The Forgotten Figure (The TSC)
Greetings! My name is Olivia, and I have some qualms with the entertainment industry that I've been meaning to express. For the longest time (oh, oh, oh – Billy Joel), I have had no luck at finding a certain body type, my own body type, in any form of entertainment. From literature, cartoons, and live-action roles to things as simple as "Body Positivity" campaigns, it has been an impossible feat to find someone who looks remotely like me: tall, strong, AND chunky. No, not tall and lanky like the many models we see or the Barbie dolls that we owned. No, not strong like a 5'0 gymnast or an Instagram model who seems to only do squats. No, not "curvy," a word that has for some reason been labeled synonymous with plus-sized or not-skinny, which it is not (you can have a tummy without an hourglass figure, if you'd believe it). I have had nearly no luck at finding anyone who looks like this:
This is me and my tall-lady bike. I'm about 5'10, maybe 5'11 on a good day, and I had to special order this bike because they had no fun colors in bikes made for my height, and I'm not about to sacrifice fun for a pair of legs I grew without choice. Though it feels quite vulnerable to attach a picture of myself to a blog about forgotten body types, I think it is important. Note these key features of the body above: tall, strong, chunky/soft.
In 2018, many companies and brands are "bravely" featuring curvy women in their shows, movies, and advertisements. Curvy does not equal chunky or soft. This is something that I once thought from teen magazines in my youth, but saw disproved by modern media.
In these magazines, there would be sections that implied how to dress given your body type. For slender women, it was essentially a free-for-all. For the pear-shaped ladies, it was high-wasted items. For the apple-shaped folks, it was all about v-necks (gee, I wonder why?). For the "curvy-all-overs," the goal was to cover your body completely. Here's a peculiar feature of these magazines: Tall and curvy-all-over were entirely separate categories, implying that one could not be both. Though height and one's ability to have curves are hardly correlated, these two categories within these teen magazines could not present themselves more differently. Here's an example:
"Tall" warrants a cropped top while "Curvy All Over" (CAO) warrants an extra layer. While reading these magazines in my youth, I was very conflicted. I was tall. I was 5'10 in eighth grade. Yet, I did not look like this model, but I did not quite look like the CAO either. Clearly, curvy is synonymous to chunky in this magazine, but this has since changed. Today, curvy implies large breasts and curvaceous hips. I take no issue with this definition. Heck, it's accurate! If your silouhette is curvy, you are curvy! It's all very literal. Here's an example of a modern woman defined as "curvy":
Beautiful, yes? Of course! There is no denying that this woman is gorgeous, though there are bound to be some people in the comment section of her Instagram that disagree when we take into account the bravery that people behind a screen tend to work up. However, this definition of curvy is far different from the CAO that we saw in the teen magazine just before. This version of curvy is largely tied to the movement of body positivity that shouts to the masses to "Love their curves!" While there is evidence that every kind of body type for women has received some sort of backlash from media and fads, I find that there are two kinds of bodies accepted largely today: slender and curvy with breasts/butt, and these are the two kinds of bodies that are allowed to confidently post that they #lovetheircurves without a reaction of sympathy from their onlookers.
Women who are chunky without breasts/butt are still not seen. Women with tummies that are not balanced out by a set of DDs to somehow warrant the tummy's existence are still in the shadows. It seems that it is only alright to be soft when another part of you is able to be sexualized.
Yet, we live in an era of body positivity. We live in an era that scrutinizes body-shaming. We live in a world where Ashley Graham is able to be on the cover of swimsuit magazines (as of three years ago). While it is true that plus-sized models are paving the way toward a brighter tomorrow and that, with a simple google, you can find a decent number of women who actually have a very similar body type to myself who are breaking into the modeling industry, there is still a large amount of failure in representation in the area that I care the most about.
Cartoons. Books. Movies. Television shows. In the old and new content that I see directed at children and teens, there is not a single character that I can think of who represents my body type in a positive light. Well, we had one. Rose Quartz in "Steven Universe" was actually a very notable woman who was tall, strong, and chunky/soft, but *SPOILER ALERT* it turns out she was a skinny woman named Pink Diamond in disguise the entire time. This sudden loss was actually what inspired me to write this blog. After Rose Quartz seemed to poof out of existence, I had to think for a long time about the portrayal of tall AND chunky women in children's entertainment. Two things happen to these women.
Firstly, they are the villains. They are the beasts preying upon the good, small hero and her innocence. This is a flaw, as it teaches young viewers that something about women who are tall and thick –women who take up space– is wrong, evil even.
The second situation is more complex. Women who are tall, strong, and chunky become instantly masculine. Though it is a beautiful thing to be a masculine woman, expression of gender is in no way correlated to one's height. Masculinity is not a "You Must Be This Tall To Participate" attraction and, when it becomes exclusive to women who are large and take up space, it enforces a stereotype that the only kinds of masculine women are tall, strong, and chunky, which is inevitably false. This trope makes tall, strong, and chunky women (we shall call this body type TSC upon further mention) feel like, even when clothed in intentionally and inarguably feminine attire, there is a part of them that is considered masculine...a part that they have limited power over changing, as it is not an accessory that they chose to put on.
For the month of August, I will be writing daily on different forms of children's entertainment that have failed the TSC woman. I hope to bring light to the difficulty of being an unrepresented or villainized body type, and I hope to, in some small way, make a difference. I am on the search for women characters in entertainment who are protagonists and who are allowed to be feminine despite of their size and build. Tomorrow, we tackle Disney movies.
This blog is undeniably selfish. I am looking for evidence that MY body is not considered wrong by the entertainment industry, and I understand that there are many other body types and body expressions that deserve this same amount of research and debate. I encourage you to write about them, as that is the only way that we can truly have voices heard and bodies seen. That is my goal.