Discussion Links: Body-Shaming in “Identity Thief” and “Girls”

Nothing quite raises my hackles like lazy journalism, and this week, I’m certainly not alone. Two different writers, Roxane Gay and Dustin Rowles, take on the body-shaming rampant in the media’s reaction to the film Identity Thief and the TV show Girls.

Identity Thief: Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy/ img by Universal Pictures/APOn Monday, Roxane Gay reviewed Identity Thief over at Buzzfeed, but also talked about how pigeonholed overweight actresses like Melissa McCarthy are, as well as how at least one reviewer of the film referred to her as a “female hippo.” The problem with movies like this one, she says, are not just the media and the public’s reaction to them, but the way the filmmakers themselves treat the subject of weight.

Whenever possible, McCarthy’s weight is used to elicit the audience’s laughter and disdain. In one scene, she runs from costar Jason Bateman down the side of an interstate. After a few seconds, she stops, panting, seemingly exhausted – because fat people can’t move, apparently. Later, at a restaurant, there’s a bit with McCarthy eating a huge plate of food followed by a sex scene with an overweight man named Big Chuck, because nothing’s funnier, in this movie’s reality, than fat people having sex. The farcical scene is meant to both repulse and amuse (certainly not to titillate). McCarthy and Big Chuck engage in something that barely resembles sex while Bateman hides in the bathroom, trying to block out the trauma of listening to fat sex.

Because only thin, white (and preferably financially comfortable) people are allowed to have movie-sex, don’tcha know.

Similarly, both media and some viewers continue the Lena Dunham/Girls Haterade, by becoming suddenly Puritan at the thought of a non-size-2 lady daring to be naked onscreen. The most recent episode involved Dunham playing table tennis topless, and the commentary began all over again. Richard Lawson at The Atlantic touched on the media’s tsk-tsking, and he has many good points, but the male-written post I liked best on the subject came from Pajiba’s Dustin Rowles. For one thing, he owns up to his honest reaction: “Lena Dunham’s nudity makes me uncomfortable.”

But it is not disgusting, and it is not unpleasant – in fact, I think Lena Dunham is an attractive woman – but it can be uncomfortable while we adjust our expectations. However, what I loved about this week’s episode of “Girls” is how Dunham played that into her narrative favor. If a guy who looks like Patrick Wilson sleeps with a woman who looks like Lena Dunham, Hollywood has conditioned me to perceive it in a certain way: I expect that a shoe will drop, that Wilson’s character will reveal himself as a giant douchebag playing a cruel joke. What I don’t expect is for Dunham’s character to not only be the aggressor, but to control the sexual dynamic. When Wilson said to Dunham’s character, “I want you to make me come,” I have been conditioned to believe that she would be eager to please, not that she would flip it and say, “I want you to make me come.” From a story standpoint, that was mind blowing.

He hopes you will not burn him in effigy for saying so, and he also touches upon the sort of roles that Melissa McCarthy is offered, and how it makes for a shitty skewed perspective to have about what “regular” people look like, naked or otherwise.

Girls: Lena Dunham lying in bed naked (still from the show)I suppose what I want to hear from all of you are your thoughts on the articles themselves, but also, what incremental changes do you think we need to make in order to not find non-skinny people “weird” to look at onscreen (as well as not demonizing those who are thin, since some people are built like that, whether they want it or not)? Is it a matter of continuing to talk about it, online and elsewhere? Do we make a more conscious point to not let our money/eyeballs support body-shaming? And what subconscious habits of our own, like those Rowles mentions, can we be more aware of?

It’s easy to complain about the professional trolls, lazy journalists, and shitty film-making, but the reason why I mention incremental, perhaps small, changes is because that is where the larger changes begin. Can’t we be the change?

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

15 replies on “Discussion Links: Body-Shaming in “Identity Thief” and “Girls””

I loved the piece on xojane about this:

The title says it all really, but I liked this:
“Sexual attraction is oozing and amorphous and refuses to live in boxes. Regular women, women who look like Lena Dunham, or me, get laid easily and often. Some men who look like Patrick Wilson are attracted exclusively to women 3 times Dunham’s size. Men who look like Patrick Wilson get rejected by women who look like Lena Dunham.”

I love *Girls” and I love that Lena Dunham is naked whenever she damn well feels like being naked but – confession – I was absolutely FLOORED when she hooked up with Patrick Wilson. I’m pretty sure my Twitter feed was nothing but ” . . . but . . . Patrick Wilson . . .” for 30 minutes.

That doesn’t say very nice things about me but it was my honest reaction.

Great post and great questions. Change is a slow and moves at a maddeningly incremental pace. And battling the societal bigotry against fat people demands a multi pronged approached. Blogging, writing letters, screaming out, and passing anti-bullying legislation are all tools in our arsenal. And sometimes our activism is rewarded, Disney revamped their fat shaming H.H. Exhibit after an enormous outcry from the fat acceptance, size acceptance, and HAES communities. Like all other civil rights issues…we are in it for the long haul. Thanks for putting the issue out there so eloquently!

Thanks! I tried to be very even-handed. I try to be aware of any subconscious bias I might have because, while I’m overweight for my height, I can still fit in “regular” sizes at a 12-14, depending on the brand/type of clothing. So my perspective is a little bit different from someone who buys the “plus” sizes.

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