Monstrous Bodies: Fat Shaming in Geek Culture

"Fat Witch" | Art by JonasJensenArt. Used with permission.
Vernon and Dudley Dursley aren’t just monsters because of the way they treat Harry; they’re monsters because they’re fat.

Vernon has “five chins” and Dudley is “pig-like.” When Dudley gestures at something, he doesn’t wave his arm, he waves his “fat arm.” They are also both brash, lazy, and selfish—traits that are common stereotypes for fat people. If the physical descriptors appeared just once or twice, they would be inconsequential and the Dursleys would just be bad people who happen to be fat. But, in the introductory chapters to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone right through to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Vernon and Dudley’s fat characteristics are repeated over and over again, linking their fatness to their evil behaviour.

“Hagrid” by Ap6y3.

This is a similar trope to villains having disfigured faces, but in this case, their exaggerated sizes become the visible signal that reflects their moral failings.

We live in a thin-obsessed society; one glance at a magazine cover will tell you that. We are quick to judge and assume that fat people are lazy, that they don’t work hard, that they eat too much, that they are stupid, that they are greedy, that they are poor, and that they haven’t tried hard enough to lose weight. Making fun of fat people is still an “acceptable” form of harassment and it’s not difficult to find on the internet. Though shut down in 2015, the subreddit r/fatpeoplehate, which ridiculed photos of fat people—mostly women—had 150,000 subscribers at the height of its popularity. Many of the people who were targeted by this subreddit were doxxed and abused.

This is fat shaming; the idea that we can pressure fat people into losing weight if we make fun of them enough. This mentality comes from the insidious belief that fat bodies don’t deserve to exist— that fatness is a choice. The idea that obesity can be caused by a number of reasons, like illness, medication, and disability, not to mention socio-economic status (i.e. it’s hard to think about losing weight when you’re working three jobs just to get by), is rejected.

Fat shaming is also a gendered issue. While men are not exempt from it, the brunt falls on women. For example, in 2013 the far-right men’s rights group, Return of Kings, had a “fat shaming week” on Twitter, where members brutally harassed women who didn’t fit their standard of beauty.

Our society’s less-than-gracious attitudes towards fat bodies is, unfortunately, reflected in geek culture, even if it’s unconsciously done. More often that not, the protagonists in our favourite books, TV shows, and movies are fit and thin. If there are any fat characters, they are often relegated to the role of one-dimensional villains or sidekicks, who also serve as comic relief.

While there’s been a move in recent years towards giving obese characters more, well, character, they can still fall victim to the subtler aspects of fat shaming. Take Toby from TrollHunters, for example. While he started off as the sidekick, he also developed into a well-rounded character. However, early on, the series made fat and diet jokes at his expense.

The portrayal of fat bodies seems especially troubling in the video games industry, where designers rely on tropes to portray them.

“If you are fat in a video game, you are lazy or deluded… almost always topless to make clear the fact of your fatness and if you are blessed with clothes, they are strained to their limits, your belly always finding a way. It also means that you fart, a lot,” says Anshuman Iddamsetty in an article called “How Video Games Demonize Fat People” for The Outline.

This article brings up characters like Darlene Fleischermacher from Dead Rising 3, Roadhog from Overwatch, and Earthquake from Samurai Shodown, all of whom fit the stereotypes listed above. It also mentions that, even if you find a sympathetic fat character who is important to the narrative of the game, like Sigrun Engel from Wolfenstein II, chances are you won’t be able to play them.

Fatness becomes a visible signal to readers that these characters are villains.

Fat shaming is also a big problem in the cosplaying community, where women are harassed for cosplaying as someone “outside their body type.” There are entire websites set up for this very purpose.

“Body shaming was something I was made aware of the instant I became aware of cosplay,” says Shoshana Kessock in her blog. “I was told it’s part of ‘what to expect.’ It’s one of the reasons I balked at the very idea of putting on a costume at conventions.”  She is just one of the countless women who have experienced fat shaming while cosplaying.

Fat shaming is a serious problem that has led to people developing eating disorders and committing suicide because they think they’re too fat. By showing more fat characters in media, we can change our dangerous assumptions about fat bodies and accept people as they are. Ned from Spider-Man: Homecoming is a positive example of an overweight character: he is given a three-dimensional personality, he has a purpose in the narrative, and, most importantly, no one comments on his size. That last point is key to how media should be portraying fat characters; they don’t need to apologize for existing, just as overweight people don’t need to apologize for their size.

Geek culture has always tended to include those on the fringes of society, despite the persistent problems with misogyny and racism that still crop up. As a unique community, this is just one more instance where we can deviate from the norm and create a safe, welcoming environment for our fellow geeks—whether it’s through our art, our comments to cosplayers, or any interaction we make. We’re the real monsters if we can’t do that.

Kyla Neufeld

Kyla Neufeld

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Kyla is a poet, writer, and editor. She writes about various sci-fi and fantasy series, and is interested in the intersections between geek culture, feminism, and social justice. She lives in Winnipeg with her husband, the Sith Lord, and her daughter, the Nazgûl child.
Kyla Neufeld