We all know Twitter is a place for all manner of, ahem, let’s just call it lively discussion – be it on sporting events, TV show updates, or breaking news. And sometimes it’s the perfect forum for a thorough cultural examination, which means excavating some pretty ugly sides of pop culture phenomena that we’d perhaps rather not think about.
When one user, @KivaBay, recently decided it was time to call out just how badly the media fat shames, he invited the Twitterverse to share instances of fat shaming in the media that stuck with them. And boy did the Twitterverse deliver, because within 48 hours, the thread was ablaze with well over a thousand comments, with example after example of subtle and not so subtle fat shaming. And we’re not talking in obscure little indie movies or shows. No, we’re talking in mainstream, large-scale hits and cult faves. And once they started, they just wouldn’t stop rollin’ in.
The discussion was kicked off with a heart-breaking mention of the Harry Potter series, with the opening sequence of the third movie singled out for being played for comic effect:
Let’s do a fun thread. Tell me the big fat hating moment from media that you can’t get out of your head no matter how hard you try. I’ve been extremely bothered by that inflating aunt scene in Harry Potter for instance
— Empower BuzzFeed to Fuck Off (@KivaBay) July 23, 2018
One of the most beloved sitcoms of the past two decades, Friends, popped up with several users mentioning Monica’s storyline, as well as off-screen ‘Ugly Naked Guy’:
We all talk about Monica in the fat suit on Friends, and I mentioned her in a quote tweet of this, but I just remembered Ugly Naked Guy, who they poke at to make sure he’s alive and sits on his cat, killing it. Also, Howard’s mom on Big Bang Theory.
— Abbie Karlish (@KabbieArlish) July 23, 2018
Of course, there was the time British rom-coms seriously let the side down by labelling pretty regular sized women overweight, in both Bridget Jones’s Diary, and the much-adored Love, Actually:
Any time a person is described as fat but is actually a normal sized person. Bridget Jones is a decent example of this. Also the woman in Love Actually that Hugh Grant’s character heroically (note sarcasm) is still attracted to despite her “person of size” stature.
— Dana (@DanaMElliott) July 23, 2018
The film adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic Matilda was also mentioned, with the simultaneous goading and shaming of overweight characters:
When the fat kid in Matilda was forced to eat an entire cake and it was celebrated when he did it.
The first time I read the book I would have been around 7 or 8 and I remember being confused.
— Leigh does a giveaway 💖💜💙 (@leighturtle_art) July 23, 2018
Another user followed up with their thoughts on the same example:
He’s shamed publicly for eating the cake. And then he’s cheered publicly for eating the cake. But both parts of that feel very invasive and ‘shock and awe’ to me. Like this poor kid exists solely for others’ disgust and/or entertainment. He can’t win. 2/2
— SaJa H. (@SaJaH_ofArden) July 23, 2018
One user was quick to point some shows didn’t even bother to disguise their shaming, with an example from mega-hit Seinfeld:
“Seinfeld.” Naked fat guy on the train. Jerry suggests deep knee bends, questions breakfast choices. Guy says, “I’m not ashamed of MY body.” Jerry says, “Exactly. That’s your problem. You should be.”
— Carly J 🦋🌈 (@CeeJayDubois) July 23, 2018
Sadly, even cult favourites, noted for their feminist credentials and generally positive values, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 30 Rock and Brooklyn 99 were called out:
The one demon on Buffy that has to have others bathe him and sits in the tub all day.
30 Rock, as much as I like the show, has a lot of fat hate a la Parks & Rec and Brooklyn 99.
Also, shows where the main characters are supposed to be a group of misfits but none are ever fat.
— 🦇batsy🦇 (@beesbrain) July 23, 2018
And another TV show which was purportedly body-positive didn’t escape scrutiny:
When Samantha from Sex and the City movie apparently gained weight because she wasn’t having sex & wore a crop top with the TINIEST bit of stomach fold showed & her trash friends reaction was as if she shit on the pavement.
— hun (@lealeaka) July 24, 2018
Sadly, the Pitch Perfect movies didn’t escape some users’ notice, either:
Everything in the Pitch Perfect series. The fact that Fat Amy could have been a GREAT character with a great dialogue but is literally a fat joke for 3 movies (didn’t actually watch the 3rd, I just know)
Like whole plot points revolve around how she’s “disgusting”
— キャシー(´-ω-`) (@softboop) July 23, 2018
And who could forget the treatment of Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, albeit as a scathing satire of the fashion industry’s ridiculous standards:
it annoyed me when andy was called fat throughout the entirety of the devil wears prada, even though anne hathaway was in no way, shape, or form “fat”
— yikes (@saraheadass) July 24, 2018
And the premise of the recently released Amy Schumer movie, I Feel Pretty, had some users scratching their heads:
The fact that “I feel pretty” Amy Schumer was legit a normal size and was portrayed fat the whole time
— 🌹Luce 🌹 (@lucyhemsworth2) July 23, 2018
Let’s not forget the utterly distasteful Shallow Hal, which went quite some way to normalizing body shaming back in 2001:
Shallow Hal really messed me up as a teenage girl. To see the revulsion of the men, that someone would need to be hypnotized just to see a big girl as beautiful… it left me feeling like it was a pretty accurate reflection of reality.
— Jess (@JessOfRVA) July 24, 2018
And there were a few unexpected culprits too, like The Mindy Project, which makes frequent (negative) reference to its protagonist’s body shape and size:
I had to stop watching The Mindy Project because of so many jokes and references to her weight. And that men love/sleep with her despite her weight. The episode where she walked through the grocery store eating ice cream was the last straw.
— jen (@jen_jen) July 24, 2018
So… basically all of our favourites have contributed to fat-shaming in some way or other. It’s a reminder that the problems we scarcely notice are often the most insidious ones, camouflaging damaging behaviour as acceptable and normal. But the good news is that the first step towards incremental cultural change is noticing and highlighting problematic patterns. That’s how we challenge, and hopefully create a new ‘normal’. One in which shaming anybody, for their size, shape, weight, or general appearance, is not only noticed, but actively challenged.