fat friend trope
FeminismsSexuality and Gender

Has the ‘Funny Fat Girl’ trope really evolved, or are we looking at it through a white lens?

It goes without saying that if you grew up with Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, shows that you’re familiar with the ‘funny fat girl’ trope.

You know the one I’m talking about.

The hilarious, rough-around the edges, plus-sized, cishet woman, often of colour, was always the best friend of the typically more desirable, thinner, and white, main character.

We never really knew much about her as she never really had much of a back-story; unless you count that she often had a complex family life that the writers of the show never really cared much to tell us about.

Growing up with this trope always at the forefront of my mind because of the early 2000/2010 media I was consuming resulted in giving me no role models to truly look up to as a plus-sized child because they were always given ‘supporting roles’ with little to no storyline.

Unless you count them being the emotional support for the main character whilst being expected to be there at their every call.

Sure, it’s great to see fat women in the media but are we really going to congratulate the writers and producers of these shows for giving us a role that is dehumanizing us for comedic relief?

Delving into the trope of the ‘funny fat girl’ is pointless unless we all agree that its key components are built on blatant fatphobia and appeasing the male gaze.

The fat friend trope that we’ve seen in TV shows ranging from Disney Channel’s Austin & Ally to Gilmore Girls are inferior to the main character due to their lack of desirability in the eyes of the male characters, therefore resulting in them always being second in line in terms of desirability and seriousness.

Even in terms of their storylines, their love lives are always the driving force in their character development; this often leads to them losing weight and being taking more seriously by the other characters or deciding that they no longer want to ‘settle’ for their averagely mediocre partner.

This trope has, and will always, be harmful to the fat community due to its blatant disregard of fat women as being more than the emotional support blanket for their skinnier friend. Not to mention its disregard of fat women as being ‘less than’ in all aspects of life to the point where they aren’t even taken seriously and are used as comedic relief.

This whole idea that as a fat friend you SHOULD automatically drop everything at the drop of a hat for your friend because you should be grateful that you have friends, to begin with, is one of the most haunting concepts of the trope. This coincides with the idea that as the token fat friend, you should be inherently grateful that you have a love interest regardless of whether he treats you well or not.

After all fat people aren’t worthy of healthy love, right?

Undoubtedly, we have witnessed the evolution of the ‘funny fat girl’ trope throughout media. An example of this is the portrayal of the character Kat Hernandez in HBO’s Euphoria. The portrayal of Kat is one that made me, as a fat person, open my eyes to the blatant berating Kat’s friends gave her when she didn’t conform to her role as the fat friend.

From the get-go of the series, we see Kat portrayed as a strong, confident, and all-around powerful woman; something that often gets her labeled as ‘rude’ by her friends Maddy and Cassie.

The ironic factor of this is the fact that Kat is being portrayed as rude for not stunting her own character development for her friends because she’s not prepared to be an emotional support network for her friends – a role that had been assumed of her. An example of this is when Kat refuses to go comfort Maddy because she wants to partake in oral sex with her date.

What’s so interesting about this is that we see Kat being portrayed as human; she’s unreliable and funnyshe doesn’t conform to always being the ‘good’ friend.

We witness Kat have a storyline outside of her fatness, something that previously we haven’t really seen in television, that allows her to have actual character development outside of her fatness.

Kat embodies every aspect of her fatness and mesmerizingly makes it her power throughout the course of the show, which is something that we hardly ever witness as most of the fat friends we’ve seen throughout media history have hated the fact that they’re fat, ultimately resulting in self-deprecating comedic relief at their own expense.

So, we’ve discussed the growth of the ‘funny fat friend’ from a white perspective, but are we seeing the same growth for POC representation?

Throughout the evolution of media, we’ve seen fat POC women fall into a similar trope that white fat women have, the funny fat friend. They’re often displayed as the supporting role to the white, thinner main character and are only there to serve the same comedic relief that we discussed earlier.

Their arcs and storylines are like the ones we’ve already discussed; their love life, their weight, their self-deprecating perceptions of themselves. However, we see a differentiation between white token fat women and POC token fat women in the sense that POC women are almost always oversexualized, man-crazy, and often berated for having the audacity to be the main character in their own narrative.

When discussing the differentiation between the two perspectives, it’s clear to see that fat POC woman are at the receiving end of a lack of truthful representation about their identities in television and media. Unlike their white counterparts, they aren’t given the redemption arc that we discussed earlier with Kat from Euphoria; Kat molded and made her fatness her power but that wasn’t the foundation for her character development because she wasn’t written into the show with fatness being her whole personality, therefore she could never have been perceived as the ‘funny fat friend’ from the audience.

Using a comparison for the character of Kat, if we examine the character of Mercedes Jones from Glee, we can begin to dissect the true problem with the lack of representation for POC fat women compared to white fat women.

Mercedes was undoubtedly the most talented singer in the whole show, in my opinion, yet rarely had any screen time when it came to her character development unless it was to do with eating, her back and forth relationship with Sam, or when she was the brunt of the joke for the tater-tot fiasco that we witnessed.funny

Mercedes was never allowed to have the same growth and character development that we saw Kat have because she was a black woman. When she did eventually stand up and refuse to play a supporting role beside Rachel, she was told to ‘calm down’ and labeled as the ‘aggressive black woman’ in a room full of white people.

She was never written into the show with the intentions of being anything more than the ‘sassy fat friend’ so was, therefore, unable to be portrayed as anything more than that dynamic, ultimately giving her little to no storylines because there was no character development to be shown.

Mercedes Jones is a character that will forever play in my mind when thinking about the ‘funny fat girl’ trope because of how blatant and obvious it was that she was demonized by her white counterparts for simply wanting more than the supporting roles that she was given.

She was unable to develop her own characteristics because she was constantly forced to fit into predominantly white spaces, therefore being expected to conform to the thinner, more desirable, lead girls in the show.

If we compare Kat to Mercedes, it’s evident that although the two of them fall into the same trope yet have two completely different experiences due to their race and what that prevents, or allows, them to do with their character development. We can see that there is evident evolution when it comes to looking at the ‘funny fat girl’ through a white lens, yet not so much when it comes to a POC analysis.

We’re taking baby steps in the right direction by allowing a character like Kat her own storyline other than the token fat friend and seeing a realistic representation of fat women on television through her eyes but taking a step backward by having POC fat women still unable to break away from the harmful stereotyping that has always surrounded them.

Yes, it’s great that we’re finally seeing fat representation on television, but is it worth it if it’s not intersectional?