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)
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.
4. Empress Elizaveta in 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!
3. Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures (2016)
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.
2. Fanny Lambert in 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.
1. Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray (1988, 2007, 2016)
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!
OK, what plus-size characters from historical movies and TV would you add?