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Fatty and the City

December 21, 2011
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Oh, Carrie… what silly adventures are you and your three thin and fashionable friends up to this time? Cheating spouses, sexless marriages, and being stood up at the altar, oh my! You also have to comfort Samantha, who struggles with her weight and gets fat-shamed, and you hire a fat personal assistant, who seems to be the only fat person in all of New York. Oh, how easy life would be if everyone were thin, rich, white, and knew how to match colors.Let’s set aside the fact that the Sex and the City quartet are rich, white women who have fabulous careers and enough money for designer labels. What we have been told since the show’s inception as a cable TV program is that they embody what a woman should strive to look like: thin.

Should one of the characters gain weight, she is shamed into conforming with the other three and loses the weight. We see examples of this throughout the TV show, but in the film it is Samantha who is shamed by gaining what looks like an extra three pounds.

She comes to visit the girls in New York and arrives wearing a shirt that shows off her mid-section. The tight pants she is wearing causes her stomach to very slightly pour over the top of the waistband. One of the guests they meet at a party exclaims, “Mother of God, what’s with the gut?! Well, she’s eating something out there…”

Honestly, if that character hadn’t pointed out her “gut,” I wouldn’t have even noticed it. I had to rewind the film and then pause it at the close-up of her stomach (and then squint my eyes really hard) to see this so-called gut. The girls then call a meeting to discuss how Samantha could have let herself go like that. Samantha says, “I guess I didn’t realize how big I was until I saw it on your faces,” with which Carrie replies, “How, and I say this with love, how could you not realize it?”

Maybe she didn’t realize it because it was only THREE POUNDS!!! A kitten weighs more than that! Seriously people, can you just back off and leave her and her extra three pounds alone? I think she looked better with the extra weight and I only wish she had gained more.

Carrie finds herself in an upside-down sort of life, and decides to hire a personal assistant to help her get organized. After several interviews, she settles on a fat African-American woman who tells her to “stick with me” and she’d get Carrie’s life all straightened out. Maybe it’s just me, but this reminded me of the archetype of the Mammy character.

Mammy was always portrayed as a fat, black woman who cared for white people by either cooking for them, raising their children, cleaning their homes, and/or running their households. I was kind of shocked by the racism of the situation but this is Sex and the City, after all, a show not known for it’s sensitivity to racial issues.

Carrie’s assistant, Louise (who is played by a pre-Weight Watchers Jennifer Hudson) is an absolutely gorgeous woman who dresses fashionably and is proud of her attractiveness. She is a true “fatshionista” who rents her designer handbags and knows labels as well as any of the other women do. She whips Carrie’s apartment and website into shape, and fusses over her like a mother hen… or a Mammy. Although never once in the film was her weight mentioned, the audience understands that she is a small character, not to be taken too seriously, and added for a bit of optimism, comic relief, and maternal love.

I have to admit that I’ve never really been a fan of Sex and the City. It’s hard for me to get excited about clothes I will never be able to wear, apartments I will never be able to afford, men I will never have sex with, and people I will never be allowed to party with. I don’t agree with the standard of beauty set forth by the show and the film, and I don’t agree with the methods the characters use to make sure they all conform to that standard.

Sex and the City: The Movie is a racist, classist, sizeist, and, to some extent, sexist film. I cringed most of the way through it and felt a little ill and offended as I watched the credits roll. This was definitely not the film for me.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2011 3:43 pm

    I want to give you credit for your delivery in this article and your critical thinking. I’m trying not to get too defensive about the content within just because I am SATC fan, so I’ll just try to forget about that and ask the same question I am left wondering if it was a show I didn’t care much for: Why did you choose this show to discuss when there are many, many, (maybe even most) shows and movies that are depicted in much the same way? Would I be racist if I hired a personal assistant for myself who happened to be a fat black woman? Would it be racist if Carrie was black herself?

    • December 21, 2011 4:39 pm

      That’s a good question. Of course, I cannot speakl for the OP, but it’s not at all racist to hire a minority as a personal assistant as long as they are qualified and that you treat the person well. The issue here isn’t that it’s racist in itself, but that this is the ONLY context in which we see fat black women. These women serve almost exclusively as subordinates to privileged characters or serve as comic relief. Were there more even-handed treated of fat black women in the media, as CEOS, as professors, as stay-at-home mothers, as serious characters, etc. it would not be as much of an issue.

      If Carrie were black, it could still be racist. Is the assistant of a different skin color or a recent immigrant? People of color do sometimes discriminate based on how dark or light someone is. Is the assistant of lower social status? Lots of things come into play.

      I have not seen Sex in the City as it’s not something that appeals to me. However, I don’t think it’s necessary the concept of Sex and the City that’s problematic, just the way the privilege of the characters is addressed.

      I could be wrong. Any other thoughts?

    • December 21, 2011 7:22 pm

      “Would I be racist if I hired a personal assistant for myself who happened to be a fat black woman?”

      I feel like this is a somewhat disingenuous question. The point is there’s a difference between reality and media. If you hire a PA who happens to be a fat black woman, well, that’s great, I hope it works out. But SATC is a piece of media and it participates in the culture the media perpetuates, which includes the stereotypicalMammy” type. As joannadeadwinter pointed out, it would be one thing if SATC included characters of color in other professions and situations (ie not existing simply to help the poor rich white girl get a clue). But it doesn’t. It limits the participation of people of color to very strict boundaries and limits the roles they can play. It upholds conventions that privileges white actors and actresses above everyone else. I think there was an episode/story arc where Miranda was into her black neighbor in the apartment/condo building she lived in? But otherwise the show is like The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.

      I guess I also find SATC to be generally problematic because it also narrowly defines women’s interests (fashion, sex, having babies). But that’s neither here nor there.

      • December 22, 2011 5:39 am

        I’ve honestly never watched Sex and the City. Such programs don’t appeal to me for the reason you mention: narrowly defining women’s interests and such interests are invariably rather shallow. I realize that it’s comedy, but I simply can’t relate. Last time I checked I was still female and I have zero interest in fashion. Due to financial circumstances I gave up getting my hair styled years ago and only get it cut once a year. Due to my mental health issues I gave up on sex and relationships many, many years ago. So I can’t possibly relate to a show like Sex and the City.

        • December 23, 2011 3:48 am

          I’ve watched a grand total of two episodes, and found the acting/writing/etc in both episodes to be not worth all the hype I had heard other women gush about for…however many years. To each their own.

    • osufem permalink
      December 22, 2011 8:54 pm

      Thanks for your comment. 🙂 I chose SATC because I was at my library and saw it in the DVD section and since I had never seen it I thought it would be fun to review.

      Louise is the stereotypical Mammy, fussing over Carrie, looking out for her well-being, and even gently scolding her when she is doing something that could harm herself. The Mammy trope was always portrayed as a fat black woman who cared for white people. If Louise was portrayed as thin and not very maternal then I wouldn’t have said she was a Mammy. The characteristics of Mammy and the surrounding story that she is placed in is what makes her a trope, not just the color of her skin.

      SATC isn’t racist just because of their use of the Mammy trope. It’s racist because when a white character comes into contact with a person of color, they are visibly uncomfortable. The only exception is the interactions with Charlotte’s adopted Asian daughter and that’s because people often dismiss children and assume they can be controlled. The scene where Miranda is searching for a new apartment and she says, “Follow the white man with the baby!” because she did not want to live in a building full of Asians and the way Charlotte acted in Mexico, eating nothing but pudding cups because, as she whispered, she was “in Mexico…” are examples of the racism found in this film. I’m actually surprised that more people didn’t pick up on this.

  2. vesta44 permalink
    December 23, 2011 8:05 am

    I don’t watch SATC, it’s not a show that has anything that remotely interests me (DIY shows, true crime shows, and action adventure/sci fi/fantasy movies are more up my alley). But it doesn’t surprise me that more people haven’t picked up on those last instances of racism you mentioned – the scene with Miranda searching for a new apartment and the way Charlotte acted in Mexico – those aren’t overt, in-your-face racist actions to a lot of people. Calling someone the “N” word would be an overt act of racism to them, doing the “ching chong chang” crap would be an overt act of racism to them, and calling Hispanics “wetbacks” might be overt racism to them (depending on their views of undocumented immigration). While the things you mentioned aren’t all the subtle to those of us who are more aware of these types of tropes, they may seem like subtleties to those who haven’t really done any thinking in depth about racism and go totally over their heads when they see them in movies and in real life.

  3. lifeonfats permalink
    December 23, 2011 8:27 pm

    Mammy character or not, I never got into SATC. I don’t like the portrayal of the ideal female modern culture with fancy lunches, obsession with fashion, endless girls’ nights out with flavored martinis, dinner parties, booty calls, etc. I can’t relate to it and it tries to paint the population of American women as only caring about high heels, booze and sex.

    While those three things are just fine and dandy, it would be nice to have more shows and movies, especially rom-coms, that aren’t set in a big city where all the women look like they stepped out of Cosmopolitan. I guess that’s why they’re so popular—it presents a fantasy and an escape from the real world. But you can have escapist entertainment without being shallow and offensive.

  4. Happy Spider permalink
    December 24, 2011 9:28 am

    I don’t understand the appeal of SATC. I watched several episodes in a row for a few days and I was really turned off by the smuttiness so I did not watch it again. My understanding from the reviews is that the movie SATC was highly regarded but the sequel SATC 2 was not. I think the movie SATC is considered to be true to the spirit of the TV show.

    Since I fail to see anything appealing in SATC I would be interested in an exploration of what makes it appealing. Is it something to do with fashion? I don’t understand fashion.

    You say a couple of things that indicate you might see the appeal. You say “how easy life would be in everyone were thin, rich, white, and knew how to match colors” despite the fact that these characters who have all these things don’t have desirable lives at all. At the end you talk about “clothes I will never be able to wear, apartments I will never be able to afford” and so forth, indicating that you wish you had these things even though the clothes don’t matter if you don’t care about fashion, the men aren’t desirable, and the parties don’t seem stimulating (apartments are good though). Do you actually see the appeal of these things or were you just hypothesizing that OTHER people might find them appealing and so OTHER people might be fans of the show?

    If you do find the stuff appealing do you think there is a dynamic here where the show makes you feel good by showing that people who have things you can’t have are leading unhappy lives? I don’t get a sense that that is what is going on here. Usually in stories of that type the main character goes through a crisis and realizes how superficial her life is and leaves the corrupting rich lifestyle and goes back to the life she had abandoned.

    Do you think the appeal is the excitement of acting badly? In real life we are all the time bombarded by rules–be considerate of others, be inclusive, don’t be offensive, don’t hurt anybody’s feelings, don’t shock anybody–so it’s a powerful fantasy to see someone break the rules. I think that was the appeal of, say, “Married With Children” (that was a show I liked!) or movies like “Police Academy” or “Porkys”. I years ago read reviews of SATC that indicates that this dynamic is present. The reviewers would say that it was fun to see women talk crudely of sex in a way that usually men are only allowed to do and it was fun to see them lead frivolous fashion-centered lives instead of having to be serious and responsible and settled down. The reviewers also said it was nice to just have women hang out together instead of having to plan their whole lives around men (that’s not acting badly but it is acting against the rules).

    In this particular case I can’t feel the attraction of being part of the “in” group because I just don’t like these people. but I know theoretically that being part of a group is psychologically very powerful. The situation you describe where Samantha’s membership is threatened because of a minor infraction of the rules but then the situation resolves with her reassuringly back in the group is psychologically very appealing. A threat which resolves happily is pleasing. The threat’s centering on group membership draws attention to the exclusivity of the group and subtly reassures that, yes, the group is exclusive and, yes, you are a member even though other people don’t make the grade. At least I think that’s how it works. I’m just making this all up because I don’t actually know psychology or how stories work. I might be totally wrong.

    You complain about the racism, but you know sometimes Fat Acceptance blogs say things like “fat hatred is one the few remaining acceptable forms of discrimination.” At least you can’t say that that is what is going on here. Nope, definitely not a case where all other forms of discrimination are carefully purged away but fat discrimination is left in.

    I agree that it is very hurtful that a person, say a non-white woman, can’t just go out to the movies to see a light-hearted comedy without being explicitly insulted. But forget about whether it’s advisable for SATC to be the way it is and focus on how it is appealing: fantasies that have been scrubbed clean are just not as intense as fantasies that have nasty stuff left in. It’s powerful to be part of a group (I imagine that’s the appeal of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants or the Babysitter’s Club, two series I have never read) and it’s even more powerful to be part of an exclusive club. But exclusive means outsiders are viewed as inferior. Exclusive means that it is comforting to be with people who are just like you, people who respond and broadcast the same social cues you did. People who are different are threatening. It is tiring to deal with people who don’t know the correct way to act, to be constantly ignoring the social cues of “wrongness” you are constantly getting. So the complete fantasy of being part of a group really does have ugliness built into it. Getting rid of the ugliness weakens the fantasy. Although too much emphasis on the ugliness also weakens the fantasy, who could possible enjoy a story that is about nothing but cheering on raciasm/sexism/hatred? The ugliness might be present but to be a fantasy the ugliness can’t be the main point.

    From what you say, it sounds as if the movie would have been way more interesting if the assistant had been a fat fashionable white woman instead of a fat fashionable black woman. And it would have been interesting to have some non-white fashionable thin woman. I’d say black women, to make up for the fact that eliminating the blackness of the assistant apparently removes all black woman from the movie, but given what other repliers have said about character’s expressing horror of Asians and Mexicans, it might be more interesting to have some thin fashionable woman who are part of those groups.

    I think that would have been interesting because it would have really confronted the whole ugly exclusivity thing. Samantha gets rejected for being fat but the assistant doesn’t, because apparently since the assistant in black she can never be part of the group so it isn’t threatening if she breaks some of the rules. If you had someone who fit every rule except for being fat that would have been an interesting contrast to the Samantha situation. Samantha accepts that membership of the group means being thing. How threatening would it be to have somebody who accepts and fulfills all the other rules of the group , and acts like she belongs in the group, but rejects the being thin part? The same with having nonwhite thin fashionable women. The Asians and the Mexicans break lots of rules of the group (I am assuming that the Asians and Mexicans in the movie are not portrayed as privelaged and smutty and obsessed with fashion). What if somebody obeyed all the rules except being of the right race? What would it mean if right front of such aperson you mocked a group of Asians who broke lots of rules (ie, not wearing fashionable clothes) but the thing you chose to focus on is race? Would you make that really offensive statement to her “Oh, but of course I don’t mean YOU when I talk about how awful Asians are?”

    Alternatively, it could just be that there are huge amounts of racism in the United States and people like this sort of movie because they enjoy seeing their racism (and fat hatred) expressed. But, honestly, that just doesn’t make for a discussion tha tis interesting to me. Although it can be an appealing discussion because expressing outrage at the way all those other people are racist psychologically reassures you that your group (the non-racists) are better than everybody else and that you are a proper member of the group. Or of course you could just be raising awareness and trying to make the world a less evil place.

  5. December 27, 2011 7:05 pm

    Thanks to all of you for your replies and insightful point of view. It has definitely given me things to think about.

    As I read these replies, it also makes me realize how differently people view this show/movie than myself. I see many references to the fashion, sex, and cocktails. For me, I pulled different things from SATC that I found appealing. I never saw a full episode of the show until the series was over and released on DVD. I was 20 I think at the time. As an inspiring writer myself, I was immediately drawn to Carrie’s character as a columnist. I liked her pondering questions and narratives on relationship, however silly they might be, to a 20 year old they were pretty interesting at the time. I was sucked into the stories of each woman and found each of the women interesting in one way or another.

    For me, the fashions, girls nights out, sex, and cocktails was just extra. Normally, I turn away smuttiness as well, but I loved how Samantha’s character was different in the way she was not the typical stereotypical woman. She was alpha. Confident and savvy, and I wish more women could be like her. I wish I could be more like her. My attitude towards love and sex is more like Charlotte though. That brings me to another appealing factor for me. Each woman’s personality is very different and I think lots of women can relate to at least one of them, or at least compare their own personalities to one of the women.

    I realize that the show plays on stereotypes and has it’s own set of discriminatory moments, and I’m not trying to say it’s ok. There’s no denying that “but we’re in Mexico” isn’t discriminatory. I think they could have done better in being less insulting.

    I’m just saying that I enjoy the show for reasons other than the fashion and smut,

  6. January 1, 2012 10:48 am

    Sex And The City superfan here. For me, it`s a show about how relationships, jobs and family come and go, but your friends are always there for you. That has certainly been true in my life. I didn`t take part where Samantha gains weight as weight shaming. It was concern over the fact that she is unhappy in her relationship, and that unhappiness led to weight gain. Just another way of looking at things.

    I did find the second movie to be offensive in the way the women reacted to Arab culture when they travelled to UAE.

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