Plus-sized and Proud: Celebrating the Big, Beautiful Women of Film and Television

Big girls just don't have it easy on the big or small screen. While large men have had svelte, commercially attractive wives since Ralph Kramden, the reverse is rarely seen. Plus-sized women barely get to date. 

Consequently, I grew up feeling that I couldn’t date. Having been a big girl all my life, I go through cycles of self love and self loathing. I prefer the moments of love, of course. While I believe that being overweight carries health risks, and know that most of us big girls need a change, sitting around beating yourself up over it does none of us any good. I don't believe every woman who's overweight (which is more than half of us in America) is a sad sack of potatoes, sitting on the couch, eating ice cream with a giant spoon, crying about her love life. Many factors can make a person overweight. And, whether it's something they want to change or not, a woman can be active, happy and fulfilled while being big. Whether you're in a place of transition or acceptance, it's so much better to love yourself, no matter how much of yourself there is to love. The problem is how to get to that place and stay there.

The Entertainment industry certainly doesn't help. Most of what you see in film and television seems tailored to make you feel ashamed of yourself or envious of those without a few extra pounds. See how they date! Look how admired they are! Check them out in their bikinis, getting out of countless pools in slow motion while the camera caresses their every jiggle-free move! Don't you wish you could be like them? Considering about ninety percent of the women on American TV are that girl, it's hard for me to look at myself and feel like I'm attractive. 

But, every so often, there comes a big girl that makes me preen just a little. She makes me look at my curves and find them womanly and desirable. I'm not talking about those chubby, supporting characters, whining to the skinny lead about their dateless lives, spreading hips, and that size four dress they have hanging on their closet doors to motivate them. I'm talking about the ones that love themselves, love their bodies, and in turn, make me love mine just a little. So here's my list, just a few of the BBWs that have made me feel that my size is the sexiest through the years.

[img_assist|nid=135|title=Nell Carter|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=200|height=183]

Nell Carter, seen above looking lovely in Ain't Misbehavin, was an  idol of my childhood. Gimme a Break was in reruns when I was little, but I watched it every day after school. And "Nell Harper" was just the coolest babysitter ever. I saw she was big, but was too young to think it was a bad thing. I just saw a lady who was funny and pretty and sang like an angel.

[img_assist|nid=136|title=Mindy Cohn|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=153|height=200]

"Who wants to be a skinny pencil? I'm happy being a magic marker!" 

I looked up to the Facts of Life girls as a kid.  They were all great girls. But Mindy Cohn's Natalie was a particular favorite of mine. She had most of the snarky lines, but that didn't translate to her constantly being self-deprecating about her weight as most "fat and funny" types do in sitcoms. She was very comfortable in her skin and dated just as much as the other girls, if not more. In fact, most of the storylines involving sex went to Natalie. She was kind of a man magnet.

[img_assist|nid=137|title=Miss Piggy|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=163|height=200]

As a little girl, Miss Piggy was my first idol.  I know, I know. She's a puppet. But to me, she was a role model. She wasn't just beautiful, with her shiny lavender gloves, sparkling gowns, blonde locks flowing from a head always thrown coquettishly back, she was confident and assertive. Maybe a little too much of both, but that's just how a pig has to be to make it in this world. And, for a pig and a plus sized puppet, she was and still remains the most glamorous Muppet.

[img_assist|nid=138|title=Tracy Turnblad then|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=200|height=190][img_assist|nid=139|title=Tracy Turnblad now|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=200|height=148]

Whether she's played by Ricki Lake, Nikki Blonsky, or countless other large and lovely girls, Hairspray's Tracy Turnblad is a great role model for young, rotund girls such as I was. She's happy with who she is and how she looks in spite of a haranguing (at first) mother pushing diets and a skinny, blonde rival constantly undermining her. She just doesn't care what anyone says. She goes after her dreams, fights for what she believes in, and even manages to snag the cute guy. 


Before Mo'nique snagged an Oscar for playing what is arguably the scariest mother since Mommie Dearest in Precious, she played Nikki Parker, all at once, a mother, a college student, and an unrepentant man-chaser (I know I was rooting for her to finally win the heart of Professor Oglevee if only because she wanted it so badly).  All three endeavors were a wild success. She raised a fashion designer, became valedictorian, and married the man of her dreams. How's that for Big Girl Makes Good?

[img_assist|nid=141|title=Dawn French|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=190|height=200]

Dawn French might not be well known on this side of the Atlantic, but she's a household name in the UK.  She's half of the comedy team of French & Saunders (with her bestie, Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous fame). But her biggest solo endeavor was The Vicar of Dibley as Geraldine Granger, a female vicar sent to a small and traditional village that was obviously expecting "a bloke - beard, bible, bad breath." And instead they got a "babe with a bob cut and a magnificent bosom." Throughout the sitcom, she melts even the hardest hearts in the village with her humor and compassion, and even has quite the love life... for a vicar. She projected this confidence and joyfulness in every episode that wasn't all about the character - it was just Dawn. She has recently lost a great deal of weight and congratulations to her! But she's never been down on herself through the years, no matter her size. I suppose it all comes down to how she grew up: "It was my father who taught me to value myself. He told me that I was uncommonly beautiful and that I was the most precious thing in his life." What a lovely way to see yourself.

[img_assist|nid=142|title=America Ferrera|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=150|height=200]

America Ferrera, seen above in her breakout role in Real Women Have Curves, has always lingered above svelte. I certainly wouldn't have called her heavy in Ugly Betty, but every other character did. It never bothered her, though. Betty was plucky and optimistic and her dating life never suffered. But it was Ana in the above movie that made me feel liberated. I'll always remember the scene where Ana incites all the women in the sewing shop to strip down to their skivvies on a hot day and giggle over their bumps and jiggly bits as her mother scolds them for showing their imperfect bodies. There's something in that scene that makes me feel free. No, we aren't the commercial ideal. But here we are!

[img_assist|nid=143|title=Brooke Elliott|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=150|height=200]

Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva is not a perfect show. But it's a nice way to spend a summer evening and is refreshing in that its lead actress has a size in the double digits. Brooke Elliott plays Jane/Deb, who is an aspiring model stuck in the body of a plus-sized attorney. She had Jane's brain and all the knowledge contained therein, but Deb's soul and essence, letting a big girl walk around with the confidence of a cover girl. If only we all could! I have little nitpicks with the show, but one thing I can't fault is how it makes me feel. Jane's weight never seems to be much of an issue. You'd think Deb/Jane might have forced her new body into diet mode at some point, but she never did. She seems to embrace her new curves, treat them to pretty dresses and suits, parade them around for all the world to see. And see Jane date! She might pine after Deb's semi-widowed boyfriend on the side, but it doesn't stop her from seeing what's out there for her in her new body. She moves with grace and self-assurance. Or Brooke Elliott does. Isn't she just lovely?

[img_assist|nid=144|title=Melissa McCarthy|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=160|height=200]

Speaking of lovely... Melissa McCarthy pretty much stole the show in Bridesmaids (I know I walked out quoting her and... mostly her. And now she's Oscar nominated for it!). She's also nabbed an Emmy for playing one of the title roles in Mike and Molly, a sitcom about a plus sized couple. I could do without some of the constant self-deprecation in the show, but I also love that it exists and shows that fat people don't have to put their love life on hold to date, waiting to shed those extra pounds. Melissa's character puts herself out there and even makes the first move in the pilot. She seems fairly confident she'll be accepted and why wouldn't she be? Just look at those dimples!

[img_assist|nid=145|title=Queen Latifah|desc=|link=none|align=middle|width=137|height=200]

Last, but definitely not least, is Queen Latifah. What can I say? From rapper to singer to actress, she's been nominated for every award that counts multiple times and also won a few. And if that wasn't enough, she's a Cover Girl spokesmodel! Of course she is! She can wear the hell out of a dress! I've never seen a red carpet photo of her that didn't make me stop and stare. She's beautiful, hard working, self-made, level-headed, always positive, always confident. She's the ultimate role model for women of a certain size.

So there you have it. Ten women who've always made me feel my curves don't need to hide from the world. They can and should be flaunted. How about you? Whether you're big or small, do you have an actress in mind who makes fat look fabulous?