As you are probably aware by now, "BBW" means "big beautiful woman." I know: patronizing, annoying to say out loud (bee-bee-dubbleyew), sometimes confused with Bath and Body Works. But nonetheless, this is the three-letter PIN that you would Google (or Craigslist, or OKCupid) in order to find a fat woman. Why would you want to find a fat woman, you ask? Well, according to this infamous PornMD infograph, to masturbate.
You can get lost in that thing for hours (Peru!), but for now, just note that "bbw" makes the Top 10 porn searches for 16 of the 50 states, beating out "lesbian" and teen in Mississippi (#4), and slipping just ahead of "wife" in Wyoming (#6)—Christ, the symbolism. As goes porn, so goes actual, real-world romance: This isn't men subconsciously (or consciously!) lusting after a fat partner who's "really funny" or being open to one because they're "not shallow." This is some of the only on-the-books data confirming what many fat women already know: There are hetero men who actively seek out fat women, because that is what turns them on.
As you are perhaps unaware, a "BBW bash" is an event where some of these guys travel to meet fat women—to date just as much as fuck. The biggest and longest-running bash is a weeklong summer fete in (obviously) Las Vegas; I was unable to secure a room at the Tuscany hotel this July, because all the rooms sold out in April. In 2012, the bash's 15th year, I knew the Tuscany sold out with over 1,300 attendees. But I didn't know it happened that fast. I booked a room at the "overflow" hotel, the Platinum next door.
So I brought that information, along with 15 years of being primarily attracted to fat women and navigating the fat dating community, to bear when I watched last night's episode of Louie, in which actress Sarah Baker (The Campaign, Go On, the upcoming Tammy alongside Melissa McCarthy) gives Louis C.K's eponymous single dad an impassioned, to-my-thin-white-male-ears very on-point-sounding speech about how bad fat women have it in the romantic world, which confusingly ends with her asking only that someone hold her hand in public. Eventually, Louie does, and they walk away with him telling her a fat joke.
In any other comedian's hands, this is rotten stuff on paper. But breaking down these kinds of walls—letting a fat woman berate him on his own sitcom as he shrinks quietly—is why some consider Louis C.K. the voice of this generation. He's great at turning that voice off and letting others steal his show.
Baker mostly does. Cast as what The A.V. Club (but first, my friend Kate!) long ago termed the "Manic Pixie Dream Fat Girl," she plays a comedy club waitress who approaches Louie after his set, makes witty conversation, and wastes no time asking him out. He rebuffs her ("I'm tired") with a scared expression that might convince you he thinks she's not within 50 pounds of his own weight, which is at least 100 out of his actual dating range. She asks him out again, and he says no, which she takes in stride ("Cool, just being a little persistent because I'm into you"), before a jerky customer who's not even hers demands her attention, and Louie's pal Jim Norton offers up a "yuck" as she walks away.
She gets a new job, and in a separate encounter with Louie, gives him hockey tickets she can't use; knowing what a dick he now looks like (his specialty), he finally agrees to get coffee with her, and their date goes markedly better than it would've with either of the thin women he fails to woo elsewhere in the episode.
Baker is fantastic in this role: A beautiful blonde whose frankness and big eyes recall Liz Phair, she's personable and daring without actually coming off as a Manic Pixie Dream Anything, a good sport about Louie's bullshit, but not too good a sport, keeping him anxious in the right ways. Then she gives The Speech, and that's where she loses me.
Yes, everything in it is true: "I can get laid; any woman who is willing can get laid." But I don't understand why fat female characters as well-created as hers can't get someone to date them on TV, when real life shows differently. This is not to say that there aren't all kinds of other horrors in dating fat, from being reduced to a fetish and harassed online, to learning that the man you've been seeing is "closeted" or, worse, married. But when Vanessa announces that she's not looking for a boyfriend, and just wants someone to hold her hand, it's time to update mainstream TV—even progressive, sui generis mainstream TV like Louie—with some representation of me or the thousands of men paying and traveling to meet their first choice: a fat partner like her.
There's zero representation for actual FAs ("fat admirers," which is admittedly a voyeuristic term; I prefer the classic "chubby chaser") on TV. Instead, when we're not relegated to a bit-part joke (two words: DJ Qualls), we just get the occasional long feel-good arc where the guy mind-over-matters the fat girl's body because of L-O-V-E, when it's just another obstacle the initially disinterested dude valiantly overcomes. In real life, there are muscular guys who want fat women, and there are plenty of women that size who aren't interested in a 5'6" guy like me. There are people with all sorts of physical preferences, and/or the inclination to overlook all of them in name of L-O-V-E. It's just as easy to identify with Louie in this episode: Haven't we all been rejected by the people we're attracted to, or convinced that we're only asked out by the people to whom we're not?
What's despicable about television isn't that it's not depicting enough happily-ever-after fantasies showing underdogs hitting the jackpot—it's that real life is actually better than these depictions. Vanessa would have far less trouble getting someone to hold her hand in real life, and while this was every bit the excellent, conversation-starting Louie episode it's being touted as, is its creator, or anyone else in the TV bubble, actually aware of that fact? Ask Gabourey Sidibe, or Retta (who plays the excellent Donna Meagle on Parks & Recreation), or Rebel Wilson about the real-life relationships they've had. Or the thousands of occupants at a BBW bash. Then write stories based on them. It's great that Louie was perceptive enough to join the conversation. But he didn't start it, and plenty of men were already eager to have it.
Dan Weiss is the alt/indie editor at Rhapsody, and the author of the blog Ask a Guy Who Likes Fat Chicks.
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