Wrestling with size: Transforming visions of fat women in contemporary American and European films
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Fuller roles and richer narratives are widening the representations of the corpulent female body in American and European films. Representations of the fat female body in film are developing beyond the stock character roles of mothers, best friends, social service providers, waitresses, and the occasional leading role for fat female characters to undergo makeovers and weight loss to gain acceptance. Fat women are now being portrayed as having more complex and fully human lives, where their size is not the sole issue they face. This move towards fat-positive narratives is not yet complete, nor does the extant scholarship provide clear parameters for how to categorize fat positive films. This project builds on fat studies scholarship to offer a framework for describing fat-positive films. Using several recent German films (Bagdad Café, Problemzone Mann, and Zuckerbaby), I demonstrate moves toward fat-positivity, then analyze how two recent films merge both fully-fleshed out characters and humanizing narratives to offer examples of fat-positive films. First, I review the ways in which representations of the fat female body presented thus far have been limited by the stigmatizing narratives of fat. Secondly, I define what comprises a fat-positive portrayal. Thirdly, I examine in detail successful possibilities for representing fat women without imposing the mainstream limitations on the fat body, using Secret Society (2000) and Real Women Have Curves (2002) as examples. Both are narrative films that are not bound by the conventional truncated roles for large female protagonists and which use both familiar and novel perspectives to tell the story of young large women. Finally, I discuss the potential consequences of showing fat-positive portrayals of corpulent women in film.