I'm a fan of Melissa McCarthy. I thought her character-acting in Bridesmaids carried the otherwise sappy and formulaic film. And I like a big girl who is beautiful and can hold her own, with a smart mouth and an even smarter attitude. I like that her Playboy centerfold cousin Jenny defends Melissa's talent, at whatever weight Melissa is, and says that Melissa's even funnier than she is. That's generous, and probably true. But as a woman of size, I did not appreciate the physical comedy of Melissa McCarthy's SNL on-stage opening, tripping on red sparkly stripper heels that are way too high for most women, and especially a big woman.
As a big woman, I'm careful of how I move in public. I keep my shirt pulled down. I make sure my pants are pulled up. I choose shoes that are practical. I don't think most think people understand how physically self-conscious being fat makes a person in our culture, because the fat assume that others are judging. We don't assume it in a vaccuum. I was beat up as a kid for being fat. I've been called names in restaurants and on the street. I mean men have hung out of trucks to talk about my imagined sex, in a way that debases, in a mean way, one that feels dangerous -- lots of times, not just once. I've seen women wince when they see me walk into a room, and I've overheard my share of whispers. So to see a fat woman make a spectacle out of herself is painful, whether she meant it as part of the act or not. The fact is, so few big girls make it on stage (or to successful corporate careers, or to graduate degrees, etc., etc.) that it's almost impossible not to see one who does as a symbol for the rest of us.
When Dave Chappelle bugged out of his wildly successful skit comedy series on the verge of a legendary payday in 2005 (I was such a fan), he said something to the effect of being concerned that audiences weren't laughing with black culture but at it. It was one thing for a man who loves and gets black culture to lampoon it (and celebrate it), and another for other people outside the circle to laugh -- that laughter can take a cruel edge, and the comedy can reinforce stereotypes rather than pointing up the range of differences within, and the desire for insiders to ignore what is less savory, for the sake of seeming more to those outsiders who are prone to see the group, the whole group, as less.
That's my worry about the kind of fat lady pratfall comedy we witness on SNL -- if it was intentional. We're used to seeing incompetent fat white men, anxious, fumbling, buffoonish, sometimes dancing in advertisements. Once you begin looking for them, they turn up like bad pennies. Fat women tend to be matronly or always the bridesmaid and never the bride. They usually don't get to do the physical humor, and I am struck that there may be a good reason why. There is a nasty strain of humor about fat woman, and fat girls, about how easy they (we) are, how any halfway-decent looking guy can always trade down for one (or any other of the "ugly" girl stereotypes: aka beer goggles) if he gets desperate enough or drunk enough.
Even if McCarthy's falling wasn't intentional, wasn't part of the comedy...well, that would make it worse, not better. That would give the truth to our inability to carry off things with aplomb, to perform at the same level as other professionals, when we, like every other marginalized group, know damn well we need to do it better. And that more than anything else made me want to reach out to McCarthy and give her a hand so she could stand up with dignity on the SNL and just be funny as hell with her words, with her acting, with anything about the spectacle of her body. I wanted to do anything but see her fall.