Fatty Bechdel Test

We know that Hollywood, Bollywood, and other major producers of film and television routinely disinclude people of size.

I was watching the latest Bechdel Test update from Feminist Frequency when I thought –

– why isn’t there a Fatty Bechdel Test?

For those who don’t know, the Bechdel Test was named for Alison Bechdel, who drew the strip that popularized it. In order for a film/show/book to pass the test, it must meet the following criteria:

  1. There are at least two women, who have names
  2. The women speak about something other than a man (or men).

If you’ve never tried it out, you’ll be amazed at how few films pass this test.

Why couldn’t we have a Fatty Bechdel Test, testing movies/shows/books for representing fat (or even non-thin) people as people and not just a trope?

One reason might be that a Fatty Bechdel Test is unnecessary. It’s glaringly obvious there’s a problem with representing all but the thinnest people in most mainstream media. Sadly, it’s also obvious that while I think the lack of representation of women in movies and television is acknowledged and respected by most intellectuals and media critics, those same intellectuals and critics don’t necessarily think it’s a problem that, while fat(ter) people make up more than 60% of many Western movie-making populations, we are virtually invisible in movies and on television. I’ve heard more than one apologist sputter, “Well, films/magazines/shows are aspirational!” — like fat people are some gutter to climb out on a quest to reach the thin person on the glowy altar.

Despite all that…I’m wondering what a Fatty Bechdel Test might look like.

I’m not sure if the “more than two people of X category who talk to each other about something other than Y” would work, because that’s not really how people of size are marginalized in films. I might amend the test as follows:

Fatty Bechdel Test 

  1. There is a fat person in the film with a name, who speaks.
  2. This person’s size is never brought up, as such OR is if brought up is mentioned in a neutral/positive way at least once.

What do you think? Do you have a better suggestion, or an additional point? Also, which films pass this test?

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9 comments on “Fatty Bechdel Test

  1. meowser says:

    Moneyball (2011) passes. Jonah Hill’s character, Peter Brand, is fat, and not only is his size never mentioned, he’s never even seen eating (whereas buffed-out Brad Pitt is shown constantly stuffing his face, including cramming an entire Twinkie in his mouth). Brand, incidentally, is based on current Mets assistant GM Paul DePodesta, who’s not fat but said he didn’t want his name in the movie even before Hill was cast.

    Also, Analyze This (1999), with Billy Crystal playing a mobster’s psychiatrist, passes. Crystal’s teenage son is fat, and his size is never commented upon. (I didn’t see the follow-up, Analyze That, so I don’t know if that passes also, but it might.)

    Back to the Future (1985), in which Wendie Jo Sperber (gods, but I miss her) plays Michael J. Fox’s sister, and her size is never made an issue.

    Waiting to Exhale (1995) shows Loretta Devine getting together with Gregory Hines (gods, but I miss him too), and he says he likes women her size, and that his late wife was a “big” woman too. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this, but IIRC her weight is never mentioned otherwise.

    Chicago (2002), had very little dialogue, as it was a musical, but of course Queen Latifah had one of the iconic fat-chick roles as prison warden Mama Morton, and she was HOT.

    • bigliberty says:

      Thanks, Meowzer!

      For my own list:

      Was the then-fat Seth Rogen’s weight brought up in 40 Year-Old Virgin? If not, that one would pass the test.

      There was the Jack Nicholson movie As Good As It Gets, where Shirley Knight played the mother of Helen Hunt’s character. I don’t believe her fatness was brought up negatively.

      Also–since I’m a Bollywood fan–in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… the weight of the actress who played Shah Rukh Khan’s character’s mother played by Jaya Bhaduri, the real-life wife Amitabh Bachchan, was never brought up in a negative light. Though it stands to be mentioned that that movie does portray weight negatively in the role of SRK’s younger brother, who is nicknamed “Laddoo” (a lovely Indian sweet that doubles as a name for ‘fatty’ in Hindi). Later the younger brother goes through a transformation at boarding school which includes joining the cricket team, losing a bunch of weight, and becoming a super-hottie.

      I’ve seen more than one fat(tish) woman who played a mother-character in Hindi movies; that seems to be the most acceptable role for a fat woman. I’ve never seen even a chubby young heroine in modern movies, and I don’t mean Hollywood-chubby like Aishwarya Rai.

      Just as another note, SRK’s characters routinely mention weight negatively, like in My Name is Khan and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. Both are in the context of Americans being ‘too fat,’ though in the first the fat character (played by Jennifer Echols) is made to be a bit of a heroine at the end.

  2. The first show that sprang to my mind was The Gilmore Girls. Melissa McCarthy played Sookie St.James, and her size was never an issue. Sure she gushed over food, meal planning etc – but she was a chef, and the Gilmore girls themselves were also food obsessed although they were thin. I never got the impression that there was a connection between Sookie being food obsessed and Sookie being fat. Plus there were two other fat female characters, Babette and Miss Patty, who were funny, individual, quirky, all round amazing fat, happy, sensual, fun loving women.

  3. I love the idea of a Fatty Bechdel test, and will be hunting for films that meet these criteria!

  4. Cyn says:

    Hot Fuzz! The film I love to watch when I’m down and always cheers me up. Nick Frost is fat, but his weight or size are never mentioned. He’s a bit dim, but being dim is not because of his fatness. Also, the rest of the police team are more or less as dim as him, and they all come in different sizes and ages (Olivia Colman, for example, would be considered huuuuuuge in Hollywood; but her size is never mentioned here, AND she seems to have a bit of a sex life!). There are many other fat people in the village, and their size is never ever mentioned. Health-bunny, job-obsessed Nicholas Angel does not make any negative comments about the villagers’s size, as he is too focused on solving the murders to be distracted by such thing!

    Most Nick Frost films I’ve seen in general don’t bring up his weight. In Attack the Block, he’s a stoner, but so is skinny-and-handsome posh student Luke Treadaway, and he is WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY more ridiculed than Nick because he’s so clueless at life. Once again, there’s no space to bring Nick Frost’s weight nor Simon Howard’s weight (except that his nickname is Biggz, but that’s it) because everyone is too busy RUNNING AWAY FROM AN ALIEN INVASION.

    It seems British comedy presents more people that look like me and you because they are more plot-focused than character-focused, and they care more about making realistic portrayals of every day life than making it look like they actually got actors in a set. Notice The Office UK and The Office US. Who has the fat boss? In which one, the It Girl has a massive, oily forehead? While most US TV and Cinema shows the people they want you to look like, most UK TV and Cinema shows the people that look like YOU.

  5. Rachel says:

    i’ve got a couple actually!

    the nines: melissa mccarthy is married to hottie ryan reynolds in one of the parts, and is in all three parts and i don’t think her weight was mentioned/an issue at any point.

    rebecca field has appeared in an episode of criminal minds (today i do) in which she seduces a man who proclaims her hot and her weight/size is never metioned ( she’s a serial killer, but most guests on CM are! ). she also appears on an episode of castle as the head of a phone sex business, where again she is portrayed as sexy and her size is never mentioned.

    these three stuck out to me because i was shocked by them well before i read this blog! :)

  6. I think most films with Jack Black in (with the notable exclusion of Shallow Hal of course) might pass the test, since he’s a a chubby guy, and he’s usually the hero. I’m not a big enough fan of his movies to know for sure, though. “The Holiday” is what got me into this line of thinking, and he’s one of the romantic interests in it.

    Just discovered Big Liberty by way of Axis of Fat’s “This week in fatness” – added to Google Reader! I’m a fan.
    (http://www.axisoffat.com/2012/04/this-week-in-fatness-iv.html)

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