Because of my dissertation topic (fat women’s organizations in Canada), I often think about, and love to talk about, representations of fat people in popular culture. Indulging this love of talking, thinking, and fatness, my friend Adene said in a recent email:
Have you caught all the talk about Glee (the cool guy being into the fat girl)? The entertainment shows are treating this storyline as revolutionary but there’s a part of me that wonders if the storyline was introduced because it was funny, and so well accepted because audiences may have considered it unrealistic. What do you think?
Good point, right?
Until sitting down to write this post, I was unsure of what to think about Lauren Zizes. But, the more I think about Zizes, the more I have to admit that she (sometimes) reflects the stereotypes and tropes about big people “Fat Studies” scholars have identified in popular culture. Briefly, these are:
The abject fat women: Le’a Kent describes the abject fat woman as one who has lost all self-control. Her body is a sign of her laziness, her tendency to eat her emotions and her unhappiness. Kent describes such women as the “before picture” in weight loss ads, “[h]ere the fat person, usually a fat woman, is represented not as a person but as something encasing a person, something from which a person must escape, something that a person must cast off.” Zizes is, on the one hand, athletic and agile, but on the other hand she is a stoic, bon-bon eating enigma.
Fat woman as sexual fetish: According to Laura Kipnis, the pornographic film industry preference for large women is considered a fetish. Sexualizing fat women and wanting to watch fat women perform sexual acts is considered abnormal and kinky. Likewise, magazines like Dimensions for Fat Admirers (people who prefer fat partners) are classified as pornographic. Whether or not Zizes sexuality is taken seriously is a question for debate. I believe that Puck is into Lauren, but I think Adene is right to point out that the meaning of his desire is ambiguous.
The fat woman as Other: Think Miss Piggy, Mimi on “The Drew Carey Show,” Edna Turnblad from Hairspray and, perhaps, Lauren Zizes? Angela Stukator thinks that fat women on TV and in film can be oppositional figures, unruly, desirable and different. But more often than not representations that initially seem to be different end up becoming same old. How? By representing fat women as chronic over-eaters who are unable to control their appetite (Lauren?), by making a fat woman’s body a spectacle in itself (Edna Turnblad), by making fat characters childish and self-absorbed (Mimi) and by generally portraying fatness as weird and taboo.
I fear that Glee will turn this plotline into a Lauren’s-confidence-is-a-cover-for-body-insecurities plotline. My greatest hope is that Lauren really does take as much pleasure in her body (and herself) as this clip would suggest. I’ll update this post as the plotline progresses.