I don’t want to ruin your favourite Christmas movie. I want to make that clear, right off the bat. That is not my intention; instead, I want to highlight something to you that took me far too long to realise. Because I have been watching Love Actually for over a decade, and I only just comprehended that Natalie isn’t fat.
Natalie, the secretary/ PA of the Prime Minister, is repeatedly referenced as being fat, chubby or larger than she should be. She is described to have “thighs the size of tree trunks”, be the “chubby girl” and have a “sizeable arse”. But Natalie is not above average sized for a woman, in fact, she’s even below it. The average British woman is a UK size 16, and Natalie is certainly not that. So let’s take a look at why the film felt the need to include the tired ‘fat girl’ trope, and more importantly, why they thought Martine McCutcheon would be the right choice for that?
Photo: Insider / Universal
Whilst researching this article, I came across something that I never expected: the role was written for Martine. They liked the actress so much that they wanted to create a role for her in their upcoming film, the part of Natalie. How could someone look at this actress and think a fat girl role is the best choice? Martine was considered unusual for being ‘curvy’, despite still being smaller than average and not fat. They somehow saw her and wrote a role for her that had her described as having “thighs the size of tree trunks” and a “sizeable arse”.
During an interview with Cosmopolitan in 2017, Martine was asked about the controversy regarding her role and said the following:
“Every woman thinks there’s something wrong with them when in actual fact, as Hugh has said in other films, they are perfect and lovely as they are. She was meant to be the embodiment of that and I think sometimes people have missed that point.” - Martine McCutcheon, Cosmopolitan.
I understand her intention, and perhaps even the filmmakers, but the execution is where it fails. Indeed women are perfect and lovely as they are, but the role doesn’t promote that, it promotes a man somehow falling in love with a larger woman, who isn’t even fat. She isn’t the embodiment of insecurities; she is perpetuating them for others as if she is fat, what must actual average-sized women be? I like the idea of tackling female insecurities and the negativity regarding being fat, but you can’t do that without an accurate representation of it. Her being called ‘fat’ doesn’t comfort us, it makes us more insecure as she is a stunning, slightly curvy woman, and so what are we rendered as then?
“He said no one’s gonna fancy a girl with thighs the size of tree trunks” - Natalie.
Natalie expresses that her ex-boyfriend ended their relationship due to her weight, which is highly toxic but not unheard of. David agrees that he sounds awful, but no one seems to register how insane the ex-boyfriend’s claims even are. I’m not sure that any of these characters have seen tree trunks, as her thighs certainly don’t qualify. It’s strange, writing this article almost feels like skinny-shaming her for not being fat enough, which certainly isn’t my intention.
By portraying Natalie as the fat girl, they manage to build on the character of David, as he still fancies her. It shows him to be considerate and open-minded because he could actually love Natalie ‘despite’ her size. This is a common theme amongst partners of larger women, as those women are made to feel like they’re lucky to have found someone who will still want them. That being attracted to a fat woman is rare and unusual, and it must result from her great personality instead. Everyone has subjective taste, and despite the media promoting thin women, plenty of people are attracting to different sizes. A woman isn’t ‘lucky’ if someone is attracted to her, and it isn’t unusual or something you can attribute to his character. It’s taste, attraction and subjective.
Instead of making a character a good person by having them like someone ‘traditionally unattractive’ (I can’t even call Martine that with a straight face), take the effort to actually create an interesting and positive character. David isn’t special for liking the ‘plumpy’ girl because she’s incredibly beautiful.
“the chubby girl” + “sizeable arse and huge thighs” - Annie
As women, we’re positioned to turn on one another and use patriarchal requirements against each other. An example of this is upholding societal expectations of weight as if we no longer play into their specific beauty requirements, a billion-dollar industry is lost, and women might actually start liking how they look. This is evident in how the character of Annie, another employee, refers to Natalie. When viewing the film, we probably laughed at this line, but after taking a step back, we can see just how detrimental it actually is. Firstly, for a woman to be saying this about another woman. Secondly, to be saying such things about a colleague. It is inappropriate to refer to her in this manner, particularly in the workplace. And thirdly, she doesn’t even have “huge thighs”, so it just shows how inaccurate the portrayal of Natalie as the fat girl trope is.
It’s hard to consider a woman tearing another down, but especially in a workplace such as this one. It truly highlights the effects of a man writing female characters, assuming how they act to one another and perpetuating this bitchy stereotype.
“Plumpy” - Natalie’s father
The majority of us have navigated the minefield around relatives commenting on our weight. My family continues to refer to me as the ‘Michelin Baby’ for being born chubby, based on the Michelin logo, but rather than tires it refers to fat rolls. The holidays are ripe for this, so it seems almost fitting that our favourite Christmas movie includes such a comment. But despite how relevant it is, that doesn’t negate how painful it still is. Natalie’s father refers to her as “plumpy”, such terms are almost worse than outright attacks as they’re intended to be affectionate. It leads to you doubting yourself; am I overreacting? But you’re not the issue here, for the problem lies in people who reduce you to your weight or use such a societally judged theme against you.
This rings especially true given that Natalie expresses that her boyfriend broke up with her due to her size, showing that it is something she has been confronted with in the past. This is true for most women, but given that we expressly know this insecurity of Natalie’s, it highlights just how inconsiderate her father’s comment is. To have her own parent label her as such is painful, to have them say it to her employer/the Prime Minister/a potential suitor, is just too far.
When we say that we want an accurate representation of different sizes in films and TV shows, we don’t mean Natalie from Love Actually or Bridget Jones. We don’t want you to take someone a few sizes above 0 and label them as ‘fat’ and have their entire storyline revolve around it; we mean that we want women who are actually larger or fatter. Name one fat main character whose storyline wasn’t all about that. These women are not fat; they’re just below the average size most likely.
The issue is not in having a fat character or even calling her that. Fat shouldn’t be an insult, as being fat is not necessarily a bad thing. The issue is that in calling an average-sized woman fat, you’re making everyone who is actually above that an extreme version. In labelling her pejoratively as chubby or plumpy, you’re making everyone larger than that even more self-conscious. As if she is fat, what the hell are the rest of us?
To summarise, the issues lie in:
1. Having an average-sized woman cast for a character continuously labelled as fat. Either cast someone who is a relevant size for such comments or don’t have the character. Given that the character was written for Martine, it’s even more shocking that is the storyline they produced.
2. Having her entire storyline dedicated to being fat. I’m aware that in multi-plot films like ‘Love Actually’, you have to trim down each story to the bare minimums, but this was excessive. We didn’t need to hear it that often and from that many characters. Hearing what her boyfriend said about her was enough.
3. Having a fellow woman pull her down with such unnecessary comments. Don’t turn us against each other like that.
4. The fact that it took so long for us to realise that she is not fat, not at all.
I watch ‘Love Actually’ every year in the week leading up to Christmas, and I don’t plan to change that. I understand the time in which the film was made, which doesn’t excuse their choices but shows how they thought Natalie could ever be the ‘fat’ character. So I’ll continue to watch this film, but now I’ll watch and laugh at the idea that she is their overweight character. I’ll recognise it as ridiculous and not allow it to impact how I view myself. Awareness is a priority in such cases, and knowledge is always power.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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