This isn’t a new trope; one of my favorite romantic comedies, The last holidays from 2006, stars the legendary Queen Latifah as a shy department store clerk and aspiring chef who is misdiagnosed with brain tumors and told she will only live a few more weeks. This kickstarts her dream life: she quits her job and spends her savings on a trip to a five-star resort in the Czech Republic. She splurges on spa treatments, extravagant clothes, ski lessons, and food prepared by a celebrity chef she idolizes. Like the others, she also learns to trust herself and eventually lands the guy (LL Cool J) when he shows up to inform her that her diagnosis was incorrect all along.
Even when tall women in romance movies aren’t magically transported to the land where they’re desirable, the stories of their romances still tend to revolve around their weight or the negative self-images that result from their weight. by Netflix Pellet (another favorite of mine) is the story of a fat teenage girl played by Danielle Macdonald who enters a beauty pageant as an ironic act of protest, only to find out she’s deserved the title “beauty queen” since the start. Throughout the film, she constantly pushes away her tall, lanky love – a co-worker at a local fast food joint – in disbelief when he sincerely tries to date her.
In a similar fashion, Phat Girlz, released in 2006, stars Mo’Nique as an aspiring fashion designer who struggles to find love within herself and others due to the norms of unrealistic beauty of society. While on vacation, she meets the man of her dreams in a handsome Nigerian doctor who finds both her body and her personality sexy as hell. Their relationship falters throughout the film because she is convinced that someone as conventionally attractive as he could ever really want her.
Most of these stories would make just as much sense with a straight-sized lead. In this oddly specific genre of romance, self-hatred is normally the main obstacle in a character’s journey to find love. Not to mention that lack of self-confidence is rarely, if ever, a source of conflict in rom-coms featuring thinner actors. Think about the most iconic romance movies you’ve seen in your life and the issues their plots revolve around: 10 things i hate about you (secrets, rage), 13 Ongoing 30 (disenchantment in adulthood), princess bride (class struggle), clueless (being attracted to your ex-brother-in-law).
Now, fat isn’t mutually exclusive with lack of confidence or self-respect, but the very intentional casting of fat versus thin actors in these romance movies certainly suggests that. They definitely hurt me, and the impact it had on my body image resurfaces in my mind every time I go on a date or have a new crush.
Do not mistake yourself; I love most of these films, and many of them are extremely connected to those of us who have struggled with negative body image or fatphobic treatment while trying to find love. Yet they all insist that fat women can love themselves or be loved by another despite their appearances, not because they are really beautiful or simply because they have a connection with another character. I have a hunch that’s why more women than ever are turning to romance novels and fan fiction. These are two of the only places where fat women are written as traditional romance tracks without a hint of irony or internal fatphobic rhetoric – and where romance tracks are described loosely enough that anyone with any type body can imagine themselves in the role.