Wait…an overweight actress who isn’t used for comic relief??
by Molly Thomson
I go into fall television premieres with about as much hope and optimism as I hold for strolling into a Forever 21 without getting stressed out (read: none.) Pilots are always clunky and awkward at establishing pace, the characters seem almost overwhelmingly cliché, and we can see all-too-clearly where the plot is going.
So, yes, This is Us surprised me. I live-texted my mom as I watched:
Mom: this is good.
Me: it is, I like it
Me: wait, I LOVE it
Me: omg is this the new Parenthood?
It quite arguably is. It’s also amazing on a whole other level, and that is the character of Kate.
Kate is played by the phenomenal Chrissy Metz. She portrays an overweight woman who is consumed by her size: she takes her earrings out to step on the scale, she attends weight loss seminars, she cooks low-calorie foods, she is jealous of her boyfriend’s ability to lose weight faster than she can, and she never goes more than a few minutes without thinking about her weight.
There has been a considerable amount of backlash against the character of Kate; many lament that TV should represent overweight or obese women who aren’t so preoccupied with their weight and who are given other storylines as well. Metz talked with SheKnows about the backlash, saying:
“I know…somebody’s gonna have an opinions—which is great because people are still talking about it—but this is one person’s story and there are millions of stories to be told…it’s important to tell all different stories, and stereotypes are real—they come from somewhere.”
Here is my counterargument: our society often doesn’t give overweight women other storylines. Think about how overweight women are portrayed in movies and television: how often are they used as comedic relief? How often are fat jokes still made at their expense? From Monica on Friends to Fat Amy in Pitch Perfect to Yolanda on Young and Hungry, it just seems to be the fad that keeps on delivering.
Writing a character who struggles with her weight is useful because it sheds light on overweight women around the world who do define themselves by their number on the scale. Unfortunately, this is all-too-relatable for many women. This is Us forces us not to assume that obesity is a woman’s fault or that it is just about going to the gym and eating fewer cheeseburgers. It forces a level of empathy that I think we as a society are sorely lacking.
Sure, in an ideal world where we don’t fat-shame and dehumanize obese women, we would better represent this significant population on television and give them nuanced storylines unrelated to their weight. We have a lot of work to do before this happens, and Kate on This is Us—a genuine, funny, complex, and heartachingly real character—takes us unswervingly in the right direction.