Tuesday night’s episode of This Is Us was an ode to the triplets’ twenties. Randall (Sterling K. Brown), Kevin (Justin Hartley), and Kate (Chrissy Metz) navigate pivotal moments in their lives as only the Pearson family can. Randall is awaiting the birth of his first child. Kevin was the worst even before he became an actor; he tries to steal his friend’s part in a movie. And Kate is sleeping with a married man. I was particularly interested in the latter narrative because it says a lot about how the show handles Kate’s, a plus-sized woman, sexuality.
Before she became her brother’s assistant, Kate was still living on the East Coast, taking night school classes, and working as a waitress in a diner. One of her regular customers, Steve (Josh Braaten) goes out of his way to get her attention, and one day she finally decides to pursue things a little further. She shows up at his neighborhood bar, and he is surprised, but happy, to see her. When his friends notice them talking, he suggests that they go somewhere more “quiet.” This moment was probably triggering for any plus-sized viewer who has met potential suitors only interested in them behind closed doors. But Kate invites him back to her apartment anyway.
After they sleep together, and he is in a hurry to leave, Kate correctly deduces that he’s married, a hunch she had before she slept with him. It was the fact that he was cheating on his wife, not necessarily that he was ashamed of Kate or her body, that made him quick to leave the prying eyes of his friends at the bar. Kate nonchalantly calls Steve out on it in a way that suggests she’s been in similar situations before. She also talks about her own sex life as a waiting game for something to “feel right.” And unlike the scene at the bar, this is something that any number of twentysomethings might identify with.
There are a lot of myths about what sex and dating are like for plus-sized women, many of which feed into the idea of them being undesirable and less likely to find fulfilling romantic sexual partners. And while it’s true that our body-obsessed culture has certain ramifications for plus-sized women, we are not hopeless and perpetually lost in the dating department. The trainwreck that is Kate’s sex life in her twenties is more a symptom of her youth than her size. As we all know, she is currently in an extremely loving relationship with Toby (Chris Sullivan) and expecting a child. She had to thwart the advances of another man at fat camp.
This is what This Is Us gets right about Kate’s sexuality. The show is not afraid to explore the unique experience of plus-sized people, but with Kate, they haven’t built a character made up of stereotypes and tropes, either. A lot of women of all different sizes have shitty dating experiences in their twenties — Kate’s are not exceptional. She has self-esteem and body image issues, and they weren’t solved when she met her Prince Toby.