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Fat Girl Best Friend by Sarah Grant

It will come as a shock to no one when I say that plus size women in film and television have a hard time.


This industry can be brutal at the best of times, but with the permanent perpetuation of perfection handed down by Hollywood since the beginning of cinema, the narrative, myth and standard of “desirable” for women on our screens centres around the staple of thinness.

For those whole live in bigger bodies, it’s hard to be seen, and when we are cast at all (very few and very far between) we have a role to play. That of the Fat Girl Best Friend.


My name is Sarah Grant, I am a plus-size, working class writer, director and actor based in Glasgow, and this week marks the release of my debut book, Fat Girl Best Friend. FGBF is a pop-culture voyage that celebrates plus size women in film and tv while attacking the bullshit tropes, stereotypes, and archetypes that more often than not reduce plus women on our screens to the meek and lifeless sidekick.


Yes, this is a big ass week for me (no apologies for the pun), but I’m not the only one celebrating big things. I’m so honoured to be kicking off the Persistent and Nasty blog with my FGBF ramblings. P&N have been the champions of women and gender non-conforming people in the arts, encouraging us to take up space and reject the patriarchal and hierarchical bullshit that keeps us in tiny little convenient boxes, and to dive into that spotlight and celebrate whatever stories we have to tell. They have been doing this incredible work for five years.


In honour of that, and of FGBF, here are five examples of the Fat Girl Best Friend in film a television (three tragic and two incredible) and what we can learn from them.


Let’s start with the tragic.


Fat Monica – Friends


Behold the joke that should have been a one-time thing but simply would not die. Fat Monica in friends was the first time I ever saw a plus size person on tv, and it made me nervous. It was only when I got older that I realised why. Her body was the joke. In every brutal flashback we see Monica become more and more pathetic; unable to share food (even though she is a chef), virginal and unable to understand her own sexuality without awkwardness, greedy, clumsy, and fond of dancing like an idiot. What’s more, thin Monica and Rachel are equals. Fat Monica is Rachel’s side kick.


Say it with me folks; Your. Body. Is. Not. A. Joke.


Barb – Stranger Things


With us for a mere two episodes, Barb has one function in Stranger Things; to remind Nancy the importance of being true to yourself. When Nancy starts hanging around with the heartthrob with the hairdo, Steve Harrington, Barb is the first to remind Nancy that she isn’t one to shotgun beer, strip to her underwear at a pool party or to sleep around with some himbo. And when Nancy refuses to ignore all of this, and tells Barb to go home alone, Barb LITERALLY DIES.


Stranger Things excels because of its ensemble cast, was there no room for Barb too? #JusticeForBarb


Fat Amy – Pitch Perfect


Here is a wolf in sheep’s clothing example of plus size representation. On the surface you think that Fat Amy is a character that screams body positivity because of things like her reclaiming of the word “fat”, her confidence and her reference to her multiple boyfriends. But confident though she might be, the creators have works really hard to equate her confidence with insanity. We know that Amy is a pathological liar (right down to admitting her real name is Patricia), and makes wild claims such as “I’ve wrestled dingoes and crocodiles simultaneously”, so how can we believe her when she claims to love herself?


And now the queens.


Sookie St James – Gilmore Girls


The 90s and 00s were a horrible time if you were fat, so it was very surprising to find a character like Sookie St James on tv. What’s amazing about Sookie is that while she is not the main character, she has her own life, her own wants and needs and character growth that she never puts on hold for Lorelai or assumes that her problems are lesser than her best friends. Sookie and Lorelai are partners. Equals.


Veronica – Always Be My Maybe


In a much more modern example, Veronica, played by the incomparable Michelle Buteau, plays best friend to Ali Wong’s Sasha. I love this example for the same reasons as I love Sookie. She is there for her best friend, but you never assume that she doesn’t have a life of her own or that she feels like she is secondary to her thin best friend. Veronica is pregnant and in a queer relationship, she often takes herself away from the narrative because of her own wants (and not because her pal ditched her) and she never shies away from telling Sasha to get her shit together.


Side note, literally this week Buteau dropped a trailer for a new Netflix comedy series based on her memoirs called Survival of the Thickest and I NEED IT IN MY LIFE.


These are just a small handful of examples that I go into in more detail in Fat Girl Best Friend. I could talk for hours, days even, on this subject, because these characters were given no space to grow in their own shows. It’s time we start taking up space for them!

Female friendship is the silver bullet that can slay these beastly tropes so that they can finally disappear and never bother us again. If you have experienced true female friendship (and I assume that if you are reading the Persistent and Nasty blog you not only have experienced it, but you also understand the power it can have to be magical and lifesaving) then you know that there is no hierarchy in friendship. No supporting characters, just an exchange of love and support through everything life can throw at you.


Big girls, remember you are the main character in your own story. You are no less important and no less desirable because of the body you live in. Hollywood can ram their outdated mythos right up their hoop.


Celebrate yourself. Celebrate your body. Celebrate your friendships.


Live in that main charactrer energy.


~


Fat Girl Best Friend, published by Tippermuir Books, is out now and available through Tippermuir, Amazon, Waterstones and other local bookshops. Get your copy here.


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