Movie review: Spy is freaking awesome

melissa mccarthy in spy

Hi everyone! I’ve been pretty deep into wedding planning lately and haven’t felt much like blogging, but I wanted to pop back in and tell you all about the movie I saw last night, because it was just so good. Spy features Melissa McCarthy as a desk-bound CIA agent who goes undercover to infiltrate the world of an arms dealer and prevent a terrorist attack–and of course, all sorts of hijinks ensue.

First off, the movie is just plain hilarious. It has the perfect combination of witty zingers, juvenile humor, and physical comedy–something for everyone.

That alone would be enough to recommend it, but it’s also a film with a fat heroine whose size isn’t used as a joke, which was so refreshing to watch. McCarthy’s character, Susan Cooper, finds herself socially invisible as a not-so-young fat woman–so she uses that invisibility to her advantage and ends up subverting everyone’s expectations.

For what it’s worth, she spends much of the movie looking gorgeous. Although she is assigned to play a dowdy Midwestern tourist in a neon pink track suit and cat t-shirt, she quickly changes out of that disguise and into a more glamorous one. I especially loved the outfit she wears toward the end of the movie, which made me want to run out and immediately buy a black blazer with silver accents.

melissa mccarthy and jason stratham in spy

I also loved that Spy is, at its heart, about a kickass female spy taking down a rather likeable female villain. The main female characters are smart and competent, whereas the main male characters are ridiculous spy-movie-trope-parodies who keep getting in the way: from Jude Law as a suave and assholey James Bond type, to Jason Stratham as a rogue agent who’s constantly bragging about his improbable exploits, to Peter Serafinowicz as a sleazeball whose main talent is sexual harassment.

Spy also features appearances by two actors I love, Morena Baccarin (a.k.a. Inara from Firefly) and Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg from The West Wing), as well as an amusing cameo by 50 Cent. And it introduced me to a new favorite: British comedian Miranda Hart, who plays Cooper’s bumbling but supportive best friend. She’s hilarious, and I definitely want to check out more of her work.

melissa mccarthy in spy

Overall, I recommend Spy to anyone who wants to spend two hours laughing. It stands on its own as a funny movie with a good plot and pacing, and it’s also awesome to see a fat woman using both her wits and her physical abilities to kick ass.

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Steven Universe: funny, feminist, and fat-positive

steven universe TV show banner

Steve recently introduced me to Steven Universe, a children’s TV show that has also gained a cult following among adults (and what seems to be most of Tumblr). I’ve only watched a few episodes so far, but I really like it, and I love that it’s body-positive without making a big deal about it.

The show revolves around the adventures of Steven, a 10-year old boy who is half-gem and half-human, and three gems who are basically his aunts: Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl. Gems are aliens who can take human-like forms, and these three protect humanity from the evil intentions of other gems and miscellaneous monsters. Steven’s father, Greg Universe, is so far a peripheral character, and there are occasional flashbacks featuring Steven’s mother, a gem named Rose Quartz who gave up her physical form when she gave birth.

Steven, both of his parents, and Amethyst are all fat–and their sizes are never played for laughs, or even mentioned. It’s treated as a matter of fact that Steven is chubby, Amethyst is short and fat, Garnet is tall and big-hipped, and Pearl is very thin. Since Steven’s powers come from a gemstone in his belly button, his chubby stomach is often visible, and this is never portrayed as negative or even noteworthy either.

steven universe trying to use his gem powers

Steven trying to activate his powers

The three gems are women with unique personalities who kick ass in their own ways, while also taking care of Steven and helping him learn to use his powers.  It’s refreshing to see three female characters who are both nurturers and warriors, who are strong without falling into the “strong female character” stereotype, who just feel like real people. I relate the most to Amethyst, who is the goofball of the trio. Continue reading

Why I’m not excited about Ashley Graham’s ad in Sports Illustrated

ashley graham swimsuits for all ad

The internet’s been all abuzz with the news that Sports Illustrated‘s 2015 swimsuit issue will include an ad featuring plus size model Ashley Graham.

Yay?

As much as I care about fat representation in media, and as much as I think Ashley Graham is gorgeous and probably a lovely person, I can’t bring myself to care. This doesn’t feel like a step forward to me, for three reasons.

First, although Graham is a plus size model, she’s smaller than most women who actually wear plus sizes. In fact, as a tall size 14/16, she is likely thinner than the average American woman. Magazines have been including token hourglass-shaped, barely-plus-sized models for years; more of the same doesn’t feel particularly revolutionary.

Second, she is appearing in a Swimsuits for All ad, not a magazine feature. SI didn’t say, “Hey, let’s feature a (marginally) more diverse group of women;” they just accepted an ad from a company that was paying them to do so. They’re getting all this positive attention for something that took no effort on their part, and in fact is making them money.

Third, and most important: I don’t feel that it’s progress for fat women to be objectified too. SI‘s swimsuit issue is pretty much the epitome of the male gaze: its entire purpose is putting women in skimpy swimwear for men’s enjoyment. Even if SI had included an actual fat woman in an actual feature–even if, say, they had put Tess Munster/Holliday on the cover–I’d still be less than thrilled.

I just can’t see more objectification of women as a thing to celebrate. I’d rather see SI‘s swimsuit issue stop existing, or at least become culturally irrelevant–or be complemented by an equivalent, equally popular issue full of guys in skimpy swimwear. But a slight expansion in the standards of the sexist status quo just doesn’t do it for me.

 

Thoughts on the state of the fat community

close-up of gold mirrored "fat" necklace
(Note: in this piece, I refer to the movement in question mainly as fat acceptance, or FA, since that’s how I first came to know it. Other people may prefer to call it size acceptance, fat justice, fat activism, etc. Like most movements, it’s more a series of overlapping movements than one cohesive community, which I think is a good thing.)

I recently read a piece on XOJane titled, Why I’m Over The Size Acceptance Movement or Hey, SA, What Have You Done For Me Lately? Like many XOJane pieces, it’s scattered and confusingly written (and could have benefited greatly from the hand of a skilled editor). It’s especially confusing that the author, Cary Webb, calls for more 201-level discussions within the fat acceptance movement, yet doesn’t seem to grasp some of the 101-level basics of the movement: like the fact that discussions about considering weight loss surgery support fat-negative narratives, and therefore don’t belong in FA spaces. People who want to talk about weight loss can go literally anywhere else on the internet–or in the world–and have those discussions supported, but those of us who want a break from hearing about it have only a few spaces where we can do so. It’s the height of entitlement to demand that such spaces include weight loss talk.

Webb brings up important issues like racism, healthism, poverty, and ableism in the same sentence as wanting to be allowed to say that “there is such a thing as clothes that fat people shouldn’t wear”–umm, what? Policing what other fat people wear is neither FA 201 nor 101–it’s just more of the same oppressive shit we get from the rest of the world. And like weight loss talk, it has no place in our movement.

Even though I have some major issues with the piece, I’m glad that it has sparked discussion across multiple FA spaces about the state of the movement. Here are a few of my thoughts, in no particular order: Continue reading

Fat bias in medicine maims and kills. #DiagnosisFat

tweets from #diagnosisfat hashtagTuesday night, Lesley Kinzel started the hashtag #DiagnosisFat to talk about the ways doctors mistreat and misdiagnose fat people due to their assumptions about weight. People have been telling these stories in FA spaces for years, and some of them have been collected on the blog First, Do No Harm and on the “Bad Doctors” tag of This Is Thin Privilege. But seeing so many stories pour out so quickly, all in one place, was powerful and horrifying.

They range from the merely shitty to the breathtakingly cruel:

diagnosis fat 2 Continue reading

On “feeling fat” and the multiple truths of fat experience

Jenny Trout recently wrote about “feeling fat” vs. actually being fat in the context of reactions to Meghan Trainor’s song “All About That Bass.” Her main point is that, although body image is a problem for many women of all sizes, our conversations about body politics need to center the experiences of fat people–especially those on the larger end of the spectrum–who face regular discrimination for their size. She makes the important point that:

While average-sized women are concerned with not “feeling” fat, fat women are facing challenges that affect their lives far beyond damage to their self-perception. Plus-size clothing stores Lane Bryant and Torrid only sell clothing up to a size 28, at prices prohibitively expensive for low-income women. Buying clothing in a physical store is, if not impossible, then highly unlikely, for women who exceed the “plus-size” category.

Our health is at risk, too, and not just from the obesity-related illnesses we’re warned about; we’re faced with bias from the medical community that puts our health, and potentially our lives, at risk. Obese people face rising weight-based discrimination in the workplace, women especially.

I agree 1,000%. This is a big part of why I also felt uncomfortable with “All About That Bass” being held up as the body-positive anthem of the summer. Fat activism is a civil rights issue, and as its ideas have spread, they’ve often been watered-down to “inspiring” pictures of size 8-ish celebs and platitudes about loving your body (as long as it’s not too fat). We need to keep bringing the conversation back to the realities of being fat in a fat-phobic culture: workplace discrimination, medical bias, street harassment, lack of available clothing, lack of properly-sized chairs and medical equipment, discrimination in adoption proceedings, policing of children’s appetites–in extreme cases, even taking them away from their parents simply because they’re fat–and the ubiquitous messaging that our bodies are a disease to be eradicated at all costs. Continue reading

Queering Fat Embodiment excerpt: on fat fashion

I was recently invited to participate in the social media book tour for the new anthology Queering Fat Embodiment, edited by Cat Pausé, Jackie Wykes and Samantha Murray. QFE is, according to its Amazon page, “the first book to focus on the intersection of queer studies and fat studies, and promises to be a classic in its field. What could be more exciting than discussions of fat and queer fashion, desire, performance, cyberspace, and politics, as well as the fluidity of gender identity, bodies, and sexuality?”

I’m excited that QFE is exploring all of these topics, especially my beloved fatshion. Below is an excerpt from the chapter “Fashion’s ‘Forgotten Woman’: How fat bodies queer fashion and consumption,” by Margitte Krisjansson (paragraph breaks added by me):

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States saw the birth of the department store and the growth of the ‘ready-to-wear’ fashion industry (Leach 1984). A history of ready-to-wear fashion in America made specifically for fat women can be traced to Lithuanian immigrant Lena Bryant, who, in the 1920s, turned her maternity-wear line into a clothing company for ‘stout’ women, the first of its kind (Clifford 2010). Today, Lane Bryant is one of the most prominent and prolific plus-size retailers in the country.

The plus-size market has seen growth above and beyond the fashion industry at large, and events such as Full Figured Fashion Week in New York City are gaining in popularity (ibid). Online, a transnational movement of fat fashion bloggers has sparked a mini-frenzy of media attention and body-positive activism (Cochran 2010). ‘If the personal is political’, writes social commentator Erin Keating, ‘than being able to find clothes that fit and make you feel good is a political plus’ (quoted in Lebesco 2004: 72). In an industry where the fat fashionista has been called the ‘forgotten woman’ – a plus-size store with this name existed in New York in the 1980s – the possibilities for her today seem much improved.

However, as many fat fashion bloggers are quick to point out, the physical and economic accessibility of fashionable clothing for fat women is still a major issue, and it continues to bring many young and dissatisfied people into the fold of fat- and body-positive activism. Fat fashion, asserts fat studies scholar Kathleen Lebesco, has the capacity to be ‘revolutionary’: when fat women ‘disdain “blending in” in favour of cobbling together a look from the scattered resources available and becoming more brave about appearing in ways that defy the “tasteful” intentions of the commodities of corpulence’ they subvert cultural norms about what it means to be fat (2004: 73). Unequal access to fat-sized fashion is a well-documented and long-term phenomenon (Klemesrud 1969, Riggs 1983, Feuer 1999, Adam 2001, Lebesco 2004, Kinzel 2012).

Even now, after several decades of fat-positive activism and consumer interest fuelling the creation of more fat fashion, clothing in larger sizes is not nearly as accessible as ‘straight-sized’ clothing, in terms of quantity as well as quality. As such, today’s fa(t)shionistas have
developed their own ways to engage with fashion when the industry refuses to recognise them as viable customers. This has manifested itself in hundreds of fatshion blogs, community-building events such as fat-only clothing swaps, online fatshion-centred communities and forums, independent fat-positive fashion shows, and the creation of zines and even documentaries cataloguing render their bodies visible via the fashion that they consume.

Used by permission of the Publishers from ‘Fashion’s ‘Forgotten Woman’: How fat bodies queer fashion and consumption’, in Queering Fat Embodiment eds. Cat Pausé, Jackie Wykes and SamanthaMurray (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 134. Copyright © 2014