FX’s dark comedy, “Louie,” has sparked conversation online about perceptions of overweight women and their treatment in the media.
In a recent episode, Louie (Louis C.K.) blows off Vanessa, a waitress at a local comedy club, because of her weight (a friend mouths “yuck” when Vanessa leaves their table).
When the two do go on a date near the end of the episode, Vanessa (Sarah Baker) takes Louie to task for doing what a lot of men do: Denying that she is, in fact, overweight.
“You can talk into the microphone and say you can't get a date, you're overweight. But if I say it, they call the suicide hotline on me. I'm fat. It sucks to be a fat girl,” Vanessa says. “Guys like you never flirt with me, because you get scared that maybe you should be with a girl like me.”
Slate, the A.V. Club and The New York Times have all said the episode draws attention to a necessary conversation for America about how obesity is portrayed on TV.
NPR pointed out in a series on obesity that overweight female TV characters are “the fat, funny best friend.” Guys, too, are “fat and foolish.” Think “Fat Monica” from “Friends” or Homer Simpson.
Yet TV is getting better about portraying heavy characters with shows like Mike & Molly about an overweight couple who met at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. Other examples include Lauren Zizes of “Glee,” Hannah Hogarth from “Girls,” and Donna Meagle of “Parks and Recreation.”
“Society accepts a woman who is fat so long as she is cowed by it. It will embrace fat women who accept their weight, so long as the women understand that it is inherently hilarious that they are fat and that other people have a right to ridicule them about it,” A.V. Club’s Libby Hill wrote.
Still, as NPR pointed out, these characters are usually reserved for comedy, as most dramas "tend to shy away from the subject."
Fat shaming is an issue that’s come to the forefront as America’s obesity epidemic has increased. The Centers for Disease Control report on their website that one-third of U.S. adults are obese, and in 2010, there were 12 states with an obesity prevalence of 30 percent. That's a rise from 2000, when there were no states with an obesity prevalence of 30 percent or more.
A recent study from the Florida State University College of Medicine found that fat shaming could have “a worse impact on mental and physical health than racism,” the Daily Mail reported. The study found that people who experienced discrimination based on factors such as weight or age were "linked to worse self-reported physical or emotional health."
While the voice for the overweight may be getting louder on TV, fat-shaming is still an issue in fashion media. Elle Magazine was accused of fat-shaming "Mike & Molly" actress Melissa McCarthy when they ran a cover photo of her — dressed in a long overcoat.
Now that the conversation has started, Hill says how it develops away from the TV screen is up to the public.
“The impetus is on the rest of society to carry on where Louie left off, moving forward to a place where no one need speak for the fat girl,” Hill wrote. “Instead, the fat girl speaks for herself. And the whole world listens.”