The majority of my Saturday mornings as a child flew by in a whirl of Coco Pops and technicolour. As was common with many pre-iPod 90s children we’d spend our time either outside, or watching endless cartoons on the four channels we had at our disposal. Looking back with age and experience on my side, I’ve noticed a trend that might be swept under the carpet if not addressed properly – where are the fat positive female cartoon characters?!
Young girls are always looking for a role model, back in the 90s when body positivity and gender issues weren’t such a media circus, there were few female role models. If we were lucky we could loosely identify with, or at least idolise those such as Barbie, the Powerpuff Girls and Angelica from The Rugrats. But for a young girl of my size, there was nothing – there were no fat characters for me to identify with, lesser so, fat female characters… and if there were, then they weren’t presented in a good light. This hasn’t changed much in recent years and fat representation in children’s TV shows is either non-existent or negatively represented.
Take The Simpsons for example, they present a large number of fat characters – but none of them favourable so. Barney is an uncouth drunk, Homer is portrayed as being stupid and gluttonous, Patty and Selma – the only frequent, fat, female characters – are shown as undesirable spinsters. The Simpsons are not the only perpetrators of fat negativity, Disney rarely portray fat, female characters and when they do, they are less than representative – Ursula from The Little Mermaid is evil and the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland is deranged and ugly. These, unfortunately, turn fatness into a trope of ugliness, evil doings, unhygienic behaviour and unattractiveness – fat people are shown in a negative light or not shown at all. This invisibility and lack of voice that fat females have had to live with can be detrimental, and young girls who are seeking a plus-size, positive role model are left in the dark. But there is another side to this coin, but it goes no way to redeeming the cartoon world’s representation of fat women – on the one side, fat women are presented as undesirable, on the other, fat women are presented as subservient and motherly. The mothers in Thumbelina, Cow & Chicken, Fox & the Hound and Tom & Jerry are all plus-size women.
This experience of fat women in cartoons is redundant and unrealistic. Fat women as ugly and undesirable, or fat women as preconceived mothers, that is what is being fed to young girls – there is no middle ground. When cartoons do dare to show curvy women as beautiful or in a sexual manner, they tend to go too far as with Jessica Rabbit or Betty Boop – but even then, these characters fall into the ‘acceptable’ idea of fat or curvy women: the dominating hour-glass figure and over-exaggerated hips prevail, overturning the idea of real fat women for the sake of fakeness. But much to my surprise, I discovered an unexpected pioneer of body positivity and I think that we could all learn a lesson from him. Support comes in mysterious forms and unfortunately these forms can sometimes be lesser known, and not acknowledged enough… Winnie the Pooh, our favourite honey loving bear prides himself on his rotund belly. I think that young girls should take note of his words and forget the desire to look like Jessica Rabbit or any other unrealistic representation of women (Cinderella, I’m looking at you). Winnie the Pooh exclaims with joy that he is short and fat… and that he’s ok with that – well Winnie old chap… so am I.