Photo Credit: Theo Wargo/NBCUniversal/Getty Images
Melissa McCarthy has had quite an awesome time since Bridesmaids came out back in May.
First, she received an Emmy two weeks ago, for Mike & Molly. Full disclosure: I don't love the show. (They spend too much time on Melissa's clunky co-star, Billy Gardell, and force Melissa to play it straight when we all know she's the real comic gold -- just saying). But after the whole MarieClaire.com "Fatties, get a room!" debacle that erupted when the show first aired, it's mighty satisfying to see my girl win for playing a romantic lead, who, as it happens, is fat.
Next, Melissa hosted Saturday Night Live (just last weekend) and rocked our world. Now, just like with Bridesmaids, it's possible to read Melissa's sketch comedy as playing into size stereotypes (she can't dance, she pours ranch dressing on her face, she's gross when she hits on her co-worker). But even in a six minute sketch, Melissa infuses her characters with so many quirks and nuances that if you're still paying attention to her size, well, that's your issue.
And now, Jezebel is reporting that Melissa will design her own plus size clothing line. And not in that annoying every-celebrity-has-a-clothing-line way -- she actually wanted to be a fashion designer and did a brief stint at Southern Illinois University studying clothing and textiles. Who knew?
So now it's time to ask: Will Melissa's success help open doors for other multi-talented but not traditionally-beautiful women in Hollywood? Is she part of a sea change where we've also got the likes of Gabourey Sidibe, who is working on all kinds of cool projects, and longtime woman-of-size trailblazer Queen Latifah, who is also launching her own clothing line? Or will these few women remain the token representations of size in Hollywood?
As I survey the new crop of sitcom offerings -- with nary a non-white, non-skinny actress in a starring role -- I'm worried it's the latter. And that's a problem. It's a problem for viewers, because the more we're exposed to media presenting a distorted idea of what women must look like, the more it messes with our heads when we look in the mirror.
It's a problem for Melissa and the handful of other non-traditionally beautiful actresses working in Hollywood right now. When they remain tokens, no matter how nuanced and intelligent their performances, size is all we see -- because it's something we're so unused to seeing on television. Which means they only get offered scripts where their appearance is a plot point. And they only get magazine covers when it's the "love your body!" issue. Even Christina Hendricks, who, let's face it, is pretty traditionally beautiful, can't get by a reporter without having the whole "wow, she's so curvy and yes the breasts are real!" conversation. And the cycle repeats itself.
These conversations are getting very boring. So how about, instead of making Melissa McCarthy be our new poster child for plus-size women -- we let her be a really great actress? And then let's get more really great actresses working... regardless of what they look like.