When "This is Us" aired on September 20, everyone appropriately dragged Chrissy Metz's character Kate for having yet another defined-by-weight-loss fat story line. Her story was rife with stereotypical fat character quirks like painful clumsiness, disheartening sticky notes written on food containers, and self loathing at fat people anonymous classes, making the whole thing feel trite, offensive, and ultimately downright crazy.
So as a plus-size woman, I was fully prepared to let the hate flow through me for the remainder of the season. But then Tuesday night's (October 20th) episode "The Pool" aired, and everything changed.
Allow me to explain.
First, there were the things that bugged me.
Like any real person on an honest journey to self love, Kate experiences highs and lows. Her lowest low thus far happened when she let her insecurities push her to the point of stalking her new boyfriend Toby's skinny ex-wife.
During a later conversation with her brother Kevin — to whom she expressed concern that Toby was only dating her because he'd developed a "fat fetish" after being with a skinny woman for so long — Kevin affirmed her fears, saying "Oh yeah, that's definitely a thing ... it was a phase for me."
The very thin line between fetish and preference when it comes to big girls is blurry to say the least, and calling an entire group of people a "phase," even casually, is pretty damn offensive.
Kate's obsession with this woman and her thin-ness only got worse from there.
She not only thoroughly vetted the woman on social media, she actually went to her shop and freaking went through with a job interview all because of her being demonstrably skinnier than herself.
Toby was rightfully enraged at this, and I was too — but for different reasons.
I understand Kate's insecurity and her ingrained desire to compare, but portraying fat women as desperate to cling to the man they have is a trite and tired trope. Against, I get why Kate did it, but truthfully it's been done and is boring to watch play out.
However, outside of these two major gripes was an episode of fat girl realness that actually moved me to tears.
And I haven't quite shaken it off yet.
The scene involving Toby's freak out in particular produced a line that may stick with me forever.
"Some stranger tells you that you're great and you believe her, I tell you that you're great and you think I'm lying," Toby told Kate. "Why is that?!"MAN, did this shit hit home. In all of my relationships, even the one with my husband, I equate my value to being physically desirable, or at least aesthetically tolerable. I know I am funny, that I am kind, and that I am a good person, but I always assume my partners and friends love me because of those reasons and in spite of my physical appearance. It is a real thing that big people deal with, and damn if "This is Us" didn't do a good job of capturing it.
Then there were flashback scenes to Kate's youth that shredded my insides to an emotional pulp.
Proud of her Care Bears bikini, 8-year-old Kate strutted her stuff at the local pool without a second thought until some asshole kids told her they were embarrassed for her. Her parents (played by Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia), though obviously loving, still didn't know how to deal with Kate's fatness, as both of them are thin.
The week prior, Kate's mother Rebecca had drilled Kate on dieting tricks, and this week Rebecca fretted over Kate wearing a shirt over her suit at the pool. While her father, Jack's, approach was much more subtle (here kid, wear this shirt that will make you feel like a magical princess), his methods sent Kate a message of "cover up and people won't have anything to say about your body."
Both parents were well intentioned, but also contributed heavily to Kate's insecurity issues as an adult.
The thing is, I remember frighteningly similar conversations with my own parents. I remember feeling like I was pretty as long as I was hidden, tucked away from the judgmental eyes of everyone around me. I don't know how thin people felt watching that scene, but I know I felt this eerie sense of it hitting so close to home it made me feel almost uncomfortable. Now that is good TV.
But for me, overall, the jury is still out on the value of a storyline that so heavily ties identity to weight loss.
On the one hand, it's wonderful to have a show articulate the complexities of appearance and identity so clearly — one that can make thin people truly empathetic to the body wars fat people wage on themselves daily.
On the other, do I really need another sad, find-yourself-through-dieting story on TV?
I think instead, I want to see successful fat women who love themselves. Who wear clothes that display their bodies unapologetically; who don't scrutinize their salads and cry when they cave to cake. I want to see fat women in steamy sex scenes, and I think the world is ready for it.
What would be really cool is seeing Kate get to this point herself, without losing a single pound.