Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Last week my friend Patrick said something really shitty. We were having dinner with a group of friends, and he mentioned seeing a burlesque act that had "shocked" him. Another dinner guest who had also been at the show asked why. He blushed and bent his head down, answering from beneath scrunched-up brow: "Well, because she was, y'know, a big girl. And, she was taking her clothes off in front of people!"
I thought two things at once: First, of course. Of course, he was terribly uncomfortable. What a monster she must have been. And, what modern man expects to see a semi-nude woman over 115 pounds with unstretched skin and a smooth, clean-stripped bikini area. Of course, Patrick deserves nothing less. And, to be sure — being fat is being less.
At the same time, I thought, really? I knew a lot of people thought that way, but what fool says it out loud? There I was, two seats down the table in all my plus-size glory thinking that this person was my friend — not perfect, but a relatively worldly, sensitive man. Up until then, he always had been. But, in that moment he was just another asshole. Because, I'm not a monster.
Last night's episode of Louie delivered a knock-out closing scene. By now, you've likely read or watched the speech delivered by Sarah Baker as Vanessa, a waitress who badgers Louis into a date, against all fat-girl odds. After rebuffing his advances, and even becoming a little obnoxious, Vanessa and Louie wind up on one of those great first dates — strolling all over town, sharing personal anecdotes, cracking up a little too hard at one another's jokes. Louis makes a comment about how hard it is to date, and Vanessa replies that it's even harder when you're a fat girl.
"You're not fat."
That's when she launches in with an epic, ass-kicking, heart-splitting speech that feels like nothing so much as the ugly, stinking truth:
"Louie, you know what the meanest thing is you can say to a fat girl? 'You're not fat.' I mean, come on, buddy. It just sucks. It really, really sucks. You have no idea. And the worst part is, I'm not even supposed to do this. Tell anyone how bad it sucks, because it's too much for people. I mean, you, you can talk into the microphone and say you can't get a date, you're overweight. It's adorable. But, if I say it, they call the suicide hotline on me. I mean, can I just say it? I'm fat. It sucks to be a fat girl. Can people just let me say it? It sucks. It really sucks.
And, I'm going to go ahead and say it: It's your fault. Look, I really like you, you're truly a good guy, I think. I'm so sorry. I'm picking you. On behalf of all the fat girls, I'm making you represent all the guys. Why do you hate us so much? What is is about the basics of human happiness, feeling attractive, feeling loved, having guys chase after us, that's just not in the cards for us? Nope. Not for us.
How is that fair? And why am I supposed to just accept it?"
Louis counters by saying that he has, in fact, dated a fat girl before, but Vanessa instantly calls his bluff:
"No, no, no, I didn't say have you ever fucked a fat girl, Louis. I'm sure you have. Every guy has. I mean, when I met you, if I had said, 'Hey, do you want to go to the bathroom and screw on a big can of peaches?' you would have gone for it. No, I'm saying, have you ever dated a fat girl. Have you ever kissed a fat girl? Have you ever wooed a fat girl? Have you ever held hands with a fat girl? Have you ever walked down the street in the light of day, holding hands, with a big girl like me?"
Listening to this speech, I teared up with hurt and rage and all that nonsense that clogs up the psyche of a woman who's never been skinny. Because, I, too, have felt inhuman. Comments like Patrick's are the least of the meanness and disregard I've been treated with by guys since the days of Duck, Duck Goose! I've got my own merry band of trolls on this very site who beg that I cover my big fat face with a paper bag whenever my photo accompanies a story. The fat-girl bashing is real, and so is the subtle, insidious invisibility that cloaks us in the eyes of more people than wish to admit it.
But, there are others who feel differently — many more than you think. This may stun the Patricks of the world, but there are men who manage to find fat girls attractive; men who don't need to be guilted into hand-holding with six-minute monologues about cultural injustice. You don't need to be a fetishist to see the beauty (sexiness? Too far?) in a woman who shops in the big girl's section. You don't need to be visually impaired to fall in love with a fat chick. We're not all self-deluded charity cases who'll take whatever we can get.
Photo: Courtesy of FX.
This speech also says something pretty nasty about men and how lacking they can be. It's a generalization that hurts both men and women, because it reinforces the notion to all of us that a man is not okay if he holds hands with a fat woman. Louis CK clearly falls (or, perhaps, once fell) into the category of Men Who Don't Date Fat Chicks Because, Nah. With this speech he shines the light on his own shortcomings. That's what he does. That's what we love him for.
For me, it sucks to be a fat girl, sometimes. And, sometimes, I realize it's really not that bad. Most of the voices in my head are old, knocking around from childhood and adolescence. When I listen to them, that's when it sucks — not when I'm out walking around in my city or hanging out with my boyfriend, neither of whom treat me as anything less than who I am. In fact, I experience so much more of the other side of the story that when I hear a shitty comment about plus-size burlesque performers, I'm sort of stunned.
Don't get me wrong — I was overwhelmed by the speech in last night's Louie, and it's something that needed to be said, especially by a comic who inhabits this very double standard on stage, constantly. But, this monologue shined the light on his own problems (and his problem with his problem). And, if that self-awareness leads more guys to look at their own ugliness, then great. Because, that's what it's really about — their ugliness.