Last night’s finale of Louis C.K.‘s namesake show Louie featured an incredible performance by Sarah Baker (who plays Vanessa) that the Internet has been going balls-up wild over. If you have not seen it yet, just take the seven minutes to watch it right now. Seriously, it is worth it.
“Epic” is the word many blogs have been utilizing to describe Baker’s monologue, as it contains that type of banal devastation that comes from being broken down over and over again by societal standards, depictions of overweight women in entertainment, and being rejected as a result of one’s size.
There were a few moments that were especially relatable to anybody who has ever been called fat, chubby, pudgy, or told they have a “great face” with the underlying “…but not body” notion. Over the years, I have fluctuated in weights that resulted in being declared “too skinny” (which everybody saw as sexy commendation to give me, for a while) to being publicly called fat by strangers. I fit into a dress size that by general fashion industry standards is considered “plus-size,” and I generally think of myself as being a fat person even though friends and lovers think it is complimentary to deny that self-assessment. I constantly feel like I have to justify my 30-pound weight gain from the past couple years by explaining that working out hurts very much due to a preexisting medical condition I have (thus making all the “why don’t you just work out more?” comments even less helpful). Still, I had no idea I would relate quite as well as I did to Sarah Baker/Vanessa’s speech.
1. How other people turn “fat” into an insult, and “not fat” into a compliment.
In response to Louie denying that Sarah’s character Vanessa is fat, she says this:
“Ugh, dammit. That is so goddamn disappointing, Louie.
Louie, you know what the meanest thing is you can say to a fat girl? ‘You’re not fat.’ I mean, come on, buddy.”
As Julia poignantly described in her piece last week on having been overweight when she was younger, and the frustration of being consistently told she wasn’t fat, Vanessa’s speech starts with explaining how the biggest insult Louie could give her is refusing to acknowledge that she is fat.
2. Being told you cannot call yourself fat.
Vanessa’s speech touches on a double standard that many women, fat or not, are
“…the worst part is, I’m not even supposed to do this. Tell anyone how bad it sucks, because it’s too much for people. I mean, you, you can talk into the microphone and say you can’t get a date, you’re overweight. It’s adorable. But if I say it, they call the suicide hotline on me.
I mean, can I just say it? I’m fat. It sucks to be a fat girl. Can people just let me say it? It sucks. It really sucks.”
While I do not agree that it inherently sucks to be fat, and that many women and men are happy about (not just “okay with”) the size they are, I do think it is amazing how quickly everyone gets stressed out if you acknowledge how discouraging it is to experience negativity based on your size and shape. You’re either consoled (often by #1) or dismissed; it’s rare that you can openly discuss these types of discouraged feelings with anybody who has never been fat, especially as a woman.
Yes, overweight men certainly face stigma, but hey–they still get cast as main characters and regulars on shows all the time, they still have entire shows that revolve around them. How many overweight actresses can you name on television? Bonus: How many can you name whose weight isn’t a centric topic?
3. Empty, awkward compliments.
In response to the beginning of Vanessa’s rant, Louie starts to say, “You know, Vanessa, you’re a very, really beautiful—” to which she replies like this:
“If I was a very, really beautiful, then you would have said yes when I asked you out.”
I’ve had more than one person who told me outright that they weren’t attracted to me because I wasn’t their “typical type” body-wise, but “once they got to know” me, they found themselves attracted to me. It was as though I was supposed to feel like a fucking personality princess because hey, even though my cellulite is gross, I’m pretty in their eyes now! I’m not certain if this is a normal experience, but if this portion of the speech is any indication how other women have felt, then I suppose I can’t be the only one.
4. Dating a fat girl versus having sex with one.
When Louie explains that he “has dated” a fat girl, Vanessa asks him to make the distinction between dating an overweight woman and “fucking a fat girl.”
“Have you ever kissed a fat girl? Have you ever wooed a fat girl? Have you ever held hands with a fat girl? Have you ever walked down the street in the light of day, holding hands, with a big girl like me?”
We see hundreds and hundreds of depictions of love each year in films, on television, in magazines, in advertisements…how often are those women overweight? We see non-athletic men in romantic films and shows, or at least ones that have some elements of romance, constantly: Seth Rogan, Ed O’Neill from Modern Family, Jason Segel (prior to losing weight), Peter Griffin. They all have thin wives or girlfriends; it’s rare we see women who aren’t thin in roles other than the funny fat friend or the “eager to please chubster,” as The Mindy Project‘s Dr. Peter Prentice calls a woman he’s hooking up with. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see a fat woman who’s not the butt of a joke or the BFF, who instead gets to have her own meet-cute?
5. The “take what I can get” attitude.
Whilst still discussing the ideas in #4, Vanessa says this:
“You think your dick is going to fall off if you hold hands with a fat girl? You know what the sad thing is? It’s all I want. I mean, I can get laid. Any woman who is willing can get laid. I don’t want that. I don’t even need a boyfriend or a husband. All I want is to hold hands with a nice guy, and walk and talk…”
Okay, so while she doesn’t explicitly say so, this reminds me of one of my least favorite aspects of dating culture regarding plus-size women: the idea that we are supposed to take what we can get. Yes, fat women can get laid, but there’s this oddly pervasive idea that if you are what society considers conventionally unattractive, you’re supposed to snag a boyfriend or a husband ASAP because casual dating just cannot be your thing. Earlier in her monologue, Vanessa touches on this:
“What is is about the basics of human happiness, feeling attractive, feeling loved, having guys chase after us, that’s just not in the cards for us? Nope. Not for us.
How is that fair? And why am I supposed to just accept it?”
Like I said, wouldn’t it be nice to see a fat woman get pursued on television? You know, instead of just finding her good-natured soulmate who’s practically seen as a martyr simply for “accepting her for who she is,” as though a plus-size lady can’t possibly be seen as sexy or attractive or even unattainable because of her weight.
One of the most incredible things about this speech is that Louis C.K. wrote it. And he cast himself as a character that Baker describes as “the guy who doesn’t totally get it and is surprised by this turn of events.” That means he’s been paying attention to how women are treated both on television and in the average dating scene, and he decided to write that into the show. And he cast an actual plus-size woman as opposed to a plus-size model–the difference being that the latter is typically 5’10″, has specific proportions, and rare has a double chin–which makes both the part and the monologue infinitely more believable.
Obviously, I would love to live in a world where men and women of any size are able to be given great roles with epic monologues like this one, and have those monologues and roles not pertain to their size. But even though it was a bit heavy-handed at times, I’ll take this type of honesty on television any day.