Betrayed by a fat actress
Since you all enjoyed Elizebeth Turnquist’s post the first time around, here it is again — a blast from the past …
Not just plump or curvaceous but unmistakably fat. I was 15 in 1989 when I watched the made-for-TV movie “Babycakes”. It was the first time I’d ever seen a fat woman in a non-comedic leading role. And, even though Riki and I are not the same body type (she’s an apple and I’m a pear), it was the first time I was able to identify – as a fat girl – with an actress.
“Babycakes” was a terrible movie. The low production value show in the acting and plot. “Hairspray”, Ricki’s first big role, was much better. But I didn’t see myself in “Hairspray” because it was like all the other fat-as-comedy vehicles. And, as a lifelong fattie, I just don’t find my weight that funny.
A couple years passed. In 1996 Riki played the lead in another imperfect movie, “Mrs. Winterborn.” It was only marginally better than “Babycakes” but it was an actual movie. Made for the big screen. And, despite it’s flaws, I loved it.
Somehow I didn’t notice the difference in Ricki’s weight from “Babycakes” to “Mrs. Winterborn.” Maybe I missed it because they dressed her in loose fitting outfits. She was still a chunky in “Mrs. Winterborn.” Not quite actress thin. Or maybe I missed it because I didn’t want to see the change.
But noticing was unavoidable when, a year or so later, I flipped passed an airing of the “Ricki Lake Talk show”. At this point she was markedly thinner. There was no mistaking the weight change since her role in “Mrs. Winterborn.” I don’t remember the date but I remember how I felt.
How deeply disappointed I was.
And how much I felt betrayed.
Ricki wasn’t a particularly good actress but she was my first fat female hero. For good or ill, I saw myself in her. I thought I saw a woman that didn’t want to change her weight because she was happy with herself. And, as a fat girl, I really didn’t have other experiences identifying with the people I saw on TV or in the movies.
I’d like to say that I learned my lesson with Ricki Lake. That I never again believed an actress saying that she was fine with her weight. And that I never again let myself become disappointed. But I can’t say that.
There was Sara Rue from “Less than Perfect”, who went from kinda plump to actress thin. Or Queen Latifah, who I recently saw representing a weight loss company. Or Mia Tyler when she decided to go on “Celebrity Fit Club.” And the list goes on.
I’d also like to say that I haven’t fallen for thin women that play fat. Like Renée Zellweger in “Bridget Jones Diary” or Toni Collete in “Murials Wedding.” But I bought their fat hook line and sinker.
I felt kinship with these actresses. At least until a couple months after the premier. When I’d learn more about the actress behind the fat. And find out that they dropped the weight the moment the role was over.
There are a couple actresses that have – supposedly – stuck to their guns. But can I really trust them? I’ve gone from gullible to jaded about the whole celebrity weight thing. It sure seems like every time I find a fat actress I can identify with it’s only a matter of time before she decides to loose weight.
I know that celebrities are just people like the rest of us. And I’m sure the pressure to be thin is doubly intense in the world of movies and television. But I think an actress consistently standing up to the pressure to be thin is heroic because of the deeply rooted anti-fat sentiments.
In 2003 I watched another TV movie called “To be fat like me.” It was terrible. Like an hour long backhanded compliment. I think it was meant to be in the same vein as “Babycakes.” To give a voice to us fat people. But it failed miserably. I came away feeling insulted instead of empowered.
Then, in 2009, there was another bright spot. Lifetime released its new series Drop Dead Diva. It’s about a thin woman living in a fat woman’s body. Brooke Elliott plays Jane Bingum, the lead character. And the stories feature fat acceptance themes.
Is Brooke Elliott the new Ricki Lake? Is there hope that sometime in the near future I will see a fat actress on the big screen in a leading role? Or am I just following the same path of disappointment?
It’s so hard to know. And I’ve been let down before. For now I’ll hope that this is a new turn. That the writers won’t decide the character Jane Bingum needs to go on a diet. And the actress Brooke Elliott won’t choose weight loss.
I want so much to see myself in movies and on TV. I want to see a fat woman that is not the butt of a joke. A fat woman that isn’t the object of ridicule or disdain. And isn’t restricted to the role of best friend. To see a fat woman in a role that could just as well be played by a thin woman.
Because I remember when Ricki Lake was fat and I saw myself in her. I remember what it was like before I was disappointed and jaded. And how seeing Ricki Lake on the television made me feel just like any other person. Like I belonged in this world.
And that feeling, it was really nice.