Proud2Bme | When Fat Equals Funny: On the Dehumanization of Fat Women in Media

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When Fat Equals Funny: On the Dehumanization of Fat Women in Media

By Angela Hui--This August, global conglomerate Unicharm released this advertisement to promote its Australian menstrual product brand, Sofy BeFresh. The ad was criticized and met with mass scorn for body-shaming and period-shaming women. Here’s how the ad is part of a larger trend in media to pigeonhole fat women into a single one-dimensional archetype.

In almost every film, there has to be at least one token fat character whose sole purpose is to provide comic relief. Take the popular 2011 comedy Bridesmaids, for instance: Melissa McCarthy plays the loud and obnoxious Megan, whom no one takes seriously – nearly all of her jokes revolve around her perceived unattractiveness as a woman of size and her supposed inability to control her bodily functions and behavior because of her weight. In Pitch Perfect, Rebel Wilson’s character is known simply as Fat Amy, and the role she plays in the film is essentially just one 112-minute-long fat joke.

It’s difficult to think of a single example in which a fat character – especially a fat woman – is treated as a full human being in mainstream media. It seems that fat women are allowed to be represented in media if and only if their weight is their single most prominent character trait, if their very presence and existence as a fat person is a joke.

The truth is that “fat” just means fat. It’s not an insult; it’s not a value judgment. It is (or should be) only a neutral descriptor, just like “tall” or “dark-haired” or “blue-eyed.” But in mainstream media, being fat seems to mean being lazy, unattractive, and less of a person.

Unicharm’s advertisement, which depicted a pleasant, thin and conventionally attractive woman being overtaken by her larger, less rational, more emotionally volatile alter ego while menstruating, is yet another manifestation of mainstream media’s insistence upon portraying fat women as lesser. According to Unicharm, menstruating means transforming into the woman that society loves to hate: mean, indolent, emotionally labile, and unable to regulate her behavior –negative qualities this advertisement and society as a whole insist are tied to being fat. And somehow, buying these maxi pads is supposed to help you fit into the mold that the patriarchy deems acceptable. Um, okay.

Some might turn a blind eye to complaints about the advertisement as “feminist nonsense” – it’s all in good fun, isn’t it? But to ignore the fat phobia and misogyny in this ad would be irresponsible and ignorant. Those who menstruate are already dismissed as irrational and incapable of being functional members of society; anyone else remember Fox News’ declaration that “the downside to having a woman president” includes PMS and mood swings due to hormonal fluctuations? The last thing we need is an ad that perpetuates the sexist stereotype that menstruation turns people into deranged monsters as well as the stereotype that fat people are somehow predisposed to ridiculous conduct and emotional instability.

This advertisement is almost shocking in its ability to be offensive and harmful in so many ways. Who could ever think that ostracizing one’s target market would be a good idea? Not only does it reinforce the horribly misogynistic belief that menstruation makes one incapable of socially acceptable comportment, but it also promotes the idea that fat women are more susceptible to such lapses in decorum and that they can be seen in media only as the butt of all jokes. The only thing this advertisement has accomplished is drawing attention to the misogyny and fat phobia that run rampant worldwide.

About the blogger: Angela Hui is a senior at San Francisco University High School. She previously attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In her spare time, she enjoys helping others recover from their eating disorders and promoting positive body image as a moderator at EDRecoveryProbs.com.

For more on body positivity, check out:

Taking Care of Yourself While Caring for Others

Tips for Fostering Body Positivity in Our Communities

Tinder Body-Shamers: Just Don't

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