It’s been a while since my last post and if you follow me on Facebook and Instagram, you know about the unexpected death of my beloved laptop. (Poor thing was only 2 years old…) However, thanks to my good friend and mentor, I now have a borrowed laptop to work on which has allowed me access to resume work on my blog. And I’m happy to report that I have a few outfit posts in the works as well so stay tuned for that. That said, let’s move on to today’s discussion: animated plus size characters.
Animation is an often snubbed form of media as it is usually geared towards children. For the most part this is our first introduction to Western standards of beauty (or at least it is here in the US) with fat bodies not being the norm. These often negative portrayals, though many are brief, tend to perpetuate negative stereotypes and body image perception, even more than live action portrayals. Media on a whole reflects society’s standards and beliefs of body image, but animators usually exaggerate it as they see fit, usually for a “comedic effect.”
I present to you Exhibit A.
So when we are continuously fed this idea that being bigger makes a plus size person undesirable and the punchline to a joke, it limits what they are capable of which is not a message you’d want for any kid. Fortunately, there were a few positive representations that do make it to the screen that helps change this visual practice. By “positive” characters I mean that their characterizations and story lines are not specially linked to their size or limited to archetypes like comedic relief, instead they are truly fleshed out personalities. As one can expect these characters had brief appearances in their respective films or series, but they do leave quite the impression as they challenge the controlled image of what a plus size character is. With that in mind, here are my top 5 positive animated plus size characters.
**It stands to reason that there are spoilers ahead, so consider yourself warned.**
Disclaimer: This list is completely made up of female characters, however, I am considering making another list specifically about plus size men in the near future.
5.) Ursula from Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989)
Of course Disney’s only major plus size character had to be on this list. An icon to both the body positive and plus size communities, she is proud and unapologetic about the body she has, even though during the course of the film she demonstrates that she has the power to shape-shift at will. That’s right, this is a form she willingly chose to have even while surrounded by conventionally attractive mer-folk. Yes she is a villain, which puts her in the “fat villain” archetype, yet she is the first to step out of many plus size fashion taboos; especially when you consider when this film was released.
Ursula wears a sweetheart neck sleeveless gown with a low back that emphasizes the love-handles and curves she has. Moreover, she has a protruding belly that is major step away from the traditionally accepted hourglass plus size body type. With her bold eye-shadow and lipstick, she’s glamorous and she means to be seen. Putting her physical attributes aside, Ursula isn’t just a self loving villain, she has motives that are only brought forward after being provoked. Originally a member of the Atlantican royal court, she was banished for an unknown reason prior to the start of the film and became a very astute businesswoman out of necessity, getting what she wanted from mer-people that came to her for help. If they are unable to fulfill the bargain she turned them into a polyp. She’s really intelligent which makes it easy for her to manipulate others much like a used car salesman. So when it comes to her and Ariel, she sees a chance to make the biggest deal in her life and takes it. Its clear that revenge on King Triton motivates this particular deal, yet Ursula does warn Ariel of her fate should she fail. If she were evil just for the sake of being evil, she wouldn’t have taken that extra measure.
4.) Patricia “Big Patty” Smith from Hey Arnold (1996-2004)
One of the most irritating stereotypes that come with being plus size is the idea that being bigger some how makes a plus size woman physically stronger and tougher than anyone else. This belief is the foundation behind the character of Patricia Smith, who is referred to as “Big Patty” by her classmates. She starts off as a bully with a bad temper, later revealing that she only puts up that front because she knows that is what people expect when they see her. She knows what she looks like and deals with the situation the best way she can at the time. Patty is overall a realistic portrayal of a growing young woman. Sweet, kind, shy, and insecure, she is a work in process. She definitely deserved more screen time in the series, though I hear that she is returning in the new Hey Arnold movie to be released next year so here’s hoping for more of her journey.
3.) Grenda Grendinator from Gravity Falls (2012 – 2016)
Ok so I know I am going to get a lot of flack for this one, especially as I placed her high on my list, but there is a major reason for this. For those of you who have yet to watch Gravity Falls, Grenda is friends with one of the series’ lead characters named Mabel. With her deep masculine voice and physical strength it would be so easy to consider her as a recurring joke by the show’s creators, yet the opposite is true.
Just like the case of “Big Pattie”, Grenda doesn’t adhere to the traditional roles or body standard of femininity and this doesn’t invalidate her gender identity in any way. (She even gets the guy, the Baron of Austria no less, by just being who she is even after her two best friends tried to keep her away for her questionable flirting style.) Characters that are not traditionally feminine but are still accepted as girls is something that is so rare in mainstream media and there should be more of it.
2.) Sophie Stanislovskievna Somorkov-Smirnoff from Anastasia (1997)
The French first cousin to the Dowager Empress Marie, the grandmother of the protagonist Anya/Anastasia and the Dowager Empress’ lady-in-waiting, she is the one who interviews all the young women claiming to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. She is spontaneous, sarcastic, kind and a fashionista in her own right, having a great sense of style. She is comfortable in her own skin and knows that she is beautiful. I mean, take a look at how greets the group when they show up at her door:
She’s only in the film for the final act but she is amazing in the little span of time she has. I do know some people who are quick to state that her role in the movie falls within the “fat best friend” trope, however, I beg to differ. For one thing, Sophie arranges for Anya/Anastasia to encounter Marie at the Russian ballet. She deeply cares for her cousin enough to even go against her wishes and in order to reunite Marie with her beloved granddaughter. Secondly, she is linked romantically to Vladmir, a former Russian nobleman even before she makes her first appearance onscreen. The viewer isn’t given much insight to the history between the two characters, yet it is clear that they had some kind of relationship possibly before the revolution that had forced the Dowager Empress to Paris. He is incredibly doting on Sofie, making great care to show how much she means to him during her musical number.
Note: Recently I’ve heard that an Anastasia musical is in the works to premiere on Broadway in Spring 2017, yet from the first released images it seems that Sophie has been cast as a straight size woman. While this character was voiced by none other than Broadway icon, Bernadette Peters, who is not plus size, I truly hope they decide to give the role to a plus size actress. We need positive representation on “The Great White Way” too.
1.) Lizzie Devine from Codename: Kids Next Door (2002-2008)
This is a character that is sadly forgotten when it comes to talking about positive plus representation in media, though this could be because she is only in a handful of episodes from this six season-long show and most of her arch is tied to her boyfriend, Nigel (Numbuh 1 and leader of KND Sector V). Lizzie Devine was introduced to the show in Season 1 as a potential villain, her “evil” actions provoked by Nigel, who refuses to hold her hand in public as well as not acknowledge their relationship in front of his friends. She is a very passionate person and doesn’t hold back on telling people what she thinks and feels; especially to her “Nigie” (her affectionate nickname for Nigel).
Lizzie’s size and weight is not a major character trait or plot point, with the characters never even making mention about it. As the girlfriend to a KND sector leader surprisingly she is not typecast as a damsel-in-distress, instead she is brought in to take part in KND missions, joining temporarily as Numbuh 49, saves the members of Sector V on multiple occasions, and forcibly leads a mission to see how difficult Nigel’s leadership role can be. Additionally, there are many instances within the series that take the time to develop just how intelligent and ambitious Lizzie is. In one episode, in which she is kidnapped by the Fourth Grade President-for-life during a snow day, when asked if she ever thought about being queen Lizzie states that she would like to be a queen or a real estate appraiser when she grows up. When told by her kidnapper that he can make her dream come true, Lizzie tells him the following: “Oh,I don’t know…housing construction is weak this quarter and the region is in a buying slump. And with all of this re-zoning taking place, etc…” Clearly she’s a young woman who knows what she wants.
For fans of the show, like the actual characters in the series, Lizzie is possessive, overbearing and bossy, however, I believe her behavior is linked to her sense of self . Lizzie is well aware of her worth and she doesn’t lower those standards for anyone, even for someone she loves. By the end of the series, feeling unappreciated and neglected, she leaves Nigel. She realizes that although she loves her boyfriend and he loves her, she doesn’t want to come second to the KND. This is a major development because when it comes to romantic relationships, a plus size character is usually left settling for what they can get and not demanding for what they deserve.
The only thing that separates a thin character and a plus size character is that the latter just weighs more. Beyond that, they are as diverse in personality, background and style as anyone who isn’t overweight. As you can see we have some positive representations within a long negative history, however, none of the characters on this list has a lead role in her own film or series. Moreover, if you take a second look at my list you’ll notice that none of them are woman of color.
I am still waiting for the day that we get a plus size Disney princess and while there are those that state having such a character promotes unhealthy bodies and obesity this simple change would greatly influence an increase of positive representations of plus size women in media on a whole. With the great changes taking place thanks to the work of the body positivity movement and the demand for inclusive fashion by bloggers, I have a feeling that we are getting closer to this becoming a reality.
What do you think of my list? Is there any animated character that I may have ignored that you believe should be on it?