Guess which one is Sadness. Go on. Guess.
Recently I saw a piece by columnist Olivia Collette Roger Ebert. com called “Why Can’t Sad Be Fat?” The piece was written in response to the recent backlash regarding Pixar’s recent release “Inside Out”. In the film, which takes place primarily inside the head of an 11 year old girl, there are characters embodying various emotions including anger, disgust, joy, fear and sadness. In particular, the article skewers Joni Edelman, editor-in-chief at Ravishly.com, feminist and body-positive activist, about a piece she recently wrote for The Huffington Post.
Let’s first address the fact that Joni admits she wrote the article without having seen the movie first. In retrospect, this was probably a bad idea. I don’t believe it invalidates Joni’s argument. It just makes it awfully easy for the opposing side to take cheap pot shots at her. And they did. Yes indeedy.
I did see the movie. And in many ways, I liked it. But immediately afterwards, I asked my hubby, why did they have to make Sadness fat? You see, the character called Sadness is blue, wears a frumpy sweater and glasses and is, well, fat. This is in contrast to the character called “Joy” who is thin, yellow, tall, twirly and wears a gorgeous green Doris Day dress.
I was frustrated. Because I liked the movie quite a lot. The movie featured a female lead who loved to play hockey, came from the Midwest, also loved unicorns, and was all around cool. I loved the fact that sadness was recognized as an important human emotion, and that when the main character Riley is told to put on a brave face regarding a cross-country move to San Francisco, and tries to squash her feelings of sadness, all heck breaks loose. It’s important to acknowledge that we need to feel sad sometimes.
In many ways the movie is great.
But why did they have to make “Sadness” short, frumpy, bespectacled and fat? Why did they feel the need to pair fat with lazy? In the movie, Joy actually picks up Sadness’ leg and drags her around because she’s “too sad to walk”. Check it out (if you want) in the clip below:
And I can’t help but shake my head at Olivette’s critique of Joni. In the article on RogerEbert.com, she suggests that Joni is the one equating fat with bad. Olivette suggests that since Joni hasn’t seen the film, SHE’S the one projecting negative stereotypes onto the fat character and therefore missed the nuances of the film.
Firstly, if she’s a body-positive activist, I wonder what led her to assume that the fat character is a bad one. Not in an evil way, of course, but at least in a way that’s not as uplifting as Joy.
To which I reply:
Look. I love the fact that Sadness is important and that Joy misjudges her. But (and this is a big but) you are still portraying sadness as a character who is fat, and lazy and frumpy. There is a very, VERY strong notion in our country that being fat is an outward manifestation of being emotionally unbalanced. That we are fat because we are sad and then we are sad because we are fat. If I had a dollar for every time I came across an ad or a program or a person in my life who insisted that once I learned how to be happy, once I learned to be emotionally fulfilled, I would stop eating and the pounds would just melt away. “Fat people shouldn’t be hated. They should be pitied. Because they are sad which makes them eat, which makes them more fat, which makes them more sad, bless their hearts.” Grrrrr.
I understand fully that the Joy character initially misunderstands the Sadness character in the movie. And I am really clear about the transformation that happens as Joy understands the importance of Sadness to Riley. But it still doesn’t do anything to take away from the Fat=Sadness=Fat trope in the movie and in the world.
And I don’t buy the argument that if we made Joy fat, the movie would be criticized for furthering the Fat=Jolly stereotype either. (I.E. you just can’t make those fat people happy no matter what you do, so why try?) I am glad that this film gets so many things so right. But it doesn’t take a away a little feeling of Sadness that they had to do it by showing very young girls that the fat girl and the thin girl can be friends, but the fat girl can’t ever really be happy.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
P.S. Want to hear me speak about body positivity at YOUR school? Check out my speaking page HERE.