From the very first episode of This Is Us, something central to Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) storyline has been her weight — whether it's been her desire to change her body or the ways she feels that her weight affects her relationships.
Now, in season 4, that part of her life isn't being taken out of focus, but instead coming into play in a new way. Though some would like the series to tell another story about the character, This Is Us may be ramping up to handle the topic of Kate’s struggles with body image better than it has in the past.
When we first met Kate, her life was all about “finally” losing the weight she’d been focused on for years. This became a recurring theme in each season; either Kate was trying to lose weight or considering whether or not she should have weight loss surgery. So much of the discussion of Kate's weight was negative, and while that remains partly true, in season 4, there's something a little different happening: This Is Us is giving more time to how the outside world affects Kate's body image and the societal factors that drive women to feel they must lose weight, rather than focusing directly on the results (i.e. Kate's desire to change her body).
At first, Kate was able to stop focusing on her weight completely after giving birth to baby Jack. Not only is new motherhood overwhelming in and of itself, but Jack also spent time in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before she and Toby were able to bring him home. After that, they found out that their son is blind. Caring for a newborn, especially a newborn with special needs, doesn't leave much space for a new parent to focus on their body — but then, Kate found out that was exactly what Toby was doing.
When Toby went off and got buff without Kate it really seemed to throw her for a loop. Toby’s heart attack and new fatherhood were his motivations, but Kate was hit hard by the change. She seemed insulted, and worried that Toby thought she didn’t care about their son enough to do the same, especially after Toby mentioned wanting to get in shape to be healthy and able to care for Jack. Later, Kate wonders — but only for a brief moment — whether or not Toby's weight loss is affecting his desire towards her (he immediately asserts that it definitely hasn't changed a thing). But through all of these small moments, we are seeing how one partner's body changing can put pressure on a romantic relationship, and the other partner's body image.
In the same time, Kate is watching Toby’s overall life seemingly improve, alongside this different body and a new job, and she's conflating the two. It's this dynamic that underlies the moment in which she meets Toby's coworkers for the first time and ends up having to explain that she can’t fit in a booth at a restaurant.
Seeing Kate try to make light of the situation so everyone else wouldn't feel awkward, while ignoring her own feelings, is a small but powerful explanation of why she's approached her body the way she has since season 1. Kate's weight loss journey has never been about how she feels about herself, but about how she should make herself smaller to make everyone else — be it her mother or Hollywood types — more comfortable. For the first time, this season, viewers are actually seeing those societal factors — however small they may seem — in action. Hopefully, that means This Is Us is finally ready to address the ways moments like this work to otherize plus size women, rather than just showing viewers the results of that pressure.
Of course, it’s hard to say what the “right” way to discuss weight is, because any discussion of the subject is inherently so personal to each individual. But for Kate, This Is Us seems to be doing a better job than ever before at sharing what her individual experience is — and it's one that some viewers have said they can relate to:
Kate has long felt that she needs to make herself small, and now that she's married to a man who’s changed his body and can operate more easily in social situations like the co-worker dinner, she'll have to handle that knee-jerk desire to diminish herself. The series is essentially now put on a path to explore what this new set-up means for Kate, who has long been susceptible to outside pressure, especially the kind that comes from comparison.
Whatever Kate decides to do, ultimately, the healthiest way for her and the show to handle those next steps is to give her a path to keeping her self worth separate from the persistent specter that is potential weight loss. By opening the character up to these kinds of uncomfortable discussions, the series is setting up an opportunity to do just that. Hopefully, the writers are able to follow through.