Curvy Women In Popular Culture

“Curvy Women In Popular Culture”

Haley Mills

Looking in the Popular Culture: Mirror Essay

December 2nd, 2014

Throughout the years, heavy women have gone through many different stereotypes, whether it be in the media or with society as a whole. Overweight women in the entertainment business are often times subject to roles that make their weight the main focus and use that to fulfill stereotypes and make humiliating jokes toward their size. Because of this, the characters are looked at as being heavy before they are looked at as being an actual person. Since this is so prevalent in our popular culture, it has become a normal way of thinking within our society. However, there has been a shift in the industry that is trying to counter the way heavier women are portrayed, to show that they are actually normal and attractive people.

In order to understand the change that is happening, we must look at different sources and how they portray heavy women in the wrong ways. One of the main sources of false portrayal is basically every movie Melissa McCarthy plays in. In her movies, her character is often a confident women but mixed in with many other bad qualities. These qualities include being vulgar, lacking personal hygiene, wearing unflattering clothes and having a tom-boy personality. Her role in The Heat summarizes almost every stereotype about heavier women. Another example is Rebel Wilson in Pitch Perfect. Her character goes by the name “Fat Amy” so “twig bitches don’t call [her] that behind [her] back” (Perfect).  Why does this even need to come up in the film? Writers feel the need to point out a women’s weight in the these movies so either herself or others can use it for humorous purposes. Thankfully, there has been a shift throughout the years that is changing the perception of heavier women within the entertainment industry.

It is becoming more obvious that there is a small change happening within movies and television that are trying to normalize women’s bodies and the way curvier women act. In Hairspray, the main character Tracy Turnblad, is an overweight teenager who dreams of winning Miss Teenage Hairspray on the Corny Collins Show. Even though the popular girls in the movie make fun of her, Tracy remains confident and wins Miss Teenage Hairspray. This is a great example because it shows that even though someone is overweight, you can still be talented and achieve the dreams you have set for yourself. Another character who is very similar is Mercedes on Glee. Mercedes is another curvy woman, but she is always dressed well, has a confident attitude and is one of the best singers in the Glee club. Glee breaks many other stereotypes within today’s society, which is why it was such a big success across the nation. In Gilmore Girls, Melissa McCarthy plays a character named Sookie, who is a charming cook. She is able to find love on the show which  is usually not the case with heavier women in the media. Sookie’s weight is never brought up in the show which allows humor to show up in other ways. These shows and movies are just some of the subtle examples that are changing the way curvy women are perceived, but the two that are becoming increasingly popular are The Mindy Project and Girls.

In the Mindy Project and Girls, we are introduced to two different curvier women who approach the conventional standards of beauty and weight in different ways. Mindy Khaling plays Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project. Mindy is a curvier women who cares about her looks and dresses in cute and flattering clothing. Mindy knows she could improve herself by losing a few pounds but is happy and satisfied in her current body. In the show, she talks about the daily struggles of life including her eating habits and her exercise routine or lack there of. Mindy has a charming and confident personality and attracts several male boyfriends throughout the show. Lena Dunham plays the character Hannah Horvath on the show Girls. In Girls, Hannah’s character is one who is unconcerned with the conventions of beauty whether it be her weight or the way she dresses. She considers herself about 13 pounds overweight in the show, but that doesn’t stop her from having lots of sex or wearing whatever she wants. In the show, Hannah is nude a lot which is not really the case in television shows or movies for heavier women. This is groundbreaking for us heavier women because society often times tries to make us feel like we should hide our bodies and never exposes them like Lena Dunham does in her show. Both shows have two different takes on curvier women and how they act in their lives. Both are changing the way curvy women are viewed and show that no matter our size we can still be beautiful and do the same things that “normal” sized women do in their lives.

An interesting point to make is that both The Mindy Project and Girls are written and directed by Mindy and Lena themselves. This is one of the main reasons why the shows are so accurate in showing how curvier women should be portrayed in the real world. They are using events that have happened in their lives and incorporating their views on their bodies in their shows. Mindy like her character, cares about her style and looks and realizes she could improve herself by losing a few pounds, but it isn’t a priority for her. When being asked on the Today Show about why she doesn’t do nude scenes she said, “because that means I would have to exercise” (Strauss).  On the contrast, Lena Dunham was asked in an interview why her show has so much nudity and she responded by saying , “it’s because it’s a realistic expression of what it’s like to be alive” (Molloy). Lena and her character both tend to act like they don’t care at all about any beauty norms. In society, we have women who are like either one of these women. By having two different types of shows conveying many of the same meanings, it helps women of all different personalities feel more comfortable with their body size.

Being a curvy girl in today’s society, it is very easy to get angry and sad about the way heavier females are portrayed in the entertainment industry. But after taking the time to find shows that are trying to normalize the views of heavier women, I have nothing but hope for the future for curvier girls to be looked at as women first instead of our body size. It only takes a few shows and movies to start a revelation within our culture to start changing the ways heavier females are portrayed. We can only hope that more and more producers and writers can come together and stop having false stereotypes in their shows and start making more accurate representations of all women, so that it is a normal way of thinking for everybody in the world.


Bogart, Laura. “How Melissa McCarthy Sold Out Overweight Women”. Salon. Salon Media Group Inc. 13 July 2014. Web. 10 November 2014.  < how_melissa_mccarthy_sold_out_overweight_women/>.

Dunam, Lena. (Judd Apatow, Lena Dunham). (2012). Girls [Television Series].  New York City, NY: Apatow Productions.

Khaling, Mindy. (Mindy Khaling). (2012).  The Mindy Project [Television Series]. Los Angeles, CA: NBC Studios.

Molloy, Tim. :Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham Get Mad at Me For Asking Why She’s Naked So Much on ‘Girls’”. The Wrap. The Wrap News Inc. 9 January 2014. Web. 10 November 2014. <;.

Pitch Perfect. Dir. Jason Moore. Perf. Anna Kendrick, Britney Snow and Rebel Wilson. Brownstone Productions (III), 2012. DVD.

Strauss, Elissa. “Why Mindy Kaling — not Lena Dunham — is the body positive icon of the moment”. The Week. The Week Publications. 22 April 2014. Web. 10 November 2014. <;.


2 thoughts on “Curvy Women In Popular Culture

  1. Haley,
    Melissa McCarthy was the first thing that came to mind when I read the title of your essay. I think the way those who write and produce media shame women’s bodies is a reflection of some of the values attached to body image in our society. This is terrible for many reasons, one of them being the way young girls learn negative self body concepts. I am glad to learn through your essay that better portrayals are happening and I hope this continues to increase.
    -Andrea K

    • Andrea,
      I completely agree! One of the things that I don’t understand is that Melissa McCarthy helps write and produce a lot of those movies. You would think that being a heavy women she wouldn’t want to be portrayed how she is, but I guess people say that’s part of her “humor”.

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