If you want your audience to identify with a character, the best way is with a little Weight Woe
Thanks to television and Hollywood (and other sources), there is a lot of pressure for women to remain thin
. Every day, women are bombarded with images of glamorous supermodels, actresses, fitness gurus and pop stars with "perfectly" thin waists, narrow hips and tight rears. Likewise, comic book superheroines are known for almost always possessing the Most Common Superpower
. To date, this is becoming something of a Discredited Trope
, and Real Life
women are becoming fatigued by the idea.
But you want your audience to identify with your heroine. So, what do you do to fix this? Simple. You make her plumper (but not TOO plump
). You make her plain
, (but not TOO plain
). You give your heroine curvature, but within certain parameters. Then, you tirelessly promote the idea that she's more "real" because of these attributes.
This has begun to see so much use lately that it's becoming a trope in its own right and every bit as damaging to female body image
as the aforementioned overly thin models and actresses. The truth is that "real" women possess a variety of body types, from tall and thin to stout and curvy to large and voluptuous. Furthermore, there's nothing wrong with being remarkably toned and fit, so long as it's not being touted as "perfect". Declaring that one woman's body is less "real" than another body creates several Unfortunate Implications
Note that before the early 20th century, this was the
standard body image among Western women. Specifically, women were expected to be plump and curvy; this was held up as the nec plus ultra
of feminine beauty and sexual allure. Lillian Russell
is a perfect case in point; at the height of her fame in the 1890s, she hit 200 pounds at one point — and was considered the archetype of American beauty. Body image began to change to a more slender ideal circa 1910, but the real switch to "pencil thin" didn't happen until after World War I
, or during the Roaring Twenties
As such, this is somewhat of a Cyclic Trope
alongside its thin and lithe inverse, changing from one to the other every 10 to 20 years or so. For example, the late Fifties and Sixties were marked by a very thin, waif-ish ballerina-like ideal (e.g., Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy), following a fad for "va-va-voom" voluptuousness in the Forties through mid-Fifties (Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield), which in turn had supplanted the slender look of the Twenties and Thirties. The Seventies and Eighties brought curvier sex symbols. The Nineties brought in Heroin Chic. Finally, at the turn of the Millenium, curvaceousness was brought back into mainstream appeal.
Related to Fat and Proud
, Hollywood Pudgy
and Big Beautiful Woman
. Contrast Most Common Superpower
and Amazonian Beauty
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- Dove moisturizing soap famously bungled this trope in a 7-year-long ad campaign called "Dove 'Real' Women". First, Dove was very selective about the women it considered "real" (not too curvy, not too thin, no tattoos or blemishes, no messy hair, etc.) and second, they Photoshopped their models' images in order to make them more appealing.
- Levis jeans also tried to implement this in a marketing campaign . . . using supermodel-thin women. Yes, really. The goal of the campaign was to appeal to women of "all shapes and sizes", but they flatly refused to use actual plus-size women or women with large buttocks to actually promote it. Details here.
- Kellogg's "Special K" brand is getting into the act, promoting the admirable idea that women shouldn't disrespect or speak ill of one-another's body types. Of course, as this article also notes, this is the same company that challenges you to lose six pounds in two weeks by replacing two meals with their product.
- Every so often the factoid is trotted out that Marilyn Monroe was a size 14 — a size considered plus-size (in Hollywood, anyway!) in 2001, but an average size in the 1970s and 1980s. But it's a lie; Marilyn Monroe by today's sizes (they have changed) would have been about a size 4.
- Nia Vardalos admitted that she shot herself in the foot by naming her script My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The resultant publicity tour had reporters endlessly asking about her weight, obliging her to drop forty pounds. She landed a starring role in My Life in Ruins, but in an ironic reversal, critics complained they missed the old Vardalos, and didn't warm to this stick-thin imposter with bleached teeth. Every interview with Vardalos now has her fielding question about the weight loss.
- Jennifer Hudson gained weight for her Oscar-winning role in Dreamgirls. In the film, Effie's full figure and relatably humble origins are central to the plot.
- Real Women Have Curves. The lower-class, "curvy" main characters are contrasted with a wealthy and successful Latina woman who is rail thin. While the film plays the trope straight, it does not stigmatize the thin woman.
- There's also Mo'Nique, whose entire act revolves around this trope. Less than 200 pounds? You're a skinny bitch who can't cook who is secretly trying to steal all of the good men from the bigger sistas. Driven home in her movie Phat Girlz which does nothing but extol the virtue and beauty of plus sized women. However this is only after Mo'Nique has spent half of the film trying to lose weight to look like the very "skinny bitches" she constantly derides.
- Rebel Wilson became a spokesmodel for Jenny Craig long before achieving mainstream Hollywood success. Her contract for Pitch Perfect actually forbid her from continuing to lose weight. She confirmed her intention to resume the diet once her commitments were over.
- In many of his books, the ethologist Desmond Morris argues that a certain preference for curvy and plump women is hardwired, for evolutionary reasons, into the human male psyche. Morris' basic idea is that lush, abundant feminine curves subconsciously suggest (1) good health, (2) an ability to bear children safely (it's known that women with wide hips have an easier time with childbirth) and (3) a superior ability to feed/nurse children.
Live Action TV
- This is one of the major themes of Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back", in which he draws comparisons between very thin women and fakeness — particularly in this exchange:
I ain't talkin' bout Playboy
'Cause silicone parts are made for toys
- Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls," about a man with a preference for Big Beautiful Women.
- Destinys Child's "Bootylicious." Hell, Beyoncé in general.
- When she first appeared in WWE, Nora Greenwald (aka "Molly Holly") wasn't explicitly sexualized or objectified like the other WWE Divas. Instead, she was created as being a chaste, virginous old-fashioned Southern Belle with a Closer to Earth/Girl Next Door demeanor, like someone the female audience could relate to and the male audience could feel protective of (even though she was more than capable of holding her own in the ring). This is because she was she possessed wider hips than the other Divas, and as a former power lifter, had more bulk and less lean muscle. Many storylines even had the other Divas bullying her because of her size and shape, in particular Karma Houdini Trish Stratus who kicked it off by telling Molly she had "junk in [her] trunk". (The worst part? Molly was a heel at this point of her career, so eventually the other Divas were applauded for taunting her!)
- This was the defense Mickie James had when Lay Cool started with the "Piggy James" insults; that she was a well-built and fit woman rather than being a rail-thin supermodel wannabe Valley Girl, which was actually pretty accurate. That is, when she could get a word in edge-wise, and didn't just respond with a sound thrashing. Unfortunately, rumors abound that that was just a way to get the actual thoughts of the WWE staff on the air, causing Mickie to leave the company before LayCool could get their comeuppance.
- Mickie and Lay-Cool have both gone on record that the point of the storyline was WWE wanted to address the issue of bullying, not that it accomplished anything.
- On the 2002 WWF Divas: Sex on the Beach TV special, Ivory said, "I can even live with my big ass. You know, a lot of other women can't say that." The special was released on DVD as WWF Divas: Tropical Pleasures, though this quote did not make it onto the DVD.
- The Trope Namer is the Latin American-themed play Real Women Have Curves, which deals with body images. Its heroine fits this trope exactly.
- In Dream Girl, the protagonist's boyfriend tells her that she's too skinny and needs to eat more often. "Personally, I find the natural curves of the female body quite appealing."
- Love Me Nice: Debbie and Claire are curvy humanoid toons. While that was fine in Debbie's day, Claire's prevent her pursuing a job as a toon actor.