By Jill Richardson
In the new film “Isn’t It Romantic,” actress Rebel Wilson plays a woman who suffers an injury and wakes up trapped inside a romantic comedy. The trailer shows one incredibly attractive man after another making romantic gestures to her.
Rebel Wilson, I should note, played “Fat Amy” in “Pitch Perfect.” She was the fat girl, the comic relief – not the romantic lead.
Last year, Amy Schumer’s movie “I Feel Pretty” is similar: She’s an unattractive-feeling woman who hits her head and wakes up with tremendous self-esteem.
Both films put women who aren’t exactly Hollywood’s ideal of feminine beauty at the center of romantic comedies. In each, the gag is that a “fat ugly girl” either believes that she’s beautiful or that men do.
I grew up on a steady diet of romantic comedies in a household dominated by a fat-phobic mother who berated us every time we put food in our mouths.
Public Enemy No. 1
It was the 1990s, when fat was public enemy No. 1. My mom would buy low-fat and fat-free snack products, and even chips with the fake fat Olestra a few times. The Olestra chips tasted great, but by then I had such a link between junk food and guilt that I couldn’t eat them and enjoy them.
Food has been a struggle almost my entire life, from about the age of 10. As a teen and in my early 20s, I tried several strict diets of various sorts. I gave up french fries, I limited myself to one order of my college cafeteria’s chicken tenders a month, I tried to give up chocolate but it didn’t work. I still can’t enjoy certain foods because they are too fattening.
In my 20s, I found a new route to take. Instead of worrying about fat, I’d worry about health. I became a food writer and, for a time, a vegan. I researched the heck out of every aspect of food, ultimately getting interested in agriculture. I’m now working on my PhD, researching cattle ranchers.
Here’s what I’ve learned in adulthood. My obsession with only eating the healthiest food all of the time was unhealthy. Instead of focusing on fat and calories, I got serious about my mental health and, as that improved, food got easier. The cravings went away, weight came off, and I tell myself it’s OK to just eat food I like even if it’s not good for me sometimes. (Also, I’m still fat by Hollywood standards, and I think I look OK.)
I also learned that my attraction to people has very little to do with their weight or their appearance. When I fall hard for someone, it’s purely because of who they are on the inside. That doesn’t mean I don’t find certain people physically attractive and others unattractive; I do. But in love and relationships, it’s inner beauty that matters to me.
Hollywood and rom coms didn’t cause the trouble in my household, but they fed into it. And given the size of the weight-loss industry, the popularity of rom coms, and the fact that we can only see a fat girl as a romantic lead if she hits her head and wakes up in an alternate reality, I wasn’t alone.
In real life, people of all shapes, sizes and colors are the romantic leads in their own lives. Instead of portraying this, Hollywood still thinks of a fat girl as a romantic lead is a hilarious joke. Movies like these might not cause harmful cultural trends like the fatphobia I grew up with, but they feed into them. It’s time Hollywood was more responsible with the messages it sends.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She lives in San Diego. Distributed by OtherWords.org.