How This Is Us Managed To Avoid The Trap Of Fat-Shaming

Photo: Courtesy of Ron Batzdorff/NBC.

The Pearson family is finally back in our lives for season 2 of This Is Us. I only found myself on the verge of tears once during Tuesday night’s season premiere, which is an exceptionally low number for a show like this. We are closer than ever to Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) inevitable death, and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) is still the realest. It looks like Kate (Chrissy Metz) is evolving this season, too. She is serious about pursuing a singing career, following the same passion as her mom. This Is Us is moving us right along, especially when it comes to Kate's evolving storyline. Specifically, they've managed to avoid the easy trap of fat-shaming.

During the season premiere, Kate works up the nerve to go to an audition on her birthday. She arrives and feels extremely self-conscious surrounded by thin women in little black dresses and heels. She leaves before her turn is even up.

Later, at dinner with her brother Kevin (Justin Hartley) and fiancé Toby (Chris Sullivan), things go south when Toby finds out she not only ditched the audition, but told Kevin about it first. The two men bicker over whose job it is to protect Kate, and she shuts them both down, because she’s a grown woman and doesn’t need either of them get shit done for her. (YASSS!) This determination to be self-sufficient is enough fuel for her to return to the audition. Kate catches the team as they are wrapping up for the day, but she is a woman on a mission and convinces them to give her a shot. She only gets out a few notes before the head honcho cuts her off. But Kate is on fire. She refuses to be treated as less than just because of her size, and she tells him so. Pointing to the woman on stage, Kate says she refuses to be dismissed because she doesn’t wear a size two. It’s a moment where body inclusivity is thrust to the forefront, and it’s great.

This would have been a good scene even if the auditioner had said “too bad, that’s just the way it goes.” Kate's moment of courage would have still been an inspiring clap back on the fatphobia that plagues the entertainment industry. But This Is Us did even better. The male auditioner asked the size-two woman Kate singled out to sing the same song that Kate had just attempted. She did a much better job. “I don’t care what size you are,” the man running the audition told Kate. “You’re just not good enough.” He wasn’t saying it to be mean, he was telling the truth. She needed to work on her craft, not obsess about her looks as the deciding factor on whether or not she makes it.

One of the critiques of Metz’s This Is Us character during the first season was that Kate perpetuated a narrative that the lives of people who are overweight are consumed by body obsession and a desire to lose weight. As a fat girl, I understood. It’s true that being fat in America means constantly navigating the politics of beauty, space, and desire on top of the logistical barriers like shopping and traveling. However, people on the higher end of the weight spectrum are still capable of having dreams and anxieties that don’t stem from their physical appearance. We are still human beings. Kate’s reality check about how she was perceived by the group of people she was auditioning for felt like a direct response to the critics who said the show wouldn’t do it.

Because This Is Us loves to put a neat, sappy bow on everything, I’m open to the idea that this scene skirts around the actual fat-shaming that happens in music and the entertainment industry at large. But the fact that Metz landed herself a role on one of the biggest shows of the year gives them every right to be the series that does it.

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