Being fat isn’t fun. Especially if you are a performer.
Now, this isn’t me shaming anyone for being fat. But things can get a little rough out there in the stage world. You see, I have a secret dream role. I would love, more than anything, to play Cinderella in any play or musical. But imagine that character. The first person that comes to mind isn’t a chubby girl who is 5’3”. Instead, we imagine a thin girl who is around 5’6”. This size leaves me in one place, doomed to aspire to play Tracy in “Hairspray”.
Diversity in theatre has made great strides as of late, but is still lacking. This goes for TV as well. The new Marvel show “The Runaways” on Hulu is praised for its diversity. After all, the leads are a black male and an Asian female. Fans of the show, however, refuse to acknowledge its faults. Gertrude, who is plus-size in the comics, was cast as a thin girl, and the lesbian character, Karolina, was made straight. And while the casting directors are definitely at fault, so are the writers of the script and original comics.
The comic writers for “The Runaways” had a positive idea in mind. Yes, there was a plus-size lead character, but her story was not about being plus-size. Her story was focused on her trying to save the day with her pet velociraptor (I know. How cool can she possibly get?), and her relationship with the only not-evil boy on the team. Yes, the fat girl won the guy. She was an icon, but she was not even worried about being fat. However, when casting, the directors saw this as, “She doesn’t need to be fat”. Which is where script writers come in.
While it is nearly impossible for screenwriters to guarantee the casting of the appropriate race, gender, or size of the characters, little clues in the dialogue can help. In one of my scripts, “Silica and Spider Knight”, I needed my main character to be plus-size. Could a thin girl act the part? Yes. Would it be nearly as meaningful? Absolutely not. I had to figure out a way to make Ella a character who just had to be plus-size without changing her story. All I had to do was add a few lines. I never changed her story. Ella was still a crime-fighting teen with mom issues, but every now and then, she would mention things about her weight, and these lines were crucial to the story. For example, when she is acting like a normal teenager, she talks to her friend Patrick about her current crush on a softball player at her school. She says:
ELLA: Pat, let’s be real. While I am a total catch and anyone would be lucky to have me, people have types. Marissa definitely has a type. All of her past partners? Lean. Tall. The only thing big about them was their hips from all of the sports they play. But for me? All of me is big, and yeah, I know my heart is big too. But I might
as well stick to dating the people who are actually interested in a size 20.
This discussion becomes a staple throughout their relationship and is essential to their understanding of each other. Their romance and the problems that come with it are essential to the plot, especially with what later ensues. Plus, this makes Ella’s size a serious part of the plot, without making it her whole story.
This solution still does not guarantee that an actor will be the right size, gender or race. Scripts change often based on who is cast for each part, especially in Hollywood. But adding these details can help, right? For Ella’s character description, I wrote something I had never seen before for a woman. It read:
ELLA: Fat, beautiful and proud. She takes charge in every situation, and she loves the world around her. Her fatal flaw is believing the world will still change in a matter of minutes. Her overwhelming sass and attitude can be a bit blunt but is still quite lovable. She is also very obsessed with romance, despite leading a promiscuous life for a high school senior.
The description said fat, but it also said beautiful. It was an instinct for me. They both seemed to belong together and had no effect on the other. Then the rest of the paragraph was her personality. The character description of Ella fit perfectly. When a casting director casts this role, they will have trouble putting a girl in the part that does not meet these criteria.
The arts are supposed to be a safe place, where we are open and accepting, and we can all express and share things with the world. As of right now, however, we are limited. By making every role played by a thin, cis, white person, we show the world that this is the ideal. We are limited, but bit by bit, the arts can grow and become a better place.