Growing up, I always looked to my sister as a role model because she was one of the people I saw the most. But as we aged, I realized that she wasn’t the same as me. While I struggled with my weight from a very young age, she stayed thin with minimal effort. While I struggled to make friends, in large part due to my weight, she was always surrounded by other popular, thin girls. Even though we were only 2 and a half years apart, our life experiences couldn’t have been more different.
I also grew up in an age where there weren’t all that many average or plus sized characters on tv. There were a few here and there, but they were always older women or a gimmicky “fat neighbor” role that was there for all the wrong reasons. It was hard to watch tv shows and never see anyone like me, never see a character going through the same struggles I was or better yet, succeeding and being happy and normal just as they were.
And now, I look at the tv lineup and I am encouraged. In the past several years there has been a notable shift. TV shows are embracing a more diverse cast of characters, not just different races, ethnicity and religions, but different sizes too. Gone are the days where all the characters of substance are under a size 8, the days where girls like me had no one to identify with. No, now there are at least a good handful of characters who are average size or larger and who show teenagers that powerful women and quality characters come in all shapes and sizes.
Melissa McCarthy as Sookie in Gilmore Girls
I wanted to just put Melissa McCarthy on here, but as she’s not a character so I have to get a little more specific. McCarthy’s potrayal of Sookie in Gilmore Girls is one of my all time favorite characters. Her weight was never an issue on the show, she was just Laureli’s best friend, she was the quirky but very successful chef at the Dragonfly Inn. Everyone loved her for who she was, for her bubbly personality and unintentional wit. She was just a normal, believable character who looked a lot more like most women than Lauren Graham (though I adore her), ever will.
Melissa McCarthy as Molly in Mike and Molly
I am almost hesitant to put Molly on this list because so much of her character is built around her weight and I think that’s not necessarily the greatest message, but I think that if you watch the show you quickly see that Molly is much more than her weight. She’s also a wife, a teacher and a very relatable woman. She has normal struggles and notably, she’s not the single chubby girl next door. She’s the lead character, she’s married and loved by many.
Amber Riley as Mercedes on Glee
I’m going to be completely honest with you and say that I do not love Mercedes character on Glee, but she does bring out strong reactions from me, so I think that means the writers are doing things correctly. Amber Riley plays a very average sized teenager amidst a sea of very thin girls. Though I don’t love her character, I love that there’s a believable relatively average sized character in a show about high school and her weight isn’t tossed around as a joke or a focus of bullying. Mercedes, and actress Amber Riley herself, has confidence that we can all look up to and all strive to find for ourselves.
Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy
Sure, Bailey is a little older than most of the others on this list, but I picked her for a very specific reason. Bailey is hardcore. She is a fierce, strong, intelligent woman and that’s why I think her character is an amazing role model. She’s a mother, a doctor and a mentor and she happens to be the same size as many other mothers I know. She’s the kind of person we could all stand to be a little more like.
Jane on Drop Dead Diva
Jane’s body is a big part of the plot for Drop Dead Diva. The premise of the show is that the soul of a thin model, Deb, in the body of Jane, a plus sized lawyer. Though the show focuses a bit too much on Jane not being as beautiful as Deb, I think Jane holds her own. She’s smart, strong and frankly, I think she’s beautiful.
There are certainly other examples of plus and average sized television characters that today’s teens and women can look up to, and while it would take too long to track down and list them all, the bottom line is that we’re moving in a good direction. Our children can see people who look like them, who have the same struggles and triumphs and life experiences. And that is incredibly powerful. I can only hope that writers will continue to create more strong, multidimensional average and plus sized characters in the seasons to come.
images courtesy Fanpop, SideReel, Instinct, ABC and Philly.com
Katie is a 28 year old Southern Californian, married to a doctor, racking up as much student debt as possible as a full-time graduate student in a health science. Her hobbies include abusing parentheses, baking complicated desserts that almost universally involve frosting and loving her two cats more than is socially acceptable. She’s currently balancing her first child and graduating from graduate school. So planning and timing are also things she excels at. You can read more from Katie on her blog, Overflowing Brain.