Fatphobia and Jessica Jones

Or How I Realized This Show Wasn’t For Me

ETA in 2018: Hi…? Matt Mira apologized. Faraci never did. I still hate this instance of fat shaming. I’m a man now. I should rewrite this article.

ETA: Hello, fat men who do not agree with what I have written. Please remember that fatphobia is much different for you than it is for fat femmes. Thanks!

There’s been a lot of talk about Jessica Jones as a survivor and a lot of talk about Jessica Jones as a show changing the abuse narrative. I’ve written about it myself.

Today we’re going to talk about something I’ve mentioned before. It’s something that upset me greatly and made me want to put the show down and stop watching it. I tried to go along with it for several episodes, but within the first ten minutes of the first episode, there is an instance of fat-shaming.

I think it’s important to talk about why fat-shaming is bad. Thankfully, I have already done that but I would like to talk about the specific incident in the first episode of Jessica Jones that is fatphobic and the multitude of ways that this specific line hurts women.

First, a quick run-down of Jessica Jones for those of you who live under a rock. MCU’s most recent (at time of writing) Netflix series follows a superpowered survivor of abuse as she confronts her superpowered abuser. The titular character is a private detective who drinks heavily and pouts through snarky lines while wearing size 0 jeans. Best friend Trish is understanding of Jessica’s snark and experience, and maintains her hard body with Krav Maga. Every woman on the show falls somewhere on a continuum between skinny and also skinny.

I hear what you’re saying, of course. So Krysten Ritter is thin, so what? Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s not just that Krysten Ritter is thin; it’s that every woman featured in the MCU as a hero or love interest is thin. The exclusion of fat bodies is noticeable in the MCU. What’s up with my hateful hard-on for Jessica Jones in particular? We’re getting there.

So, as Jessica is stalking and abusing a black man, Luke Cage (oh yeah, did I mention that Jessica is stalking and abusing a black man and we’re supposed to be okay with this for some reason? Cool.) she sits outside his bar, watching him, like you do when you’re a creepy stalker. While she’s doing this, she takes a moment to spy on a fat woman in an apartment above the bar who is getting on a treadmill, then stopping, and getting a burger.

“2 minutes on a treadmill, 20 minutes on a burger,” Jessica snarks.

Here is where I started feeling pretty sick to my stomach as if I’d had a bad burger myself.

Why did the show’s writer’s choose to include this? This scene makes no narrative contribution. The only possible narrative contribution of this line is to show Jessica’s mean snarky snarkiness, however, this is something virtually every other scene already does. There’s no reason for existing other than to do one thing: Let fat women know that they are lazy, that they are not Jessica Jones, that they are not welcome in the circle of safety the show creates for abuse survivors.

They are to be verbally abused.

Writing to the exclusion of fat women is one thing and it’s something that MCU has done pretty consistently but it’s nothing new or unique to Marvel. However, when a dozen women I greatly respect tell me I have to watch this show and I’m going to get so much out of it, then the show goes out of its way to insult and exclude me, I’m not really sure how I feel about any of it other than upset. The fat woman in the first episode of Jessica Jones is nameless, and she is presented only to kill 20 seconds of screen time, to be snarked at. She exists to fill the writer’s expectations of fat people being lazy gluttons. Sadly, the writers may not even be aware that they’re thinking this, sending this message but that doesn’t excuse the scene or its implications. In the end, she only exists to reinforce fatphobic ideas and let fat people know that when they receive verbal abuse, they deserve it.

It’s difficult to give a show like Jessica Jones a pass on this when the show is so highly praised by my own community. If I dare to bring up these concerns, people often jump in to speak over me about how much the show meant to them personally rather than listen. This is extremely frustrating and makes me dislike the show even more. It makes the fandom seem ready to excuse the show‘s flaws and pretend the fatphobia isn’t happening. For a show about abuse, this is staggeringly ironic.

When you argue with me that fat women, of course, wouldn’t show up in the support group, you’re saying fat people wouldn’t have anything Kilgrave might want. You’re ignoring that the show has a rule: No Fatties. When you tell me that that’s just Jessica’s snarky mean side, you’re ignoring that that scene has no real reason to exist outside of the writer’s fatphobia. When you argue with me that the show meant so much to you, you are speaking over my experience, ignoring it; you’re erasing it.

That’s cool, you’re allowed to do all those things but don’t dress it up and pretend you’re doing something else because I don’t have time for that.

Jessica Jones is fatphobic. And that makes it hard for me as a fat woman to enjoy the show. I’m not just excluded from it, I am actively verbally abused by it within the first ten minutes. Why on earth would I want to subject myself to that?

Fat women experience abuse all the time, actually. Many times, abusers target those who won’t be believed and with sentiments like the one Jessica shares in that scene we fat women are often disbelieved or treated like we deserved to be abused. A fat woman is an easy target because it is a simple thing to isolate her. Society has done half the work for you already.

Are you allowed to like Jessica Jones? Sure, but you need to acknowledge that the show has a serious problem with fat women; it excludes and insults them. I don’t care what it did for you or how safe it made you feel, if you really want to open up the safe space the show has created to all survivors of abuse, you need to address the show’s fatphobia. Otherwise, you’re telling me the show is one thing while the show is telling me it is entirely another.

ETA

Hi.

Let’s get this out of the way: my name’s Kiva and I’m a fat femme-presenting non-binary. I’m “a female at birth” or whatever the term is that doesn’t make me feel entirely comfortable in my gender, and you can tell this because I have great stonking tits.

I’ve also been fat since I was thirteen, so I think I know what I’m talking about when I talk about how it feels to be a fat woman named Kiva.

And, really, I know a little more about what it feels like to be a fat woman than you do.

OH HOH HOH HOH HOH

First, fat men experience fat oppression every day and it’s terrible. Fat trans men experience terrible fat oppression where their transitions can be held hostage to weight loss. Fat queer men often face terrible prejudice in their own community. Fat black men are seen as dangerous, a threat, and treated as such, often violently. All fat people of all genders receive inadequate medical care and are socially shunned for their weight.

Here’s the thing: fat women’s bodies are policed to a greater degree than fat men’s bodies. Sorry.

I know I keep begging you to read it, but there’s a study I want to talk about again. It found that fat women are more likely to be found guilty by a jury of men. The intersection of fatphobia and misogyny is wide and the state violence that happens there is unconscionable.

There’s also the simple fact that women’s bodies are policed to a much greater degree than men’s bodies are. Does this mean men’s bodies are not policed? Absolutely not. 10–15% of anorexia/bulimia patients are male.

What about the other 85–90%? Those’re, according to the statistics, women.

1% of adolescent girls are suffering from anorexia nervosa. 0.5–3.7% of women will have it in their lifetimes. Of them, an estimated half will develop bulimic patterns.

There is also a fat wage gap. Fat white women make, on average, $6,710 less than their thin counterparts along with a host of other problems.

This is probably because women are fed the message constantly that fat women are disgusting, lazy, sinful, deviant, non-compliant.

So when Jessica Jones includes a scene we’ve already explained is unnecessary and has no narrative contributions simply to fat-shame, they’re taking part in a long tradition that is killing girls all over the world. The U.K. saw the number of girls hospitalized due to anorexia-related illnesses jump three times in a three year period, 2008–11.

We owe girls a better message than that. A show like Jessica Jones which speaks to abuse survivors should be paying attention to the experiences of fat women who are raped.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

Kiva Bay has a patreon.