This Fall on ye old network TV there are two shows that not only star plus size actresses, but also center around their plus sizedness. One is all the rage and getting tons of kudos. The other is a typical family sit-com which won’t last past this season. As a “plus size” I have some definite feelings about both… and they may surprise you (well, only if you aren’t one of us…)
This is Us is a drama that uses flashbacks to help tell the store of twins and an adopted brother. Kevin, a hot hunk of an actor and his twin sister Kate (the plus sized one) grew up in a suburb of Philly with their born on the same day adopted African-American brother Randall. This plot is basic family struggles for their parents, that each episode ties into what 36-year-old Kevin, Kate and Randall are dealing with. For Kate it does tend to focus on her size. She met a wonderful man at a weight loss meeting, and (SPOILER) has now broken up with him because he lost a chunk of weight and decided to stop trying. (Now I have NOT seen the most recent “Christmas” episode… and from the reactions of fat activists I respect I’m not sure I want to) At Thanksgiving Kate announces she’s going to get gastric bypass. Now there is a lot to cheer about Kate being one of 5 main characters in a tv drama. She is beautiful. She has sex. But there is also a lot to get mad at – mainly that she won’t flat-out say it, but she hates herself and sees dieting as the only way to like herself. I’ve been there… and most days those thoughts do creep into my head. Kevin’s story is about him being a sit-com actor turned broadway drama star, Randall’s story is about him finding his birth father and brining him home to live with his family. Kate’s story is about her fatness. THAT is my major issue with this show…. I get it, it’s not like her size can be ignored… but the men get meaty stories with substantial personal growth, Kate gets a story about her walking on a treadmill and labeling the food in her refrigerator. And for those that watch the show, those scenes in the weight loss meetings ARE REAL (and in reality WORSE)… we really do spend hours talking about how to eat less, and applaud when some one announces they only had one bite of something they really wanted to eat.. and weighing every item you cook, and trying to make cardboard look appealing to eat… it is ALL REAL and we are told endless times each hour of the day that THAT is how we are supposed to live to meet some societal standard of “attractive”
American Housewife is a sit-com revolving around the Otto family, helmed by self-proclaimed fatty, Katie. I’m going to pause here and say she is only fat by demented Hollywood standards. There are many of us out there that would kill for her full hourglass shape. The Otto family lives in a fancy poncy Connecticut suburb town where they moved to help their OCD daughter get better schooling. Katie does not fit in with the uber moms, who spend all their time working out, juicing and obsessing about their appearances. I can SO identify with this as the poor, overweight, awkwardest mom in almost every parent meeting I’ve ever attended. You know what though… this show makes no bones about the fact it centers on Katie’s weight and how she doesn’t fit the norm… and it does it FABULOUSLY. It far more honest that the above show with how not being thin affects a person’s psyche in this society. So while I complained about This is Us focussing only on Kate’s weight story and praise American Housewife for doing the same, it’s because the first one cloaks it the second embraces it. It doesn’t mask Katie’s feelings about herself around family drama. AND it doesn’t show her trying to lose weight to fit in. She doesn’t let the weight stop her from living her life, raising her kids, loving her husband and having wonderful friendships. Another pause here… Katie’s two friends are a Korean American (with hilarious anger issues) and an African-American lesbian. So while This is Us has a mixed race family, American Housewife is WAY more diverse and inclusive.
So my breakdown is if you want to support diversity, and specifically BODY diversity in main stream media, don’t waste your time with This is Us, watch American Housewife. (and while we’re at it, a plug here for The Mindy Project… another diverse cast led by a “plus sized” woman and featuring another “fatty” who is not obsessed with changing her body or her sexuality). So while This is Us features someone who is technically “obese” and does get kudos for that, if we really want to break size barriers we need more shows that have a wide range of bodies where the losing of weight IS NOT THE STORY for the fattest one on the screen.
PS-If you haven’t seen American Housewife, I suggest you test it out with “The Art Show” episode. The final reveal encompasses what those of us that hate ourselves for not fitting in need to hear.