A Discussion on Fat Representation in the Media with the Hosts of The Big Fat Gay Podcast

We continue our discussion with the cohosts of the Big Fat Gay Podcast. This time we discuss matters of fat representation in the media.

After discussing the chub/chaser community, its relationship to the bear scene and their podcast, I continued my discussion with Trevor, Don, Dan and Michael by turning our focus to representation in the media.

It’s a discussion we have had many times before at Bear World with many different people. Representation is not only important, it is essential. Only through representation do we foster inclusivity and normalization, while a lack thereof encourages division and uninformed stereotypes to go unchallenged.

Fat representation in the media is probably one of the most lacking. Historically fat people were only introduced to a narrative to serve as the butt of a joke or as an attribute for a gluttonous villain. Positive fat representation in the media is rare but it does exist, as we discuss below.  Take a read.

The Hosts of The Big Fat Gay Podcast (L-R) Don Marshall, Michael Willer, Trevor Kezon and Dan Oliverio

BWM: You guys periodically give out “Chubbies” on your podcast which are theoretical awards for positive fat representation. What is one thing each of you appreciated most in 2023 with respect to fat representation in the media?

Michael—I always struggle with these because my memory is a sieve, but what occurs to me now is we had the 4th annual Full Figured Industry Awards in November, and I love seeing that representation, and the spotlight being shined on the people who are out there making a difference. It’s so important not just to take action to effect change, but to appreciate the people who are doing that, too. We need those positive moments of rejuvenation in order to face down the difficulties. (The fact that we won Podcast of the Year totally has nothing to do with this answer, hah!)

TrevorBig Boys! I know y’all covered that film in April. Dan and I were fortunate enough to attend a screening at USC in September and I was so blown away. It’s such a phenomenal coming-of-age film, and I can’t wait for it to have a wider release in 2024 so more folks will be able to see it.

Don—I’ve been seeing more shows and movies featuring fat characters that take their whole life experience into the story, not just their feelings about being fat. While I loved Shrill, for example, everything in that show was about the lead character’s experience in a fat body, showing a (much needed) spotlight on what it’s like to live as a fat person. Recently, though, shows like Somebody Somewhere, What We Do In The Shadows, Rutherford Falls, and Survival Of The Thickest have started showing fat characters with fuller lives, not anchoring them only to fatness storylines or moments.

Dan—For me in 2023, it’s been Guy Branum, who is a powerfully queer, fat comic whom I don’t think has gotten his due, particularly now in 2023 as he’s talked even more about anti-fatness in his comedy and social media. He’s the biggest gay fat sensation you’ve probably never heard of.

BWM: Great answers all around. I’d like to add Matty Matheson from The Bear to that list. I love how he is part of the core cast and that his fatness is never weaponized against him.  Continuing on this tack, where is fat representation most lacking in your opinion?

Michael—Government protections! The most influential changes are starting to happen, like in NYC with the successful Campaign for Size Freedom. We need to make body size a protected class so we can start placing discrimination where it belongs: in jail (or at least on the receiving end of hefty fines and lawsuits).

Dan—In line with what Michael is saying about legal protections, how about just basic information about what a space or accommodations look like?! If Trevor and I are going somewhere, I need the website to show pictures of the chairs in the restaurant, pictures of the bathroom in the hotel room. I need car companies to tell me how wide the seats are if I’m buying a new car (no, that’s not the “hip width,” which is completely useless).

As for your actual question (about representation), I’d love to see more fat/thin couples on TV. I know it’s way too much to hope to see a chubby chaser depicted well or even just positively—that’s a loooong time away. But something like the way Schitt’s Creek handled being a gay couple. It wasn’t a thing. They were just a couple. I’d like to see a thin and a fat character in a romantic relationship—maybe even a very fat character—and they’re loving and romantic and the sky doesn’t fall down.

Trevor— Everywhere! I have so much to say about so many things… but I guess I’ll hone in on the fact that we haven’t really had a proper fat superhero. We’ve had some thicc bois with Red Guardian in Black Widow and some background body diversity with spider-people in Across the Spider-Verse, but we still haven’t had a proper fat superhero. If Marvel doesn’t implode, maybe we’ll get to see a spin on Leah Williams’s reinvention of The Blob or Goldballs/Egg in an X-Men project. I feel like seeing a fat actor playing a fat superhero will be a full circle moment for the podcast because it was something that we talked about in our very first episode.

Don— A full range of bodies. Hollywood shows tend to show people ranging from athletic to mainstream sizes, and then a supposedly fat character that’s juuuuust a little bit larger than the rest of the cast that will be treated as though they are much larger. I’d really like to see chubby people, fat people, super-thin people, and the rest to normalize those body types too.

BWM: Who is your favorite fat celebrity?

Michael—Lizzo, Melissa McCarthy, Nick Frost, Aidy Bryant, Keenan Thompson, and the absolute treasure Stephen Fry, to name a few.

Dan—Aside from Guy Branum, another fat celebrity who I feel doesn’t get his due is plus-size male model Zach Miko. I so appreciate his video tutorials on better ways to choose or wear clothes for fat guys, what poses look good in pictures… but what I really find moving is the way he has talked about being a straight man with insecurities, about his body and dating women. In a time when having insecurities about your body is seen as unmanly, Zach Miko is such a beacon for men in body positivity.

Trevor— I find it so hard to choose, but over the holidays I watched a lot of The Vicar of Dibley, and I adore Dawn French in that role. The chocolate fountain gag has been a big mood in the post-holiday blur.

Don—My favorite right now is Bridgett Everett of Somebody Somewhere. Her performance on that show is incredible and moving, and she’s a pretty good singer to boot. I’m currently living for that show and waiting for season 3.

BWM: It seems that prejudicial behavior towards fat people is still widely accepted in our society, seemingly without consequence. Do you agree with that and if so what are your thoughts?

Michael—I do agree in the sense that I think that analysis is correct; I do not agree in the sense that I don’t think that is acceptable. Much like anti-gay popular opinion changing through the 90s and 00s, people don’t really consider the impact of their behavior (and won’t do so) until they’re confronted with just how many people in their lives they’re demeaning and shaming. To see that, I think we need change from the top (like anti-discrimination protections for all body sizes).

Dan—I agree that anti-fat bias passes largely without consequence, yes, absolutely. But it’s more insidious than that. See, if someone shits on me for being a chubby chaser or on someone else for being fat, then we can address that how and to the extent we think we need to. You can call someone out for it, or let it go if you think they’re not worth your time. But what about when you’re not sure if you’ve been shit on? Like when a fat person doesn’t get the job they interviewed for. Sure, lots of people didn’t get the job; in fact, everybody except one. But was the fat person turned down because they were fat? You could say that it’s no big deal; after all, you wouldn’t want to work for someone who had an issue with your fatness, but a person’s livelihood is at stake. It’s not a coincidence that fat people make less than thin people. (It’s well-documented. Google it.) And even if you believe the claptrap that fat people deserve to be discriminated against because they incur higher insurance costs to their employer, then what about the added medical costs of giving birth? Or living past 50? Or why is the same wage disparity in employment also true in countries where the government, not business, provides health care?

Trevor— I definitely agree with that statement and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons we have the podcast. In the time we’ve been doing the podcast we’ve seen so much progress in terms of fat acceptance and representation, but now we’re seeing a huge shift with the prevalence of these new weight-loss drugs and how they’re being pushed and marketed. It’s a weird time and the vibes are bad.

I’m hopeful though. This year New York City passed a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person’s height or weight in employment, housing, and public accommodations. There’s 6 states that might be passing laws adding similar protections in 2024. I would advise readers to check out the Campaign for Size Freedom and NAAFA (the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance) to see how they can get involved.

Don— Yes. People who have listened to the show may have heard me curse out people who say Santa Claus is a bad role model for children because he’s fat. Santa Claus. The man who spends his life making and delivering toys and happiness to children, a literal symbol of altruism, kindness, and generosity, is a bad role model for children… because he’s fat. It shows the prejudice that people have against fatness when literal sainthood isn’t enough to overcome that flaw.

BWM: What can people do to be fat allies?

Michael—Remove that insidious, ingrained morality judgement from your view of fat people. That’s really it. Base all your thoughts and actions towards and for fat people on the novel idea that they’re just people like you and me. They aren’t failing themselves, society, or anybody else by being fat. They are just being humans in a world that loves to judge. So to be an ally, start with removing judgements from your view.

Dan—Michael is so right. And to build on that, once you spot anti-fat bias in yourself or someone else, what are you going to do about it? In my experience, telling someone they’re bad, wrong, or insensitive is sometimes satisfying, but almost never effective in changing their behavior. (They see your being upset as rude and irrational.) I find asking them questions to be far more useful. “What do you mean by that?” or “Why did you think you needed to say that?” or “Who do you imagine that helps?” When confronted, people will invariably fall back on healthism to justify their bigotry against fat people. For a few, healthism is an elaborate and complex religion, but most people just rely on the simple axiom that fat=death. In either case, you will not argue someone out of their dogma. I think a better strategy is to start asking where else they practice their evangelism. Do they make snide remarks to people smoking outside at bars? Do they gently suggest to people at the seafood counter that they should stay away from the shrimp and its high cholesterol? Do they lecture the kid who got injured playing hockey about his poor lifestyle choices? Why is it exactly that the health of only one group of people concerns them?

Trevor— I think the biggest thing people can do is speak up. When you have a chance to confront and shut down fatphobic behavior or language, do it. If you know something isn’t accessible to fat people, make sure people know. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself or others. It can be scary, but a lot of time bad behavior can stem from ignorance. People don’t know what they don’t know.

Don— Start off by trying to be considerate of your fat friends. If you have them over often, is there a chair they can sit in comfortably, or are they in terror when the only thing available is an antique chair with tiny spindly legs, or a chair with overly narrow arms that will squeeze their hips and cause them pain? Having a place where I can sit and chat with you comfortably is key to making me feel welcome and wanted in your house.

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John Hernandez

John Hernandez is the Editor in Chief of Bear World Magazine. In addition to bear culture, he specializes in entertainment writing with a special focus on horror and genre films. He resides in New York City with his husband.