The Importance of Fat Representation

Vintage TV against color background

The Representation Project’s #AllBodies Report was recently featured in a Healthline article about the impact of inadequate fat representation. Our 2022 report examined representations of fat women and girls in entertainment media from 2011 to 2021–the first quantitative study of its kind. Our key findings reflect what fat activists have predicted for years: while 42.5% of US women have large body types, fat women characters are virtually nonexistent. When fat women are featured in film and television, they are often portrayed in supporting roles, and in roles that perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

The impact of this representation cannot be understated: popular entertainment media reinforces fat stigma and sexism by erasing and stereotyping these characters. When consuming media, here is what you should look out for as a viewer:

  • Fat characters reduced to sizeist tropes like the “Loser” (a social failure), the “Comic Relief,” or the “Mamma Hen” (a nurturing mother figure).
  • Fat characters solely depicted as side-kicks to non-fat characters.
  • Fat characters depicted with sizeist stereotypes (e.g., “frumpy,” “unattractive,” “unintelligent,” or “stupid”).
  • Media that includes sizeist language and dialogue that endorses diet culture (e.g., “You’re really pretty for being plus-sized,” “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful,” or “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”). 

Children begin to have opinions about their bodies as early as three-years-olds. By the time girls are 13, 53% are unhappy with their bodies. That number grows to 78% by the time they’re seventeen. Positive depictions of large body types are necessary to combat negative body image and diet culture.

What media is getting it right? Healthline recommends Shrill, Booksmart, Dumplin’, and Astrid and Lilly Save The World. We would also add Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Girls, Rutherford Falls, and the body diversity of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power to the list. What shows and movies would you recommend?

Take Action! Look out for stereotypes and tropes in the media, and support body-diverse content that is getting fat representation right. Read the #AllBodies Report HERE.