I finally saw Precious last Saturday. Mo'Nique deserved her Oscar and Gabourey Sidibe deserved to win one, too (no offense to Sandra Bullock who I also like.) In the movie (which takes place around 1987 and is based on a book I haven't read yet), Precious is a fat illiterate teen who is pregnant for the second time by her father. She is a girl that most people would give up on. She gets kicked out of school (which has less to do with academic issues and more to do with her pregnancy) and she ends up in an alternative program so she can get her GED. While Precious has issues different from most other women i.e. two very abusive parents and poverty, she has the same low self-esteem as many of us have. Whenever she looks in the mirror she sees a thin white woman.
Probably some might complain that this movie is insulting to African-Americans, where Mo'Nique's character Mary is the stereotypical fat, black, loud welfare queen. However Mary is despicable but not completely unsympathetic. She has the same low self-esteem as her daughter. The father abuses Mary as well, and Mary in turn abuses Precious. Precious on the other hand with assistance from a teacher, a journal, a kindly male nurse, and other students breaks free of the stereotype. At the end of the movie, she breaks free of her mother and welfare attitude.
It is the fat stereotype that I have a problem with. On one hand you have her mother who is fat, useless and abusive. But on the other hand, the people who help Precious recover a big chunk of her life--the teacher, the nurse, the other students—are all slender.
And as I complained in two previous blog posts, will either of these terrific actresses get more roles as good as this one or will Mo'Nique go back to sassy comedic roles and will Gabourey be the sassy black teen until she doesn't look like a teen anymore? Both of them blew me away in this movie. They deserve high-quality acting work and lots of it. And not just in sassy comedies or ghetto dramas. The best of course is Gabourey. She played a fat character who learns to live and be better than before not just for herself but for her kids. In the end she sees herself in the mirror, not the white thin woman. Roles for large women are small, microscopic. Mo'Nique at least can return to goofy comedies but supersize actresses will have trouble getting roles, (i.e Darlene Cates, a fab actress from What's eating Gilbert Grape.)
In my essay for the Fat Studies Reader (NYU Press, 2009), I wrote about fat heroines in Chick-lit and one of the things I mention is a size 16 glass ceiling. Very few fat characters in chick-lit (or most literature) go passed size 16. For them that is fat and anymore than that is unhealthy. One of the examples I use is Cannie from Jennifer Weiner's book Good in Bed who is a size 16.
Well, Jennifer Weiner's most recent book Best Friends Forever elegantly proves this point. The main character Addie weights 350+ pounds but that is unhealthy, unacceptable and less than human. Addie for the most part of the book is the stereotypical lonely fat woman. After getting stuck in a booth at diner (While being made fun of by a child), Addie runs home, tosses her junk food (even though she'd been a secret nighttime binger since she was about 10), goes to the doctor who gives her the same old diet sheet. But this time the diet magically works! (I call BS on that alone.) But that is apparently okay because she becomes not super thin, but not super fat either (she also miraculously doesn't have any loose skin except around her belly—which is nothing that a few panels of Cathy wouldn’t fix.) So supersized ladies, please get yourself stuck in a booth, Jennifer Weiner promises you that—despite all evidence-based science and common sense—you will finally stick to the 1200 calories diet plan if you just try it one more time.
In previous books Jennifer Weiner had fat characters but they never too fat, never supersized. However at least these fat characters accepted themselves as human beings and knew that diets didn't work. In this book, Supersized people have no place in changing their lives unless they get thin first.