I love superheroes. I really enjoyed bingeing the heck out of Daredevil on Netflix, and was super excited to see a new Marvel show crop up called Jessica Jones, that takes place in the same fictional New York. I’m going to talk about the show but I will be intentionally very vague because spoilers are the WORST. So don’t worry girls and boys, you can read in safety.
First of all, I will say that I like the show. But, and it’s a big but, it almost lost me at 8 minutes in. Why? Let me explain. And be advised, the following is the only action I will describe in any detail and it has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, so again, no spoilers. Here’s what happened: The main character, Jessica Jones, played by Krysten Ritter, is on a stake-out and we get a glimpse into some windows. She sees an overweight woman on an elliptical machine in her apartment. She puts the camera to her eye to get a closer look, and we see this woman stop exercising, walk to her counter and take a bite of a fast-food burger. The film-noir style voiceover has Jessica Jones, saying “Two minutes on a treadmill, twenty minutes on a quarter-pounder.” Then the scene moves on. That’s it. When I first saw this woman through her window, I thought “Hey, nice! That’s what I look like working out.” Once the line was said my heart sank. It made me, and the many people who look like me, into a joke. For us, the gym can feel daunting because regardless of how fit we are or aren’t, there will always be judgment and assumptions about what we may eat and what we can do. And truly, this post is not about my fitness level, diet, or even my looks. It is about the representation of weight and blatant fat-shaming in an otherwise VERY progressive show. That one-minute scene, to me, was a missed opportunity to show diversity in a really mundane, positive way. Instead, the writers chose to make it a cheap fat joke. They could have written this throw-away scene to show a fat woman in workout clothes, exercising and then not judge her food choice. They could have allowed the audience to imagine that she worked out for more than the “two minutes” Jessica refers to in that snarky line. They could have shown her working out and moved on to the next window. There is nothing remarkable about a woman (of any size or shape) doing exercise in her own home. And allowing the casting of that bit-part to be a woman with a body-type we don’t often see associated with fitness could have been a subtle but powerful gesture of inclusion. Or at the very least, not a crappy one-liner about hamburgers.
When I was lying in bed with my sexy, superhero-loving mate, watching that scene, his first reaction was to defend its inclusion as a way to showcase the main character’s sensibility. “But it’s a freaking FAT JOKE!” I said. “It’s not okay! You can’t make gay jokes or black jokes or jokes about people with disabilities but you can still make fat jokes on TV?! What?” It’s sort of forgivable that he didn’t get it right away because though he lives with me, adores the crap out of me, he is not an overweight woman in society and I am. And in a lot of ways fat is the final frontier of what is acceptable to make fun of. So here’s the thing. I have two amazing daughters to raise and I want them to have a healthier relationship to with their bodies than I and my generation of women do. And in many ways the media, and even this show, are helping. There are female superheroes, female politicians, strong girl characters in books (Hermione Granger is my daughter’s idol). But, we almost NEVER get to see a fat girl with power and positive attributes on film. In fact, if you can think of any, please PLEASE add them in the comments below.
We are taught at a very young age that our value as people, especially women, is tied to our looks. The perception that fat people are lazy, unhealthy, lack discipline, make poor food choices, and therefore are less responsible, and less worthy of respect, is hugely prevalent. Most people don’t assume that a fat woman runs, or eats salad, or has a high-paying job or a good sex life. I’m going back to the scene for another moment. There is the hamburger. The “quarter-pounder”. Why is it funny when a fat chick eats a burger but sexy when a skinny one does? Why is it even a thing that the audience gets to see what this woman is eating after her workout? Ugh. I don’t like the implication that she is eating a burger and therefore she is unhealthy. Maybe it’s a tempeh burger on a flax and spelt bun. And maybe it’s a quarter-pounder with cheese, extra pickles and extra mayo. And maybe it doesn’t matter at all because what fat people (or anyone else for that matter) eat isn’t really funny or interesting, unless they happen to be a food blogger or a restaurant critic. In that case I care and I’m probably going to read about it later.
Basically, I want to see people that look like me on screen as something other than the punchline of a lame joke. I want to see women with all of the many beautiful body shapes, colours, and sizes playing strong characters. I’m a little tired of my female superheroes being exclusively thin and overly made-up. The show almost lost me for a poor and totally unnecessary writing choice, but it hits enough of the other overlapping points in my venn diagram of feminist, geek, and permanently angst-ridden inner teenager, that I will still watch, and very likely enjoy Jessica Jones. But I will watch it with a grain of salt. And I will forever have the slight feeling that that version of the world, the one where Marvel superheroes fight the dark forces within and without, isn’t for someone like me.