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The voracious-but-still-skinny-woman trope

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It’s a Saturday night, and I am tired from a mix of schoolwork and rehearsals. I lie in my bed, hide under my covers, and open Netflix. After stumbling through some options, I click on “The End of The F***ing World.” I watch the protagonist, a teen girl named Alyssa, eat an enormous hot dog with fries. Although she proceeds to complain about how unrealistically hot people look in films, her tummy remains flat although she continues to consume unrealistic proportions of high-calorie foods.

Over the course of my 19 years as a spectator of popular television content, I have observed the eerie cinematic paradox Alyssa represents: the voracious-but-still-skinny-woman trope. This character rails against unrealistic body standards and eats tons of high-calorie foods, but somehow weighs very little herself. The problem with this paradox lies not in the character’s body size itself but that almost all female protagonists are highly skinny, and therefore the dominant portrayal of women in film and television is not representative of the array of female shapes and sizes in the world. What’s more, portraying these skinny women as consuming diets that not only fail to represent the real-life ways the actresses maintain their body types, but also seem to represent the way fuller-figured women might eat, is a poor and even insulting stand-in for actual representation of those women.

Like many, and I daresay most, women in real life, I worry a lot about my weight and how the intake of different foods will affect my body. Much has been written about how many women hold themselves to an extremely high, and sometimes completely unrealistic, standard for their own bodies and diets, and how this standard is influenced by the depiction of unrealistic female bodies in the media. This gap between representation and reality can lead to viewers’ body image issues, low self-esteem, depression, and even eating disorders — all to look like the “ideal” girls they see on TV.

Many activists and individuals in the entertainment industry have called for an end to these unrealistic media depictions of women’s bodies. It seems that many filmmakers have heard this call, but sometimes they turn the heart of that call for change into a caricature; rather than actually depict women with an array of different body types, filmmakers still depict thin girls, but allow for them to acknowledge and even verbally reject the standards they, in actuality, meet.

To end the discrepancy that exists between the screen and reality, creatives can at the very least depict skinny characters eating more realistic meals, such as those the actresses themselves would eat to maintain their own body types. Doing this alone, of course, is just sugar-coating the actual problem. It is vital that women with different types of bodies are cast for a variety of roles, including the girl next door, the intellectual, the villain, the superhero, and many more. When this happens, more women will feel represented and fewer will feel insecure.

Platforms like Netflix have somewhat moved toward this with shows that feature diverse casts of women, such as “Orange Is the New Black,” but there is a lot more to be done. As cinematic spectators, we have to be aware of the content we consume and the huge misrepresentation in it. It's 2018, and we can no longer ignore that what girls see on the screen impacts their body image issues and expectations.



More articles by Category: Body image and body standards
More articles by Tag: Film, Television, Equality
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Duda Penteado
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