In that this op-ed, which initially appeared in Vogue, Emma Specter assesses fatphobia on TV
The initial installment of this brand new Netflix series Emily at Paris kicks off with a fatphobic bang. Our protagonist, the titular Emily (Lily Collins), has arrived in her new office in Paris, where her oh-so-American excitement and inability to talk French make her a clear fish from water; once Emily meets her new boss, Monsieur Brossard, he promptly launches into a tirade against her native Chicago’s deep-dish pizza, whining, “The people are so fat. Why are they all so fat?”
Sylvie–yet another equally intimidating, however marginally more dominating manager of Emily’s–chimes in, blaming Chicago’s “disgusting food.” Before that you are aware of it, we are at a full-blown back-and-forth about America’s obesity epidemic, an ever-popular straw guy that has been invoked to explanation rampant fatphobia for decades. “Perhaps stop eating,” scowls Sylvie, and if Emily nervously points out that the cigarette Brossard is smoking also causes disorder, she has immediately trashed –after all, cigarettes constitute “pleasure,” something that French are distinctively reveled in, whereas meals is only one more illustration of Americans’ lack of discipline.
Emily at Paris is deploying Brossard and Sylvie’s unkind biases to illustrate exactly how condescendingly français along with out-of-touch they’re; the series is not necessarily cheering their fatphobia, however on still another TV series that follows a rail-thin female protagonist, it “hits different,” as the children say. All whatsoever, Emily at Paris is a charming-ish romp, a sugar-coated diversion at the vein of The Bold Type (minus the latter’s occasional stabs at material ). Still, seeing it, I could not help but feel wistful; exactly what, I believed, could it take to get a fat protagonist for to flirt, shout and allure her way around Paris?
Of class, there were mainstream shows featuring fat female protagonists, from Mike and Molly into This Is Us, but lots of those consumed in the past decade; for decades, fat girls had to breed for glimpses of these within throwaway jokes about just how undesirable they had been around How that I Met Your Mother, or even about the risible amount of Fat Monica on Friends. The obese girls portrayed on these shows tended to be white, right and inside a Weight Watchers stint’s reach of attractive; nonethelessthey were all jokes.
Perhaps the very apt comparison to Emily at Paris is the Aidy Bryant–directed Hulu series Shrill, that originated in March of 2019 to volatile testimonials; Teen Vogue called it “a revolution for fat representation,” and The New York Times‘s Margaret Lyons praised fat protagonist Annie for not being “an apology of a human being, which fat people and women and especially fat women are taught to be.”
Tonally, Shrill is worlds away Emily in Paris–it is wry where Emily at Paris is sincere, dim in which the Netflix string skews cheery–but as I watched Emily try to flex Paris into the weight of her quirk, I could not help considering Shrill‘s Annie working overtime simply to receive her native Portland to endure her as a fat girl. Annie is not allowed new worlds to explore; she is a fish out of water in her own hometown by sheer virtue of her body, and Shrill does a masterful job of calculating her course by self-hatred to tenuous self-acceptance, however that I could not help wanting more for herand to get fat female protagonists anyplace.