Plus-size representation on TV needs a lot of work.
It’s rare to see characters who aren’t thin in lead roles. But even when we do, those characters are often defined by their size, with stories revolving around weight loss struggles («This Is Us») a continued barrage of fat jokes («American Housewife»), or thin actors wearing fat suits in flashbacks («Friends,» «New Girl»).
This is one reason why Paula Proctor is so damn awesome.
If you missed the memo, Paula is the hilarious paralegal BFF to the series’ star, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), on The CW’s critically acclaimed musical romcom «Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.» Every week, the character, portrayed by Broadway alum Donna Lynne Champlin, challenges a status quo that says plus-size characters aren’t deserving of the same complex, nuanced storylines their slimmer counterparts receive.
In an interview with Bust magazine in 2016, Champlin opened up about why playing Paula has been so refreshing.
On the show, viewers have watched Paula struggle to balance family commitments with law school, iron out relationship woes with friends, and get swept off her feet by a man that’s (gasp!) not her husband. She’s also one of few characters on TV to have had an abortion and not be punished or shamed for it. A storyline we haven’t seen unfold, however, is one involving Paula’s weight.
As Champlin explained to Bust:
There has not been one line in this entire show for the entire season that addresses my weight. And we’re always eating real food — donuts, burritos. We’re always drinking. That’s a huge thing for us that we’re really eating. We’re not sipping [cups] of shit that have nothing in them.
«My type is middle-aged woman, not thin,» Champlin said. «I look like the average American middle-aged woman. The only TV roles I’ve ever had were for the secretary, the cop, the nurse. The acceptable nonsexual place for a middle-aged woman to be on TV. They would be 1-2 lines and that was it, and never be a series regular. That was unheard of.»
Thanks to actors like Champlin and roles like Paula, we’ve seen progress on plus-size representation on TV. But we have a long way to go.
Actors like Champlin or Melissa McCarthy — now a true, money-making Hollywood star — have certainly helped open doors for other women who aren’t a size 2 or 4 or 6 or even an 8. The average American woman is a size 16.
Even when those doors are open to plus-size actors, however, we still «treat them like crap,» Jezebel pointed out. Comedian Rebel Wilson’s career has taken off in recent years, for instance — but her weight is often the butt of her jokes. Chrissy Metz worked her way into the hearts of millions starring in NBC’s «This Is Us,» but her character’s opening scene was her staring quietly at a sweet treat in the refrigerator, fighting the temptation to take a bite.
That’s why Paula’s presence on «Crazy Ex-Girlfriend» is truly making a difference to viewers of all sizes.
When Paula donned a fitted, red dress in one musical number, the power of representation spoke loud and clear.
«The internet exploded with plus-size women saying, ‘Where the fuck did you get that dress? It’s amazing,'» Champlin told Bust.
What I loved about it, is it was tight. There was no apologizing me and hiding me. The boobs were up, and the dress was tight, and that thing sold out online in a matter of minutes.
— Donna Lynne Champlin (@DLChamplin) November 26, 2015
If TV writers are smart, they’ll not only include more plus-size characters in their shows, but they’ll also swap those tired fat-shaming, weight-centric storylines for more powerful, fearless, red dress scenes like Paula’s.