray women of all shapes and sizes?


One thought on “On the portrayal of fat women with a sex drive.

  1. As a large woman, I can speak to having this same struggle when watching characters like these. I noticed particularly Rebel Wilson’s character in Pitch Perfect, creatively called “Fat Amy” left me unsettled, especially when I later found out the creators of such a film intended for her to be sexually active and popular with boys to send a “positive message.” The intentions of such character development made me question why Fat Amy’s character is funny to so many people, including myself. In the same film, Stacie is seen as a thin young woman who is also overtly sexual–but we don’t laugh because it is so outrageous for her to be sexual. The reason most people laugh is because it is so outrageous for a woman to express sexuality so shamelessy (referring to her vagina as a hunter, revealing her unknown fact about herself to be that she has a lot of sex). Her sexuality is not to send a “positive message,” it is just a mere trope.

    Ultimately this realization left me unsettled, for I realized that male acceptance of the woman of size is key in accepting her character as sexual. “Fat Amy” was sending a positive message because she was a woman who, in a heteronormative context, was implied to be accepted and embraced by men, and therefore, is desirable by nature. Yet, her body size is always connected to her and is the source of why she is funny, which is frustrating to see played out over and over again. Even if the representation indicates that women of size can be desirable (which should be a “No Duh” moment, really), we are still trained to laugh at the mismatch, that you indicated, and that is the problem.

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