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Louis C.K. and Meghan Trainor Just Aren’t Getting it Right!

September 2, 2014

Fat PoliticsFat News

A while back there was that Louis episode with the fat girl who goes on a diatribe about life as a fat girl. Did you see it? You can watch it here:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFdWcNJ17YY%5D

When it aired there was a lot of noise about how amazing and groundbreaking this scene was, and as a fat activist, I find that any time popular culture takes up the voice of the fat person and allows that fat person to express the injustice fat people face, it’s a win — even if that scene doesn’t even come close to portraying the reality of the fat experience — because right now very few representations are even acknowledging that a fat person has a right to feel angry or upset about the discrimination that he or she faces. So, conversation starters are good.

That said, when you break it down, the moment is problematic. I was interviewed by RH Reality Check about this scene and I had this to say:

I see a lot of good. For example, it is amazing to see someone on television acknowledge the fact that the way we lie about the reality of a person’s body size is insulting and demeaning. Regularly — I refer to my body as fat and people try to tell me it’s not. Obviously, they are lying to me because they believe that being fat is something to be ashamed of, something ugly, something awful. Of course, in reality being fat is just a fact. It doesn’t have to have moral or aesthetic resonance — and the attempt to “hide” me from my fat points out that they believe that if I know I’m fat then I can’t possibly like myself. So, I think the fact that this character, Vanessa, is on television pointing out the ugliness that is intrinsic in dismissing the reality of a person’s body size is amazing and I also really unheard of in the mainstream media.

That said, while Vanessa’s speech has great moments, it also relies on popular cultural lies — like the idea that fat women are not desired or that men are “ashamed” to be seen with fat women — and the speech makes some really limited assumptions about the issues that fat women struggle with and in turn obscures the systemic reality of fat discrimination. For example, I would argue that most fat women — who have dug their way out from under the bullshit that says they are not attractive enough to warrant love — have found that there are many people who find them attractive and who are desirous of their bodies. So, just strolling in public with a man willing to hold their hand isn’t the issue they are facing. I think the conversation about fat discrimination is more concerned with the reality that fat people make less money than their thin counterparts, that they the often receive sub-par medical care and that they are assumed to be lazy or stupid.

Arguably, I also think this scene gives fat men an edge over fat women — which is debatable. It’s true that historic understandings of femininity have relegated women to the role of object and therefore “beauty,” and in this context long-term relationships are understood as defining and significant factors in a woman’s life and not a man’s.  This, of course, is an archaic idea and yet popular culture still perpetuates these stereotypical gender concepts. That said, ultimately fat men and fat women suffer. We can’t sit around comparing oppressions. Instead we need to work on eliminating the causes of discrimination.

I still think all this is true, but the more I think about it, the more I am certain that this moment written by Louis C.K. is emblematic of a larger issues I see in when people are conceptualizing Fat Acceptance and Body Acceptance. Media that promotes Body Acceptance maintain the status quo when it comes to other social justice issues and questions.

Basically, I feel like (watch out ‘cause I’m getting all academic up in here) the message of Body Acceptance that is being packaged by the media is not considering intersectional realities and injustices. In less academic-y speak, the Fat Acceptance movement and the Body Acceptance movement aren’t about one voice — a chubby, white woman who wants to love her curves and have a straight, thin man love them too. The Body Acceptance movement should be about “all” voices and all kinds of bodies. It should be about empowering people to be comfortable in their own skin and giving them a space at the table to voice their needs and desires. It should be about the fundamental feminist notion — “my body, my business” — no matter what that body entails.

By the way, I’m having the same issue with Meghan Trainor’s song, “All About that Bass.” Did you see this?

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PCkvCPvDXk%5D

Honestly, this ditty has a few issues, like the whole “skinny bitches” bit. But really — “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” Really? Why do we so often envision fat female empowerment as accepting that marginally fat women are pretty and desired by men? I’m not looking to be pretty. I’m looking to be valued and respected.

Sigh…

Side note: That shit is catchy though, isn’t it? If you see me later, I’ll be humming “All About that Bass,” but that doesn’t mean I agree with all the lyrics, okay?

Feminist Cupcake

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Liah permalink
    September 2, 2014 2:18 pm

    To be fair, the ‘skinny bitches’ line in full is actually “Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that – No I’m just playing. I know you think you’re fat / But I’m here to tell ya / Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top”.

    She’s not calling skinny women bitches, she’s actually telling them they’re wonderful, too, even if they think they’re fat when they’re not, which is really common. I say this as a skinny woman and I think a lot of people can’t make out the ‘no I’m just playing” part or something.

    Outside of that, I wholeheartedly agree with you that I think the focus on appealing to men is completely missing the point. We’re trying to move away from the idea that men’s lust is the ultimate metric for your worth as a human being, and while it is absolutely true that plenty of people are attracted to fat people, that’s not all they’re trying to accomplish – they just want to be seen as actual human beings who are multifaceted and complicated just like everyone else, and that they too have an identity that doesn’t rely solely on appealing to someone’s penis.

    I still think that All About That Bass and the skit on Louis CK is a step in the right direction, but I wish that they weren’t some of the only popular pieces of Fat Acceptance media, and I wish there were more pieces of media focusing on the other aspects of being human that aren’t simply related to beauty. But at this point I’ll take what I can get and hope it spurs further conversation and change when it comes to the long run.

    • Feminist Cupcake permalink
      September 4, 2014 2:49 pm

      I totally didn’t hear the “No I’m just playin'” part!

  2. vesta44 permalink
    September 2, 2014 6:40 pm

    The problem I have with those conversations that say fat women are desirable/fuckable/beautiful too is that they’re saying fat women are just as worthy of being sexual objects as thin women. Fuck that noise. I’m no one’s fucking object (pardon the pun). I’m a goddamned human being, and my worth does not depend on whether or not some man somewhere finds me fuckable.
    FFS, there is soooooo much more to life than fucking, so I just don’t understand the fixation so many people have with rating whether or not someone is fuckable. Just because they’re fuckable doesn’t mean they’re a good person, a smart person, an empathic person, a person with whom you’d like to spend the rest of your life. Hell, I’d rather spend the rest of my life with a smart, witty, empathic person who I don’t want to fuck than spend it with a fuckable moron. And I find that to be the major problem with how too many people decide who they should marry and who they should be friends with – how fuckable is a prospective spouse or friend, in the eyes of the world. Because their fuckability supposedly reflects on your fuckability? Somehow, I think what counts as worthwhile in a person has been all screwed up for too many years, and it’s the superficial shit that counts now, instead of true worthwhile qualities.

    • September 4, 2014 11:46 am

      Vanessa actually tells Louis that she doesn’t have a problem getting laid. Where she does have a problem is getting him and his brethren to treat her like a real person worthy of respect and friendship, along with the sex.

      • vesta44 permalink
        September 4, 2014 1:44 pm

        Exactly – as a DEATHFATZ, disabled woman, I never had any trouble getting laid either. If that was all I wanted from a man, I could have found it on any street corner. But what I wanted was what Vanessa wanted – to be seen as a person instead of some convenient receptacle for a man’s lust. And like I said, I’d rather go without sex than be seen as some object. Being treated like that totally turned me off and made me walk away from a lot of men.

        • September 4, 2014 2:47 pm

          🙂 I don’t fault you for that. I doubt that anyone here would, except for the trolls…

  3. Stacy permalink
    September 2, 2014 9:11 pm

    Both of these videos lay heavy on the idea that a woman’s worth is dependent on if men find them attractive or not. Sad really, when they could be making much more powerful and meaningful statements – having said that, I do I understand it – at least the seaming intent behind it. When many women, whom our media deems “unattractive”, first start learning to accept themselves they often have to go past this “I’m undesirable and no one will ever want me” type of thinking to get to the part where they feel valued, and worth just as much as every other type of woman; this is because we teach girls from the time they are barely able to talk that the most important thing about them is the way they look and “catching a man”. That, sadly, gets so ingrained in most women, so deeply, that it almost has become an “everyone knows” type of thing. The whole “everyone knows a woman’s value is in her looks”, “everyone knows a woman is only valuable as an object of desire”, or “a wife and mother”, etc. Because of this, until many women realize that they are desirable too, they have a hard time with body positivity and self acceptance.

    So media like this seam to be very surfacey and “baby steps” into fat acceptance and self acceptance – and really only for heterosexual white women who have to feel desirable by the opposite sex to feel they are valuable – which isn’t their fault, as it’s what our society teaches. And media like this never really touches on the most important and harmful parts about fat phobia and our diet culture. Never really touching on anything other than the first stages of a (heterosexual and white) woman’s journey into self acceptance and body acceptance.

  4. September 3, 2014 5:18 pm

    I don’t agree about Vanessa’s monologue, mostly because I don’t think a short monologue in one episode of one TV show needs to accurately encapsulate an entire movement. After years of seeing fat women on TV treated as nothing but comic relief or perhaps as scary and weird in the quest for love, affection, respect, etc…. ? Frankly this bit was like blast of fresh, cold water after a decade-long thirst.

    As the cliche’ goes, it doesn’t make sense to me to criticize and apple for being an apple when what you were really hungry for was a steak.

  5. pksn118 permalink
    September 8, 2014 6:08 am

    I think everyone’s experience as a fat person can be different. Just because you or people you know don’t have the issues and experiences “Vanessa” in Louie is describing doesn’t mean they don’t happen, and they surely don’t deserve to be dismissed and put down. Sarah Baker the woman who played Vanessa found that scene to be very accurate and beautiful. She said she had to cry for a while afterwards. I just think it’s wrong to just put something on blast because you personally don’t feel that way. Sarah did and she connected with the character because of it. I have several friends who felt the same way about it. Don’t pick something apart that is such a huge step in the right direction. It’s a beautiful positive scene, don’t make it ugly and negative.

    • September 12, 2014 10:50 am

      Yeah. It’s fine not to accept one guest spot on one TV show as the final word on the subject, but even character/commentary that are not the final word can still be valuable.

      As to your comment below: The “trend” of one woman putting down the other has been around for the whole history of popular music. Blues songs from the Twenties and Thirties, for instance, were often about a woman bragging that she could get more male attention than other women. (“Every time I shake my thing, another skinny woman loses her home.”) It doesn’t bother me so much that such songs exist, only that there aren’t more songs about things other than female rivalry. Showbiz tends to create a monolithic view of life experiences, with anything not about romantic love (or sex) relegated to the status of “novelty songs.”

  6. pksn118 permalink
    September 8, 2014 6:15 am

    As far as the Meghan Trainor song goes, I don’t like it. I see this trend now where fat girls put down skinny girls in music and tv. The media makes them “divas” which really I think they act more like bullies. Putting each other down is not doing anything for anyone. There is also a trend of fat girls proving their validation by bragging about how much men like to grab ahold of them and that they can’t do that with a skinny girl. How about we just accept that some are fat some are skinny both can be pretty, smart and don’t need men to validate that.

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