In Response to the Unacceptable Fat Shaming on the Gilmore Girls Relaunch (No Spoilers)

I love Gilmore Girls. My social media followers know I’ve been talking about the impending Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life four episode revival on Netflix for months. I even went to one of the Luke’s diner pop-up events to get in on the fan frenzy!

I identify with all three generations of Gilmore Girls. Like me, Emily Gilmore derives such satisfaction from curating an amazing event. Rory’s place among the strong personality conflicts between Lorelei and Emily is very reminiscent of my family’s dynamic. But it’s Lorelei who I relate to most of all. Her vulnerability that she tries so hard to mask, her fierce (to a fault) independence, her compulsion to make everything as fun as possible. I adore her.

I have been savoring the show’s relaunch since Friday. I finally got to the “Summer” episode and was shocked when the episode opened with Rory and Lorelei fat shaming the people of Stars Hollow at the municipal pool. They sit on lounge chairs and critique fat bodies, including someone they call “Back Fat Pat.” I thought, Surely this is going to be redeemed by some kind of pie in the face embarrassment for the protagonists. The redemption never came.

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In fact, the fat shaming continued in another scene at the pool, this time with “Back Fat Pat” simply appearing in a speedo, his fat body framed in the shot headless–all we ever see of Pat is a fat body in tight swim trunks. He is simply a body for Lorelei and Rory to make fun of for not conforming to cultural body standards.

The Headless Fatty, a term coined by the fabulous Dr. Charlotte Cooper, is a trope that the news loves to use when talking about “obesity” that is incredibly harmful to fat people. It takes the humanity away and reduces them to a body that society labels imperfect. I have rarely seen this employed in a fictional context and was horrified to see the Gilmore Girls relaunch perpetuating it.

It hurt a lot to watch it happening on a show I love. Here’s the character I relate to most ruthlessly mocking fat bodies. It’s never okay to talk about someone else’s body–I like to say “My body is nobody’s business but my own, and neither is anyone else’s.”

bevinshameless2010suitPhoto by Sophie Spinelle of Shameless Photography.

Gilmore Girls has a real shot to be groundbreaking in terms of fat acceptance. Their show ran from 2000-2007 and featured a main character, Sookie, who was fat. Sure, she was the fat best friend, a role fat people have been occupying forever. But she was at least a fleshed out character, with a romantic life and normalized by the show. Melissa McCarthy, the actress who played Sookie, went on to become an incredibly successful movie actress and fashion designer. The series also included a body diverse cast of supporting characters, including Babette, Miss Patty and Taylor. None of these people has been punished or mocked for their size on the show.

In spite of launching the career of one of the most famous fat women in the world, the original series Gilmore Girls was not immune to casual fatphobia, homophobia and transphobia. Season Four was especially ripe with casual fatphobia.

In my house we use a casual call out system to keep ourselves from allowing fat shaming (or racism, slut shaming, ageism, etc…) to become normalized. I don’t ever want to be hypnotized into thinking that any of that stuff is okay or normal. When we see something, we call it out. “Casual fatphobia,” is all you need to say to remind yourself that all bodies are good bodies and what dominant paradigm the show you’re watching is perpetuating.

I couldn’t help but notice that during their fat mocking, Lorelei and Rory are bundled up in caftans and dresses and not exposing their bodies in any way. The fact that they are doing their body shaming at a pool while totally covering up their own bodies is an interesting juxtaposition. I wonder if it is a commentary on Lorelei and Rory’s body images.

roryloreleiwalkThese aren’t the full caftans from the scene but a similar look.

I like to think about judgement as an exponential force–when you point a finger you have three pointing back at you. This is not just a metaphor. Try pointing your finger and notice where the rest of your fingers rest. I wonder if the styling choice to have them covered up while mocking people like Pat who don’t care about their body being exposed was something we could read into their characters? Were the Palladinos intentionally creating this situation as a commentary on Lorelei and Rory? If they did, they completely failed by not later addressing it.

For me this comes back down to body currency, a concept I learned from Jes Baker of The Militant Baker. Body currency is the idea that certain bodies have more value than others. Lorelei and Rory are mocking people based on their perceived lack of body currency by being fat. When you invest in body currency, the self-judgement (whether for that same thing or for other flaws) is exponentially higher. The choice to stay in judgement, stay invested in body currency, means that you’ll never be free. Everyone is at risk of losing their body currency–our bodies are always aging, becoming fat is always a risk. We are literally all only temporarily able-bodied. Giving up on judgement and disinvesting in body currency is a practice that makes your life so much easier to live.

I thought about Lorelei’s mother and Rory’s Grandmother, Emily who is so full of judgment and clearly so unhappy. Though Lorelei eschews everything her mother holds dear, she is perpetuating one of Emily’s worst character traits.

Rory and Lorelei are both impossibly skinny for how much junk food they eat. We all know folks who eat like that and don’t gain weight–a constant statistic that comes up the Health at Every Size Movement. Plenty of fat bodies are more healthy than the Loreleis and Rorys of the world.

Body positivity is having a heyday. Over half of all US women are size 16 and up, in the past two years we’ve had a plus size model on the cover of Sports Illustrated, a size 22 supermodel on the cover of People Magazine, and national ad campaigns that humanize fat people and recognize size diversity as simply a human characteristic.

In this climate of body positivity, the Palladinos choose to perpetuate disgust of fat bodies rather than create something else to show off Rory and Lorelei’s witty banter. A topic that doesn’t alienate half of their audience. They chose to put teens and pre teen audience members at further risk for disordered eating and fat teens at further suicide risk.

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In Drumpf’s America it is so vital that we engage critically with our news and our media. We cannot let these things hypnotize us and we cannot normalize discrimination. To be truly body positive is to work in solidarity with all bodies–ages, races, sexualities, gender expressions, religions, abilities. Thus, we must also resist normalizing racism, islamophobia, anti-semitism, misogyny, whorephobia, ageism, and all other forms of body shaming.Mocking fat bodies is not acceptable, it is not okay that this was happening on the Gilmore Girls relaunch.

These scenes have taken something I had a lot of joy about (they even played one of my favorite Dolly Parton songs over the credits for Episode One) and soured it for me. I still love it, I still cried through much of the last episode, but there’s a pall on a thing I used to love with full fledged enthusiasm.

I wonder if Melissa McCarthy said anything to the Palladinos after watching those scenes with Lorelei and Rory at the pool? I wonder if a body positive ally has brought this up with the Palladinos? I wonder if they would be willing to offer an apology and a promise to not perpetuate body fascism in further Gilmore Girls relaunches?

I believe all bodies are worthy of love exactly as they are. I’m so disappointed that a show that did so much for body diversity on TV does not feel the same way.

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