Starring a pre-Oscar Mo’Nique, Phat Girlz is part Cinderella-story, part conventional rom-com about a big girl searching for some love. It’s not remarkable in terms of budget, plot, or acting. In fact, a fair bit of it is cringe-worthy. (What immediately springs to mind is the fetishization of Nigerian men. Good Lord).
Still, despite its shortcomings, the film works for me for some fundamental reasons. I appreciate the fact the big girls are not sassy sidekicks, but they are stars of the show. And while it was billed as a romance, the theme of self-love was perhaps just as important as the romantic plot line. And positive portrayals of a thick sister having sex?! Yes, please!
But perhaps one of my favorite moments in the movie happens in the beginning. Heroine Jazmine Biltmore (played by Mo’Nique) is working in a department store when a customer asks her if the outfit she has just tried on “makes her look fat.” Peep the scene in the trailer.
The film makes this into a funny moment, but oftentimes this type of interaction is no chucklefest. If I had a dollar for all the similarly inappropriate and downright hurtful invocations of the word “fat,” I’d be a wealthy woman. If I had a dollar for all the times thin folks with complexes (bred by the impossible social standards of the mythical norm, I know), wanted me to soothe their fears by letting them project their disdain for fatness onto my larger body…you get the picture.
A lot of this behavior is born out of self-loathing and the public shaming that comes along with being even remotely associated with being overweight. I understand. I get it. At the same time, being large, fluffy, plus-sized, Rubenesque or whatever does not make one equipped to be the counselor for a family member, friend, coworker, or random stranger’s fat-bashing.
It’s Resolution season. Celebrities are endorsing weight loss products (have you seen Jennifer Hudson lately?), gyms are offering discounts, and “getting healthy” is a on a lot of people’s minds. Another season of the weight loss-makeover-cry-fest reality show, The Biggest Loser, began this week. I remember the first time I heard of the show. I couldn’t believe my ears. “The Biggest Loser?!” I thought. Great. I teach English. I get the play on words. But a loser is a loser. Can’t nobody tell me that the title is simply about losing weight. <Side eye.>
More and more folks are becoming obese, especially poor folks of color who don’t have access to reasonably-priced fresh food. This is not a trivial matter. I think living a healthy life is an admirable goal. Losing weight might be an admirable goal for some folks too. Putting folks down or assuming the right to police another person’s health (e.g., through fat-shaming) should not be a part of this.
So, in light of all this, I’d like to make a crunk public service announcement:
Fat does not equal ugly.
Fat does not equal weak.
Being thin does not make one morally superior to those who are not.
Leave your judgment at the door.
Feel free to bring your love right on in.