Gwen Stefani just gave an interview to Marie Claire saying that she’s “not worried about working out anymore.” Specifically, she says:
‘This past year, I kind of stopped working out. I think my body just needed a break. And so I did that and focused more on feeling good as opposed to beating myself up.’
And I thought to myself, well, that can’t be right, if Gwen Stefani gains weight tabloids will rip her apart, and it will damage her career. And there are hardly any women who are overweight in the public eye in a positive way! For years we’ve been watching skinny women with slightly overweight husbands on any sitcom. Sam wrote a great piece a while ago about Little Women and Heavy Husbands and one of the overriding messages is that men (if they’re talented, and funny, or otherwise admirable in some way) can have any body type they want while women (even if they’re funny and talented in every other way) have to be skinny if they want to be in the public eye.
But then I realize that, great news, I was wrong.
The most popular television shows right now seem to feature women who aren’t that skinny. Or, at least women who do not have abs you could wash your laundry on, if you were into some sort of weird pioneer role-playing thing. Look at Girls. Even better, look at The Mindy Project.
One of the reasons I love The Mindy Project so much is that very, very little of the plot seems to be driven by her body type. Really, there are only infinitesimally more references to her body type than there are with any show regarding a female character. And it doesn’t drive the plot! Mindy has relationships with good looking men, and excels at her job, and messes up, but in ways similar to the way she would mess up if she looked like a supermodel.
On Girls, one of the recurring themes is that while Hannah’s body bothers her a lot, it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else. It certainly doesn’t impede her from getting a boyfriend or getting laid, and her inability to get a job seems like a function of many things which have nothing to do with her weight. If she’s irritating, no one thinks it’s because her thighs are too big.
And most importantly – both of those characters are the protagonists. They’re not the best friend, Ethel Mertz stand-in who is there to provide comic relief in part because she is a bit heavier.
It seems like Rebel Wilson is doing pretty well onscreen, too – while she called herself “Fat Amy” is the recent teen film Pitch Perfect, she was also surrounded by throngs of adoring men. And while lots of people have questioned Megan Fox’s inclusion on the recent cover of Vanity Fair, no one questioned Melissa McCarthy’s.
Admittedly, they put her in a weak costume, but all the costumes on the Vanity Fair cover seem kind of weird. I don’t even really know exactly what’s going on there.
It seems pretty clear that, if you are a woman who is slightly overweight, you can still have a career. And not just a career where you’re the butt of jokes (which is a big difference from 20 years ago where a show like Rosanne would be driven largely by making fun of the woman’s appearance). A great career, and one in which, if you are in films, you are portrayed as being desirable and worthy of love.
I do realize that there are people who think that:
“Its undeniable that when we stand a skinny, athletic or even average sized female next to a larger (even if less healthy, overweight or obese) female, that unless we live outside of this stigma, we as Americans will assume that the heavier person is funnier, smarter, nicer, and less sexually promiscuous, all because she is not as thin or physically fit than the girl next to her.
Right, yes, that’s actually very deniable, because that woman is a crazy person. I’m not saying that we live in this woman’s bizarre notion of the world. But I do think that gaining weight does not mean that you can’t be in the public eye. Moreover, for really the first time, it means you can be in the public eye without being an object of ridicule, or having your entire plotline revolve around your weight.
In the recent past, even women as accomplished as Oprah were remembered as much for battling with their weight as their other accomplishments (how many diets was Oprah on? It seems uncountable). Today, it’s okay for women to say that they’re not really interested in hitting the gym, because you can still be a protagonist without hitting the gym.
And that’s fantastic. I mean, we’re not there yet, but maybe we’re entering an age where we can all relax a bit and start eating actual ice cream instead of frozen yogurt.
Picture via The Mindy Project, Vanity Fair