The One with the Negative Body Image

People today, especially young girls, are pressured to look a certain way in which society considers beautiful, creating an array of negative body images and insecurities. In Kelly Hager’s Keywords for Children’s Literature essay on “Body”, Hager touches on this issue stating that “mass culture circulates bodies promiscuously; its technologies and commercial logic ensure the production of desirable body images made available to the widest market (21).” She also exemplifies how in literature it is a common theme to see that “heavy characters are all represented as sexually promiscuous, passive and powerless, while thin characters appear responsible and powerful (21).” Constant negative depictions of “fat” characters give off the impression that only thin people are desirable. This reminded me of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. In this story we see Claudia and Frieda discussing that being “big and fat” would make them “ruined” in society’s eyes. Another example of body image in this story is Pecola’s obsession with having the bluest eyes. To her, the only way she will consider herself beautiful is by having “the blue eyes of a little white girl (204).”

The idea of having society’s perfect body is often seen in modern television shows and movies. For example, in the TV show “Friends” there is a running joke throughout the series about how Monica used to be extremely overweight. In the episode “The One with the Nap Partners”, we find out that Chandler, who is now engaged to Monica, had previously broken up with a girl from summer camp once she “got fat.” Knowing how degrading that feels, Monica forces Chandler to go find this woman, who is now thin and beautiful, and apologize to her. This demonstrates how many girls are taught to think that no one will find them attractive if they are not thin.

Many girls today try to conform to the social norms of beauty by trying to look like the thin “beautiful” girls shown in magazines and on television. This expectation on beauty creates a negative body image for many girls, which can cause them to become very insecure and have trouble seeing themselves as beautiful. If more realistic body images were more publicly portrayed in media, perhaps there would be a less judgmental fixation towards the female body in pop culture.

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14 thoughts on “The One with the Negative Body Image”

  1. The storyline of this episode of friends was trying to portray “The Ugly Duckling” story, teaching Chandler not to discriminate against the overweight girl because she may end up being beautiful and thin as an adult. However, I think this is teaching the wrong moral to the issue. The true problem with the situation is that there is a stigma against this girl for being fat, and only once she is thin in adulthood does Chandler regret his actions because she changed to become society’s ideal of beauty. A better solution to the episode could have been accepting the woman for who she is and not necessarily for conforming to societies standards of her weight.

  2. I like how you address Monica’s backstory on Friends and discuss how it relates to society’s extreme beauty standards for girls and women. I have always been a big fan of Friends but thought that they could have delved into Monica’s struggle with appearances more rather than just using a fat version of her for comedic purposes. Girls of all shapes and sizes who see this representation of overweight people in the media may find it offensive.

    1. I feel the same way. I totally love watching Friends, who doesn’t? But I would have loved to see them do something more than just use Monica’s struggle with her weight as something to laugh and poke fun at. I understand that the show’s primary goal is to make the audience laugh, but I agree that young girls who watch this harmless joke could easily feel offended or ashamed about their own appearances.

  3. I used to watch Friends all the time, and never realized it could be tied to American Girlhood class! I’m glad that Monica forced him to apologize, because it sends a larger message to the audience that body shaming is unacceptable. Making people feel insecure about their bodies, whether overweight or not, should never be considered funny or morally acceptable.

  4. It is extremely true that a women who is overweight in anyway is rarely thought to be beautiful in today’s culture. There is way too much emphasis on being thin when in reality, being thin should be a very small fraction of what makes someone beautiful, if any part at all. “Friends” is the perfect example of this because, as an avid viewer, it is clear that the five of them constantly joke about and pick at the fact that Monica used to be fat as if it is this embarrassing, horrid quality. In this same episode you discuss, Chandler even hesitates when Monica asks him if he would still love her if she was fat. Love, as well as beauty, should not depend on someone’s weight, it should depend on character qualities, and society needs to realize this.

    P.S. I love that the title of your post goes along with the titles of the episodes 🙂

    1. I 100% agree with you. Even as the devoted Friends fan that I am, I don’t think that someone’s weight should at all be a factor when talking about love or beauty and definitely shouldn’t be something to make fun of. People come in all different shapes and sizes and they all deserved to feel loved based on their personality, regardless of what they look like. Like the old cliche says, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But I’m glad that at the end of this episode, Chandler does finally admit that he was wrong and stupid for breaking up with a girl just because she gained weight and adds that he loves Monica because of who she is as a person, and not because of her appearances.

  5. I think that this episode brings up an interesting conversation between Monica and Chandler. It is interesting to see Monica stick up for Chandler’s ex-girlfriend and protect this girls feelings. This past relationship of Chandler’s is stereotypical and too often portrayed in our society. As Nicole stated, “this demonstrates how many girls are taught to think that no one will find them attractive if they are not thin.” This is unfortunate and unhealthy for girls to think this way. There can be many different images of “beautiful” and it is unfair for our society to establish one social norm of beauty.

  6. I agree that pop culture works to lower girls’ self esteem by making fun or exploiting body image. It is extremely unfortunate that the media, which dictates a lot of our lives today, feels the need to target girls especially for the way they look. Prominent women especially are constantly talked about, not for their intelligence, but for the way they look, which sends a very negative message to young girls.

  7. I completely agree with you. I often question why and how our society decided skinny = beauty. In reality a healthy weight is often not what is depicted on the cover of magazines. Women are biologically designed to carry more fat weight than males and be slightly bigger. It is healthy for a women to have some fat. It is really eye opening to look at nutritionist’s and doctor’s charts for healthy weight. Often most girls worrying about their weight fall into the perfectly healthy range. Society and media just paint this unrealistic and sadly unhealthy image.

  8. Preach! I’ve always been uncomfortable with the “Fat Monica” scenes! This article points out some more really good points about The Problem with Fat Monica http://www.refinery29.com/fat-characters-tv-movies . Author Kelsey Miller talks about how we only see full-bodied characters in these narrow representations, usually either a joke or a monster. It is so so problematic because it reduces the character to only being about weight, when obviously there are so many more important things about a human being.

  9. Great title! I have always had a problem with this show’s blatant fatphobia. I also realize that the term “fatphobia” did not exist in the ’90s, but the idea was certainly discussed in feminist circles–“Fat is a Feminist Issue” was published in 1978, and the Riot Grrrl movement proclaimed, “Riots, not Diets!” Of course, television has never been a bastion of feminist thought, but even Full House did an episode about the dangers of disordered eating!
    Anyway, re-watching Friends as an adult, I saw Monica as a very nuanced character. I don’t want to make an “armchair diagnosis,” but she definitely seems to struggle with a psychosocial disorder, possibly anxiety or OCD, both of which are related to perfectionism. Flashbacks reveal her life-long struggle to be “perfect” in the eyes of her parents, and losing weight definitely seems to have been an attempt to appease them. I wish the show had sent a healthier message.

  10. I love Friends but I completely agree with you that the portrayal of the “fat Monica” character is very degrading! It makes me wonder how much girls and women are subjected to body and gender discrimination in other comedy forms just for the sake of a laugh… I’m sure there is more than just this one!

  11. Yes, this is 100% a problem and a plot line that I have seen far too often. In one of my favorite shows, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, there is a series of episodes where one of the main characters becomes overweight and there are endless jokes about his weight and those are really the only jokes surrounding him. His friends get sick of him being fat and force him to lose weight. While I know this show plays on harsh humor, I think that there is a general acceptance of using being fat as a joke. I feel like when shows cast people who are not considered thin, they only use them in one type of role. This needs to change.

  12. I’ve always been a big fan of Friends and never thought about this episode in this way until now. While they do make it a running joke that Monica is overweight, in my opinion she handles it very well. She is now more confident than she was before, and she realizes that the weight loss was good for her. By making Chandler go and apologize just shows even more how now she is a confident, strong headed women who gets what she wants, when before when she was overweight may not have had the confidence to make Chandler apologize.

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