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 its own trope and it can be damaging in its own right to the female body image. 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 for centuries, 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 (Elizabethan women had such tiny waists). 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 '60s and to a lesser extent The '70s were marked by a thin, ballerina-like ideal (e.g., Audrey Hepburn, Twiggy, Liz Montgomery, even a younger Marilyn Monroe) and/or toned and fit (Farrah Fawcett and Olivia Newton John), following a fad for "va-va-voom" voluptuousness in the Forties through mid-Fifties (e.g., Mae West, Betty Grable), which in turn had supplanted the slender look of The Roaring '20s and The '30s. The '80s brought bustier sex symbols, while The '90s brought in the Heroin Chic, with extremely skinny models raising concerns regarding eating disorders in the later years of The Oughties. Finally in the 2010s, "padded" and even "plus" sizes have been brought into mainstream appeal.
- 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.
- Their later "Self-Esteem Project" collaboration with Steven Universe averted it, using the many forms of the Gems (including the heaver, less conventionally attractive kinds like Smoky Quartz) and naturally heavy human Steven as their selling point without having to reach the other way.
- 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.
- Ms. Marvel (2014): Kamala, who is very much an Audience Surrogate, originally fantasized about being like Carol Danvers, who fits conventional beauty standards, including weight. After using her powers to look as close to Danvers as possible, she realizes how uncomfortable the uniform is and how her natural body shape is incompatible with that ideal.
- 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.
- Discussed in Spanglish. Tea Leoni's character spends a lot of time emotionally abusing her slightly overweight tween daughter and running endless laps around the neighborhood. It's her way of dealing with her unhappy life, while by contrast, the Latina maid is more laid back and fulfilled, despite a lowered economic position. It's described as the sensation of "fullness," not just having curves, but being satisfied by eating, living, loving, and experiencing enough.
- 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.
- American Housewife: For early episodes, the show played this straight, with large Katie having more common sense and wit and being more 'real,' and putting down all the other mothers for being thin. In later episodes, the show begins to deconstruct this (see Deconstruction above for more), saying that it's not right for Katie to be rude to them just because they happen to be slender.
- Sara Rue as Claude Casey on Less Than Perfect. In 2009 she signed a lucrative deal with Jenny Craig and dropped fifty pounds.
- Jewel Staite gained some weight to play Kaylee on Firefly. She and the pilot Wash arguably played the role of Audience Surrogates.
- Drop Dead Diva seems to be based on this trope. Probably notable that it is on Lifetime. It occasionally averts this and shows counter-examples.
- Lizzie McGuire is often contrasted with Kate, the thinner cheerleader and Alpha Bitch, with Lizzie cast as a more relatable Girl Next Door.
- In That's So Raven, Raven gets a Very Special Episode where she models, and objects to the men's attempts to Photoshop her to look thinner.
- Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) in Doctor Who. It's even lampshaded in "New Earth" during a Grand Theft Me moment.
Cassandra in Rose's body: Ooo! Curves! Oh baby! It's like living inside a bouncy castle!
- Noah's Arc: Alex (a noticeably feminine man) believes this all the way regarding himself, and professes himself as the most "real" one of the group. He even says a variation on the line in one episode.
- On Mad Men, Peggy is contrasted with more thinner and/or buxom women like Megan, Joan, and Betty. Yet Peggy is a rounded petite woman with "Hellenic" features and is the representative for the ordinary women and their advances of the 1960s.
- 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.
- Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious." Hell, Beyoncé in general.
- Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass is this.
- 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!! Word of God is the whole angle was done to punish Molly (a devout Christian in real life) for refusing to flaunt her sexuality and be more of a Fanservice girl like the other Divas were at that time.
- This was the defense Mickie James had when LayCool 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. Management did believe she was too thick, though. Mickie had been wearing a skirt to bounce around in on her way to the ring, showing off her thighs. After her initial feud with Trish Stratus, she was forced to switch to tights as they believed men wouldn't find her attractive, which many male fans would strongly disagree with.
- 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.
- WWE's Cherry had a Seemingly-Wholesome '50s Girl gimmick and had a body that properly represented that era.
- This picture from Holidead's Instagram, of her wearing a T-shirt and a thong, says "Embrace your curves" and features the hashtags "#curves" and "#babygotback".
- Oh, and she's holding knives.
- 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.
- Questionable Content: Faye Whitaker's struggle with her weight is occasionally a source of drama for her character, particularly since she spends most of her time with women much skinnier than her; one strip has her angsting about splitting her pants while getting dressed, and another has her openly worrying about joining a gym, where people can see her buttocks jiggle whenever she uses a treadmill. Appropriately, Faye also deals with the broadest range of "real" issues over the course of the series, coping with depression, emotional intimacy, the suicide of a parent, and losing her job due to alcoholism.