The Feminist Times
The Evolution of Plus Size Representation in Cinema
For the past few years, the one word that we've heard across the media diaspora is "representation". While it directly means portrayal or depiction of someone or something it plays an integral role in the society. While cinema has often misinterpreted certain entities and endorsed what the society considers ideal. Though that can have and has had a negative effect on the audience. For someone who has grown up watching Bollywood movies, the acceptance of my body became a difficulty. The desire to have that perfect body the lead actresses had or the flawless skin and hair without realizing that it took a village to achieve that. The idealization of the 0 size figure started to gain rage, the stories of actresses going through extreme weight loss just to bag their debut film would get so much limelight and the movies then highlighted how women were considered desirable when they fit into the norms of their "perfect".
On the contrary, these films mocked plus sized people, Aamir Khan and Madhuri Dixit's film Dil (1990) featured a fight scene where the winner would get to kiss the latter and the loser would have to kiss her best friend who was a plus size girl and to add more to that she was shown as "unhygienic and ugly", not only was the script problematic for showing women as a prize; it also put up a negative image of plus size individuals showing them as ugly, unhygienic and undesirable. In 2003 film Kal Ho Na Ho, Naina our protagonist would constantly mock her best friend Sweetu for being a plus sized individual and how she would actually have a chance at romance if she lost weight. The film featured these comments to add a comical element to the plot while it was nothing but rude and also gives in to the idea that one must fit a certain body type to be desirable and while one
might argue that these films were from the 90s and early 2000s, 2015 film Kabir Singh starring Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani too took a dig at fat shaming. While the film was highly criticized for endorsing toxic masculinity it also received backlash for its casual body shaming. Plus sized individuals are often type casted as comic reliefs or undesirable beings to make the heroines character stand out.
With the changing times, the representation has somewhere changed, movies/shows now represent individuals with sensitivity and portray them as people with the same amount of depth and complexity as they used to present the leads. The first time, Bollywood represented this was with the film Dum Laga Ke Haisha through the character of Sandhya moreover it was also the first time that the audience got a plus sized lead in mainstream cinema. She wasn't type casted as the ideal "fat person" for the sake of comedy nor did the film make her go through a transformation for her to be desirable. She took a stand for herself and enjoyed life as she was without conforming to the ideals that are generally enforced on the plus sized characters. It was then in 2016 in Amazon Primes' original series Four More Shots Please, where we witnessed another such character of Siddhi Patel. While she was constantly body shamed by her mother, she lived her life unapologetically and her character again broke the stereotype that fat people can't be sexually desirable.
These are some examples of how the industry somewhere changed it's perspective towards the plus sized individuals. While many feel that representation isn't really that important and at the end of the day movies are just there for entertainment, it becomes important to acknowledge that they can have an impact on the individuals viewing the film. Films do play a crucial role on the audience and while they are just a reflection of the society, it is also important to ensure that they do not endorse harmful notions just for "fun". There has been a change as the representation of plus sized individuals and characters in the industry but it still has a long way to go.