Heavier-set actors have a slim chance of getting cast as dimensional characters

Media reflects slim privilege in our society, which discourages people of all body types to pursue their passion

There is no point in denying it - slim privilege is all around us. There are certain sections of stores specifically designated for plus-sizes. We are surrounded by commercials and advertisements encouraging weight loss.

In a weight-obsessed culture, students, especially those in the arts, who do not fit the ideal weight or body type struggle to compete for roles. Thin privilege is a real issue impacting students and their success.

Media perpetuates this by showing slim people as lead characters more often than those of a larger size. If there are characters of larger sizes, their weight becomes part of their identity. 

For example in many Kevin James films, his size is almost always mentioned. Even in films with acclaimed actresses such as Melissa McCarthy, her weight is often the punchline of a joke.

Lets face it: most heavier-set actors are not as likely to have starring roles. Heavier-set actors are usually considered to be character actors who are type-cast into supporting roles. 

"Often times in movies, people who have larger bodies are the best friend or are the nosy neighbor — they are regulated to these types, which can be interesting work as well, but you are put in a box," Stephanie Hart, a third year PhD student in Theatre and Performance of the Americas at ASU said.

Any time there is a character that is a minority — whether it be in gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation — the fact they are a minority is almost always brought up in the writing.

These individuals constantly have to deal with being defined by their role as a minority, and what it means to them. 

However, as a minority myself, I truly appreciate shows, films and plays that have minorities in lead roles. It is especially interesting when the story does not focus on them being minorities. They are regular people who have complex storylines, and just happen to be minorities.

In the arts, heavier-set individuals belong to a minority group, at least for lead roles. They experience these problems just as much as any other minority. 

"The weight is almost always mentioned. Any time there is writing for these wonderful actors, they have to talk about the body as well," Hart said. "Slim privilege is very much in ingénue roles — more so for women than men but both."

The reason this issue must be talked about is because everyone knows slim privilege exists and it does discourage people from pursuing their dreams. 

Students may feel discouraged when trying to succeed in performing arts majors, or feel like they cannot keep up.

Last summer, when I told my cousin that I aspired to be an actress, she mentioned that when she was my age she also wanted to be an actress, but she was discouraged because "they only cast a certain type." 

This affects students here on campus who want to go into acting. They only see certain types of people being cast in media — and those people may not bear a resemblance to them. The lack of representation can be damaging to student's confidence in their ability.

In recent years, commercials have made an effort to feature minorities. They are particularly trying to represent people of all body types. However, there is still a lot of work to do.

The reality is that the world is diverse and media should reflect reality. At the end of the day, it is casting directors who should be more inclusive when casting roles. 

Instead of only casting thicker people for roles that specifically ask for it, casting larger body types in leads will normalize all body types in the media.

Inclusiveness in the media will ultimately allow performing arts students to feel more supported in their major and career choice.



 Reach the columnist at miharri1@asu.edu or follow @IdalisHarris on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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