Within the media, viewers are often confronted by images of idealized beauty standards portrayed by performers selected and portrayed on screen.
Among the majority of performers that we see in major leading roles, particularly among women, the standard body type we often see is “thin.” This is despite the fact that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the BMI of the average woman in the U.S. is 26.5, which falls into the category of “overweight.”
People often say that size is just a number.
If that were the case, why is it that within the media, fictional representation that’s supposed to act as a mirrored reflection of our society barely represents the reality of our population’s range of body diversity?
Most of the time, when we see ensemble casts of main characters of a movie or TV show, the standard body type-cast seen frequently appears to be a limited size range, barely appearing above a U.S. size ten.
Oftentimes, when a plus-size figure does appear on screen, they are often body-shamed. They’re made the subject of ridicule and deemed romantically and sexually undesirable in comparison to their “thinner” counterparts. They’re sometimes also played by thin actors wearing “fat suits” as depicted in shows and movies such as Shallow Hall and Friends.
Though some may question the relevance of including body diversity on screen, studies have shown the toxic effects of weight discrimination on nearly every aspect of society, from positive media representation to decent pay.
In 2016, the National Center for Biotechnology Information had written a study on weight discrimination in the workplace, studying how individuals can be more negatively assessed based on their physical attributes than their professional ones.
The study examining the negative stereotypes associated with individuals considered overweight by potential or current employers essentially led to more job rejections as well as lower pay.
This concluded that:
- Obese people are less likely to be assessed positively on personnel suitability than normal weight people
- Obese people in active employment are more likely to be discriminated against than people in non-active employment
- Obese women are more likely to be discriminated against than obese men
Recently, Netflix released the film Dumplin’, a movie centered on a character named Willowdean (Dumplin’) Dixon, a self-described fat girl who enters a beauty contest in order to counter typical pageants’ thin beauty standards.
The movie already rejects a common number of negative tropes related to fat characters. Dumplin’ portrays an individual who embodies self-confidence and charisma. This individual isn’t relegated to the whole of “best-friend” or supporting character to a thin actor.
The character is played by a plus-size actress, as well as being based off the source material, the novel of same name written by Julia Murphy, a #OwnVoices author known for body positivity in her work.
For years, Hollywood has been called on its negligence to portray diversity on screen. It has consistently casted actors that portray a limited profile of our society, aka able-bodied, white, cisgender, etc.
There’s a wake of new body positivity movements rooted in the social concept that all human bodies, varying from disability to size, deserve respect and acceptance.
This movement is led by prominent activists/models, such as Ashley Graham and Tess Holliday. The need to cast attention towards increasing body diversity on screen is prominent now more than ever.