Does Waist Size Matter?

Can plus size people/characters on television be taken seriously?


After reading and watching the 1980s sitcom Roseanne for this week, this is the question that came to mind. Roseanne Conner truly was and still is (to quote Professor Dalton) a “breath of fresh air.” Her presence on television not only challenged ideas of class normally depicted on television, but also challenged the norms of the physicality of women that seemed to have developed through the years of television. Roseanne was not super skinny (like her predecessors), but a healthy and more normalized depiction of the typical American woman’s size. In 2016 this remains the same; according to a University of Texas study, the average American women is between a size 12-14! Who would think that with all the ultra skinny celebrities and models advertising? Really is an astounding statistic! However, often times these aren’t the size women we see on television shows that we are suppose to take seriously.

Although there are definitely exceptions to this thought, more so than not, larger women are the funny ones. Take for example: Melissa McCarthy. She is a plus sized woman and in nearly every role, she plays the clumsy, goofy, sometimes crude, and general comedian. It is very interesting to also look into the idea of these women often being the sidekick within the television show or movie. For example, Melissa McCarthy’s character, Sookie, in the popular television show Gilmore Girls is definitely not the main character, and serves as Lorelai’s best friend. Sookie is known for her clumsiness and comedic relief throughout the show. Another actress that takes on this sidekick role is Rebel Wilson, in her many roles in television and movies. Wilson typically plays the funny, ditsy, and often crude character. Why is it that she being a larger woman, and actually the median size of Americans, is placed in such roles? Can there be a larger woman taken seriously? I hope to see a more diverse depiction of the NORMAL sized woman in television. -Katie Nelson

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6 Responses to Does Waist Size Matter?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I remember reading a while back about an overweight actor (It was either John Goodman in his early days or Jonah Hill more recently, I can’t remember, though honestly this probably happened to both). He was starting to lose a good bit of weight, was arguably in the best shape of his life, but he didn’t have the rock hard sculpted action hero body, so he was told he either needed to get that so he could be marketed as a handsome lead or he needed to put weight back on so he could be the funny fat guy, as the middle-ground territory he was in apparently wouldn’t work for either. That’s pretty sad to me for a couple reasons. One, actors’ health is a low priority to studios. Two, apparently normal body types don’t have a place in movies or on TV. And to build on your point Katie, whenever a plus-sized person is featured in film or television, 99% of the time it is in some sort of comedic role, and most of the time their weight serves as a punchline. As if plus-sized characters can’t possibly be conceived living normal lives and doing normal things. That’s one of the reasons why Roseanne was so refreshing — here were a couple of large characters whose weight was not the punchline, and who were not only funny, but romantic, parental, caring — leads all around. Unfortunately that’s still pretty unusual.

    –Kevin Pabst

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I also think that it’s interesting that the majority of Americans are overweight, but this is not accurately represented in television and films. This also raises the question: do we want to be accurately represented? Do we want the characters we see on TV to be like us or to be like who we wish we were? I personally would like to see more body types represented in TV (both for men & women) because it’s more authentic. – Sarah King

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I think you make an interesting point here. Individuals typically want to relate to what they are watching, so I find it odd that television does not want to accurately represent the viewers. I definitely wish that a more diverse group of body types were represented in Hollywood. -Allie Kleinman

  4. mediaphiles says:

    Katie, I think this is a great argument and is highly relevant to the depiction of women in the media. It’s sad to see that the only way a woman can be a lead character is if she is thin, white, and conventionally beautiful. There are so many other factors that make women attractive and it’s a shame that we have so much trouble promoting them on TV. The fact that the average woman is a size 12-14 gives even more reason for accurate representation of women and beauty on television. Arianna Gershon

  5. marymdalton says:

    Ohhhhhhhh…being quoted!

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