Everyday, people of all backgrounds and demographics deal with the struggle of body image. We are flooded with suggestive headlines and forms of entertainment spreading false truths. When society is forced to believe that we are all supposed to look a certain way, self hate and discrimnation appears.
Viewers should never watch their favorite TV show or movie and think, “do I fit this standard they are creating?” Entertainment’s main purpose is to create realism and connect audiences through these stories.
Milwaukee Actress Gwen Ter Haar said, “I personally think the industry doesn’t necessarily let us be who we really are. That we try to be what everyone else wants us to be. Or at least what we think everyone wants us to be.”
These issues are shown throughout the arts industry. Writers and producers create narratives with characters who are written as plus sized or petite. Hollywood is infamous for perceiving one shape as the ideal look for the camera and never casting actors strictly off of talent.
We see this trend in movies like ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ starring Rebel Wilson, a plus sized actress. This movie is funny to audiences because of it’s non-traditional casting of Wilson as the romantic lead. To some people, casting those of a different size seems like an opportunity to create change on this topic.
But when you strip it down to its core, the movie is humorous because Wilson plays a role usually played by Hollywood’s ideal type.
“I grew up with Barbie and Disney Princess movies”, Senior Kirsten Cutler explains, “and how unrealistic is that? That’s not what anyone looks like when they grow up. So that just made unrealistic standards from the start.”
In everything we watch, we see that the problem isn’t that roles are being written for a wide range of actors, because they are. Instead, these roles are written specifically for people who are over or underweight.
Rarely is a character written and played by someone who is not the ideal size without it being part of their character arch.
“These characters are usually the accomplice to a more traditionally ‘attractive’ counterpart and used as a form of comedy relief; the jester,” explained Milwaukee Stage Manager Margot Lange. “They are never action heroes or love interests. They are always viewed through a lens where they are not to be taken seriously and never to be an object of desire.”
This trend continued when Emmy and Golden Globe Award Winner, Chrissy Metz, rose to fame as Kate on NBC’s Television Series, ‘This is Us’. Her role is described on characterour.com as “severely overweight and uncomfortable with her self-image.”
Upon being cast, her contract stated that she must lose a certain amount of weight by the end of filming. While reading Kate’s character description, her weight is brought up a dozen times. But these trends don’t stop here; they trickle down from the highest in the industry and affect those who look up to them.
Even in the high school arts setting, during a time when students are most self conscious about self image, it continues to be a controversial topic. “In my high school program, that’s not something me or my coworkers have ever tolerated, we really don’t look at that,” high school Drama Director James Sevens said. “However, I would say that we are not the typical program.”
In stories like Hairspray and Glee which take place in the high school environment, body diversity is shown and highlighted but is used in a negative way to mock these individuals. These actors are being stereotyped into roles and being ridiculed for their size despite the fact that as a society we teach and preach acceptance. How are we, as a population, supposed to progress the future if our role models aren’t helping start the movement?
We cannot completely stop addressing size in the entertainment world, as struggling with body image is a real problem that many go through, but representation is important. Seeing a character similar to yourself have the same struggles helps people overcome and achieve change, fulfilling the main goal of the entertainment industry.
But, we should note that there are also people who are over or underweight that are healthy and happy. We need more roles highlighting characters who are comfortable in their skin rather than ridiculing people over their body.
Entertainment with diverse body types without addressing the diverse body types:
Orange is the New Black
Six the Musical
The Color Purple
The Good Place
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt