Last night, I sat semi-aghast as the latest episode of Louis CK's Louie took on a big (pun totally intentded) topic: being a fat lady in a sexist and fatphobic society.
As I told Ronald at the time, the scene in which a new character, Vanessa (Sarah Baker), tells Louie (CK) what it's like to walk in her shoes, was the realest 10 minutes of TV I've seen in a loooooong time. If you haven't seen it, check it out here:
The scene (and the episode in general) were remarkable for a number of reasons. The one that stood out to me the most was how CK, who writes every episode, isn't just calling out how society treats fat women, he's actually calling out himself and men like him. I mean, Louie has frequently fallen into the "schlubby guy, hot girl" trope in the past. (Unless, as Vanessa points out, the schlubby guy wants a lay. She calls bullshit on guys who fuck fat girls but won't date them. Yet again, women can be fetishized and objectified, but heaven forbid they want to be treated like humans.)
The message that is delivered through Vanessa is fantastic. She describes her situation saying, "it sucks." But it's not that living in a body like hers or mine is what sucks...it's the reaction of our culture and the constant degradation of fat women that sucks.
Vanessa also does something that all of us bigger ladies know we're "not supposed to do": she openly calls herself fat and when CK tells hers she's not, she shuts that right down. I know for me, reclaiming "fat" as a descriptor for my body and NOT an insult has been really liberating. I don't want someone to tell me I'm "not fat" because A) is a flat out lie and B) plays into the nonsense that some people's bodies are better than others and therefore fat is a horrible thing you don't call someone you like, even if they are.
I all around loved it because Vanessa, like me, isn't really hoping to be thin. But we are looking for a world which doesn't totally devalue or hate us. Unlike myself, however, Vanessa is dealing with this on the front lines of the dating world, which brings all kinds of added challenges. And it sounded to me like CK, in writing the interaction, had really done his research...actually listening to fat women about what their experiences are often like, and giving them a credible voice. I think it's fairly rare for someone who doesn't live an experience to write about it quite so well.
I know that CK is far from perfect and he's let me down before, but I can't help but see an evolution in his recent work. Just a few minutes into following his stand up and/or show, anyone could see that CK is a very involved father to his two daughters. His care for their experience is becoming more and more apparent. His recent work has examined rape culture, historical sexism, and now the interaction between sexism and fatphobia. I can't help but think that he, as a man, is critically examining the world his daughters are growing up in, finding it lacking, and is speaking out about things. Punching "up," if you will.
Either way, I hope he keeps this trend up. And I hope Vanessa comes back for other episodes.
Louis C.K. Takes On TV Hypocrisy, Aiming Scrutiny Back At Himself
When Looks Count Way Too Much (note, I don't like some of the language framing in this piece, but it has some good content from Sarah Baker.)
'Louie': Sarah Baker breaks down starring in the 'Fat Lady' episode
Women's Worth as a Function of Desirability to Men
Fat Women and Worthlessness
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