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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.
I actually really related to sadness in this movie, as a fat bespectacled girl. And while I am not too lazy to walk, yes, there are days where I would like to be carried, figuratively speaking, by my comrades.
I think folks of all sizes have those days where they wish they could be carried by their friends. And I think folks of all sizes experience sadness. I’m glad you found the character in the movie relatable. Wishing you well. Love, Jeanette (TFC)
This is a very true point and I agree with what you have to say but as I have started to read your blogs, I have debated with what you have named yourself “fatchicksings”, but I am sure you have heard it all before. I just think you don’t get skinny girls calling their sites “skinnychicks”. Maybe you do??!! Keep up the good work your more of a chick to me than a fatchick. I appreciate speaking out for us.
Thanks for your reply. There are quite a number of sites out there where folks refer to themselves as skinny chicks. I am both a chick and fat so I am happy and comfortable with using the name in referring to myself. But however you see me, I’m glad the blog resonates with you! Love, Jeanette (TFC)
I feel such conflict about this. I agree, sad being fat can further stereotypes about fat people and I wish they’d taken a risk and drawn her differently. But at the same time, both characters somewhat mirror the actresses who voice them. The actress who voices Sadness IS fat. It also would have been offensive to me to have a fat woman voice a character but draw her skinny. To me, that would have said more about the production’s views on fatness than having Sadness be fat. When I think of it that way I think it’s cool that they let a fat actress star in a serious, important role and let her still be fat!
Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the movie yet.
I think you make a very good point. Having watched a lot of “making of” featurettes for animated movies, I have often seen the actors and animators talk about how they use the actor’s likenesses to inspire the cartoon characters’ physiognomy and facial expressions. I hadn’t seen Phyllis Smith in “The Office” (or anything else that I know of) and had no idea what she looks like. Now I know. (Aside: Yay for another working fat actress! 8) )
Not that the movie, or its promotion, does anything to improve the “Fat=Sad=Fat” trope Jeanette identifies here. I could argue that while “everyone knows” that other emotions and characters are being portrayed by Mindy Kaling or Lewis Black or Amy Poehler or Jon Hamm, I had to read here the name of the actress who voiced Sadness (an important character by all accounts), and had to do a Web search to find out what she looks like. I could point out how the “invisible fat woman” is just another manifestation of Hollywood’s, and modern culture’s, relentless attempt to erase our kind. It is definitely A Thing.
So yeah, promoters and writers still have a long way to go until fatness stops being used as a lazy way to depict someone’s inner life or “issues”. I’m conflicted too–how to mention that the cartoon may resemble the actress without sounding like “Hashtag # notallhollywood”?
Hi there Jeanette! I enjoyed reading your opinion on my piece for RogerEbert.com. We may disagree, but I can understand where you’re coming from. I honestly mean that.
I still feel like the round, bespectacled girl in “Inside Out” challenges tropes by saving the day, all while embodying an emotion we culturally like to sweep under the rug. But more importantly, I hope that more round, bespectacled female characters in future movies will continue to do so, while embodying a complex spectrum emotions and personality traits.
“Olivette” <—-I actually like that nickname a lot!
I think the key thing to remember is that Sadness is the hero of the story who saves the day. I also think the body types of the animations loosely resembled the bodies of the actors voicing them. I don’t think there was a clear intentionality regarding fat being bad. She’s not eve very fat; she just has a different body type than the others, whicb every single character also has.
She’s also purple.
I sure wish I could edit my post to fix the typos. Much love to everyone here. Good thoughts all around.
One other note: Anger was also “fat” and stocky, which reflects the actor who voiced him.