How Unfair Is Being The Fat Girl?

Amy Zimmerman appreciates the latest episode of Louie, which ends with a scene (above) lamenting the unfairness of how overweight women are often treated:

The question of “appropriate” show biz pairings is a natural extension of the horribly skewed, superficial world we live in. Schlubby “every man” types are all the rage in film comedies (see any Seth Rogen movie, ever), and always manage to score the hottest girls. The unfairness here isn’t just that chubby men are allowed to get with beautiful women, while we don’t tolerate the reverse; it’s the implication that no one in their right mind would even consider casting a “normal” woman to play a leading role in one of these stoner comedies.

Willa Paskin’s take is more complicated:

The first time I watched the episode, I read Vanessa’s entire speech about the difficulty of being a fat girl as a female cri de coeur.  The second time I watched it, after interviewing [Sarah] Baker [the actress who plays Vanessa] and learning that she had nothing to do with the script, it seemed more like a male mea culpa.

Louis C.K.’s insights into why a man might not want to be seen with a woman like Vanessa are unimpeachable:

his concern about double standards and casual male cruelty seem deeply felt. But his characterization of Vanessa is less unerring. A woman as confident and comfortable as Vanessa would not, I don’t think, imagine herself as the victim of her weight and blame guys like Louie as entirely as her speech suggests. As a guilt trip, her speech is perfect; as a character exploration, it’s a little bit too much of a guilt trip.

Vanessa’s teachable moment, and the episode more largely, is as scathing to Louie as possible. But it’s also condescending to Vanessa: I mean, if all Vanessa wanted in life was to hold hands with a nice guy, a girl as cool as she is could do just that. Wonder if we’ll ever see a fat girl on TV who demands more.

Jillian Mapes has mixed feelings:

I’m torn because it takes a privileged man to give fat women a voice, to start a conversation that no one wants to have besides fat women themselves. And some fat women don’t want to talk about it either, just as they’d prefer never having to acknowledge their own size. Instead they do this dance with potential suitors that, to me, back before I was comfortable freely using the word “fat” to describe myself, felt like a staring contest of sorts: who’s going to point out the elephant in the room first?

That’s the difference between a character like Vanessa and a fat woman whose worst fear is a conversation about her pants size: the former is not afraid of acknowledging her size, which has come to define her in the eyes of others. The right words don’t make the wrong body any smaller, but they do take the power out of language itself. In doing so, you minimize the effects of those who call you fat and don’t mean it as a neutral descriptor, akin to “tall” or “short” or “skinny.”

Still, she declares that “it’s a beautiful thing to see the intimate passages of your mind play out on your TV screen for the very first time.” Melissa McEwan, on the other hand, hated the scene because it “pretends that there aren’t already loads of men who love fat women”:

Men who are specifically attracted to fat women, or men who fell in love with individual women who happen to be fat. Men who, in either case, didn’t need an education on how fat women are human beings, many of whom are desirous of and deserving of romantic love. Men who don’t expect to be “rewarded” in some way for loving and being attracted to fat women.

On its face, that might not seem particularly important, but it is—because the routine disappearing of these men underwrites the narratives which pathologize attraction to fat women. Which, suffice it to say, doesn’t do any favors for fat women.

It would be significantly more radical, and more progressive, for Louis CK to simply have had his character be attracted to and date and fuck a fat woman without any commentary about her weight at all. Like lots of men already do.