Top 5 Curvaceous Historical Costume Characters

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We’ve previously had a top 5 of plus-size women in historical costume movies and TV, but I’ve recently noticed a bunch of costume dramas featuring specific characters that are on the larger end of the size spectrum. Sometimes the character’s size is a plot point, sometimes it isn’t, but in these productions, the women’s larger body size / shape is shown as a just another interesting and unique aspect of this character.

And that’s what I want to see for positive representation when it comes to body size — or gender or race or any marginalized group. You don’t have to put the person on a pedestal and say the plus-size person is perfect and beautiful and wonderful. Just say she’s equal. We can be heroes and we can be villains (and I say “we” because I’ve spent most of my life obese by some standards), we just need to be included and represented in the story, preferably in a non-cliche manner.  

Here are five curvaceous characters in somewhat recent frock flicks that fascinated me…

 

5. Etta Candy in Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman (2017)

Lucy Davis (yes Maria Lucas in 1995’s Pride and Prejudice!) plays the sidekick in this superhero film, which in some way is a cliche for a plus-size woman. But, in a video interview on One News Page, Davis says of the character: “Etta is unapologetically herself, and I think that that’s the thing that has drawn me to her the most.” Costume designer Lindy Hemming gave Etta a flattering 1918 wardrobe that helps show the character’s position as a working woman in a man’s world. She also has some choice commentary — including in this ah-mah-zing backstory video released recently.

Wonder Woman (2017)

 

4. Empress Elizaveta in Ekaterina (2014)

Ekaterina (2014)

The first half of the first season is dominated by Yuliya Aug as Empress Elizaveta, who is literally large and in charge. Also, stunningly gorgeous! Her costumes may not be the most historically accurate, but they always fit beautifully. What is historically accurate is Aug’s portrayal of the empress as a powerful, totally ruthless solo ruler with a passionate sex life. Yaaaaaaaaass queen!

Ekaterina (2014)

 

3. Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures (2016)

Hidden Figures (2017)

Of the three real women portrayed in this film, Dorothy is the slightly older one, who’s a supervisor without the title and pay because of her race. Octavia Spencer was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this role, and she has several fantastic scenes showing down the subtle racism of her white coworker. Not everyone loved her costumes in this movie, but I think she was well-outfitted in suits and nice jewelry particularly when she’s training her staff in FORTRAN.

Hidden Figures (2017)

 

2. Fanny Lambert in Harlots (2017)

Harlots (2017)

In general, Harlots does a great job of showing women of various body sizes and how they all have a place in the skin trade as long as they can perform. But I have to single out Fanny, played by Bronwyn James, the largest tart in Margaret Wells’ whorehouse, because she has agency, she experiences good and bad things like the other minor characters, and she’s not just a side-kick or the butt of everyone’s jokes. Sure, the other ladies might make fun of her, but she gives as good as she gets. And there are men who specifically ask for Fanny, and her favorite, while performing cunnilingus on her, exclaims happily that she tastes like butter! Mmmmm, that’s equal representation.

Harlots (2017)

 

1. Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray (1988, 2007, 2016)

Hairspray

This has got to be the best starting role for a young plus-size actress. Ricki Lake was the first ‘pleasantly plump,’ socially conscious, big-haired teenager in this 1960s-set John Waters film. She went on to have a lengthy TV drama career and even got her own TV talk show. Nikki Blonsky starred in the movie-musical version and has also established a TV career. Maddie Baillio just broke onto the scene with the live TV-musical edition and did an excellent job. As a character, Tracy is less concerned with her size than how wild her hair can be and what dance steps she can figure out. You can’t stop the beat!

Hairspray (1988) Hairspray

 

OK, what plus-size characters from historical movies and TV would you add?

 

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

40 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    They are all marvellous in their way. But I have to single out three: Yulia as Elizabeth Petrovna, Lucy Davis’s Etta (loved her comment about slim and corset wearing ladies) and Bronwyn James’ Fanny.
    Portraits of Elizabeth Petrovna show a woman powerful in appearance and similar in build to Yulia (after all EP was Peter the Great’s daughter). Yulia portrays her as that: sure of herself, confident and a force to be obeyed. Really loved her confrontation with Sophia’s (Catherine) mother on her affair.
    Etta Candy, if I remember correctly, in the WW series was played more as comic relief and not very empowering. Etta in the comics was plus size, but intelligent and capable. Something Lucy conveys very well.
    Bronwyn’s Fanny is such a delight. She’s caring, loyal and knows her worth. She may have doubts, but holds her own.

    Reply
  2. Nonnymous

    I love Beatie Edney as Prudie in Poldark. She’s not so much of a major character, but she’s got lots of sass!!

    Reply
  3. Sarah Lorraine

    The reference to Fanny tasting like butter was something I noticed the first time I watched that ep. and thought, “Aw, that’s sweet!”

    The second time I watched it, I guess I was paying better attention because the preceding scene Fanny is complaining to Margaret and the other girls that she’s so dry that sex is uncomfortable and Margaret tells her something like “a bit of butter will sort you out.”

    So when the guy is eating her out, and you see her dip her finger into the butter dish beside her and lick it off her finger… eyebrow waggle

    Reply
  4. Kathleen Norvell

    Beatie Edney is currently in a British series, “The Coroner.” She plays the main character’s mother and she is hilarious. In the series, she frequently appears in a short satin robe, as does her boyfriend, and it is obvious that she has a more interesting sex life than her daughter.

    Reply
  5. Patricia

    I am thinking of Mrs. Mingott from “The Age of Innocence” a very important character.

    Reply
      • Caroline

        Miriam Margoyles was brilliant in Blackadder as well. She played Blackadder’s Puritan aunt in the second series and Queen Elizabeth’s Nursie in the third and was just sidesplitting. I don’t recall if she was in the first or fourth.

        Reply
          • MoHub

            She also played Queen Victoria (to Jim Broadbent’s Albert) in A Blackadder Christmas Carol.

            Reply
          • Julie Hunter

            I love Miriam Margolyes! She has no filter during interviews and documentaries – try and find her Graham Norton appearances and also The Real Marigold Hotel documentary. She is so deliciously honest!

            Reply
  6. Ayla

    LOVE IT! Sadly I couldn’t think of any more plus size costume drama ladies, but this list is <33

    Reply
  7. SarahV

    I love that black and white tessellated dress that Tracy wears in the big dance-off conclusion of the Hairspray movie. It’s so unlike the poofy, swirly dresses in the rest of the film and it moves and glitters beautifully when she dances!

    I’ve often wondered if you gals would consider a right up of Hairspray – I’m not sure if it’s historical enough, but if it is, you could write for days about Queen Latifah’s costumes alone. (Michelle Pfeiffer’s too!)

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      It’s before the “no films set after Trystan was born” rule (so, nothing after 1969 unless it’s REALLY important in some way), so totally within our wheelhouse. I think the three of us just aren’t that excited about anything from the 1940s-1960s, which is the biggest challenge. But “Hairspray” (and hell, all of John Waters’ stuff, really) is fabulously designed…

      I’m a big fan of the original film, though. Still haven’t seen the remake.

      Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I’ve mentioned Hairspray a few times on the blog bec. I’m a HUGE John Waters fan (yes, even Pink Flamingos!). But as Sarah said, 1960s is generally our cutoff.

      Reply
      • MoHub

        Interesting note: In an interview, Waters said they had to keep feeding Ricki Lake candy bars to keep her weight up because she kept dancing the pounds off.

        Reply
  8. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m watching Harlots on Hulu and have two more episodes to watch. That will happen tonight.
    So what about Harlots post on roles to be expanded upon for season 2, the level of popcorn screen tossing Lucy engenders (issue as hopeless as a courtesan or …,), people of colour in 18th century England, and the addition of a pet dog for young Jacob or Mrs Quigley?

    Reply
  9. Susan Pola Staples

    I’m glad as the show seems so real, including the ‘sh*t’ in the streets. And how the religious women characters seem only to blame the women. Men should shoulder more blame than women as careers were limited for women – Wife, maid, governess, whore – I know women worked at other professions but except for factory workers, my history profs always said that they were the exception to the rule.

    Also 9 more days until Outlander Season 3.🙌😁🐕🐕🐅

    Reply
  10. picasso Manu

    I love the tummy comment. Sooo true, lol!
    And a little story that never fails to make me feel better: When I lived in London, I had one of my roommates who was a coursier… And also a serial dater… Okay, sort of a man whore.
    Anyway, came back and bragged about having a date with a model one evening, making us girls sigh, and the guys green with envy.
    Fast forward to the next morning, when someone came back quite early, and in a very bad mood. Unsubtle prodding let loose a stream of complaints about bruises in delicate places, and this crowning jewel:
    “I feel like I spent the night with my bike!”

    We girls giggled all week end (okay, so celebratory pseudo mimosas helped), but the poor dear had sounded so righteously indignant!

    Reply
  11. Saraquill

    While I’m happy Wonder Woman had a tasteful portrayal of Etta, I’m still cross she didn’t get more screen time.

    Reply

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