beautiful riot

Diet and beauty culture thrive on guilt. Guilt over that delicious dessert. Guilt over that dress size. Guilt over those wrinkles. They teach you guilt and then they sell you the solution. Please, never feel guilty for existing. You are allowed to eat. You are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to age. You are allowed to exist in the body you have right now without spending all of your time, money and self worth to change it.
—  Megan Crabbe, Bodyposipanda
THE FAT GIRL GETS THE GUY AND WISH FULFILLMENT

I am so lucky to get reader email. I say lucky, because it’s sort of incredible that anyone would even take the time to contact me when there is homework to do and children to feed and presidential candidates to make fun of.

That being said, reader email can be all over the place. It ranges from OMG-I-LOVE-YOU-THANK-YOU to DIE-BITCH-DIE. The best conversations usually happen somewhere in between. And yet you might be surprised to know that the reader email that breaks my heart the most has nothing to do with my book.

Since DUMPLIN’ released on September 15th, I have received so many versions of this email so many times that I’ve decided to publicly respond. The email usually goes a little something like this:

Julie,

I really loved your book so much, but I just don’t feel like it’s believable. The hot guy doesn’t go for the fat girl in real life. And two guys like Willowdean? I wish it could be true, but I just don’t buy it. The rest of the book was great. Thank you!

- Lovely Reader

In the words of Willowdean herself: SIGH. 

I understand. I get it. I do.

This post (though it may seem like it) is not about my book. I am human. I wrote a book. It has imperfections as do I. The fat girl getting the/a guy is not an imperfection. It is not unbelievable. In this way, I can tell you that the book I wrote is not broken. The world around us is. We have been taught that we are not worthy. We are not deserving. It’s a lie.

No matter how badly we want to love ourselves and our bodies, society has trained us to have this knee jerk reaction/pit of your stomach feeling that says HA! NO WAY WOULD THAT HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE!

So every time I get this email, I want to give the person on the other end a suffocatingly tight hug and whisper in their ear, “The fat girl gets the guy. Or the girl. Or the person. Or the thing they want. YOU get the guy/girl/person/thing.” 

This isn’t about hot boys. This is about wanting, demanding, and having things we (FAT PEOPLE!) are not “allowed” to have. But I will say this: when you see a fat person and a thin or traditionally attractive person together, it isn’t some accidental universal slip. It isn’t always a fetish or a case of aiming low. (Though sometimes it is and that’s another post for another day.) In most cases, it is two people who have come together as a unit because they are wholly attracted to one another. Inside and out.

Society is broken. But you don’t have to be and choosing not to be is the first step to fixing the world we live in. 

YOU get the guy. You get the girl. You get the person. You get the thing–WHATEVER it might be. Believe it, because this isn’t wish fulfillment. It’s fucking true.

When you kiss my forehead it gives me fuzzy feeling in my tummy. Like a shot of vodka I go all warm. It’s such a better feeling then that poison. It’s good poison. Your my poison. Your my drug. Your my addiction. You injected me with your love. You made me want you. You make me positive. Your the one who cast this sad spell away from me. You protected me and that’s the reason your the one I want. No one else.
—  @poetpastry
I have always wished my body was a forest rather than flesh and bones. I would rather a wildfire burn me to the ground than be touched by the hands of a man who does not love me. At least the version of me that grows from the ashes will be more beautiful than the wreckage he will leave of my soul.
—  Nikita Gill, My Body, My Forest
Fuckboy to Romanceable Hero Trope and How "Supergirl” is Doing it All Wrong

Okay, so obviously in “Supergirl” the writers are intentionally trying to have Man-Ew’s storyline follow the sexist selfish sleazeball to kind hero trope. Obviously, it isn’t working. And a lot of people on this site have talked about how the writers are doing this all wrong, about how Man-Ew’s behavior is actually ridiculously abusive, and about some of the other reasons his character really should never have even been written onto the show. 

But what I was thinking about today was actually where I had seen some of these tropes done well. And I came up with three off the top of my head: Beauty and the Beast, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Tangled. All Disney, yes, I know, sue me. 

Anyway, I was trying to think about what each of these movies did that managed to handle the trope so well in about an hour and a half when this TV show has boggled it up so badly even though they’ve had fifteen episodes (over 11 hours, over twice as much time as all of those films combined) to figure this out. 

So, I’ll start with Beauty and the Beast, since it’s coming out soon and I know everyone’s gonna scream Stockholm Syndrome. Yes, the Beast has some serious anger management issues and does definitely lock Belle up before trying (and failing) to woo her which ends in him denying her food for the foreseeable future. But after she runs off and he saves her from the wolves, the very next scene we see is Belle cleaning out the Beast’s wounds, which has some important growth.

During this scene, they have an argument. Both of them are yelling at each other, trying to figure out who to blame for the entire kerfuffle and it ends with Belle telling the Beast that this all started because he can’t control his temper. Beast is unable to come up with a counterargument, visibly accepts his wrongdoing (though begrudgingly), calms down, and responds kindly to Belle when she thanks him for saving her. We never see him get angry with her again after that. He has taken her valid complaint and proceeds to obviously work on his behavior after that.

After that moment, Belle is basically his prisoner in name only. She is perfectly allowed to leave the castle, as evidenced by his acceptance of it the next time she brings it up, and both of them are aware that she still has the horse and could presumably ride off again if he fucks up. Belle is choosing to stay every day, not because she thinks the Beast will come after her and kill her or something if she doesn’t, but because this is the adventure she’s always craved and doesn’t WANT to leave it and go back home. This is a choice she is making for herself, not for her father or the Beast.

Anyway, back to the trope. The Beast is a guy with some severe baggage that comes out in violent bursts of anger, something that is stemmed the moment someone finally really stands up to him, something the households servants turned furniture are clearly unable to provide. No one’s ever gotten angry back and just told him straightforward that he’s being an asshole. And they certainly haven’t continued to take care of him and thanked him immediately afterward. The last time someone called him an asshole, he got turned into a Beast as punishment. Belle is teaching him that while it isn’t okay to be an asshole and she’s not just going to let him treat her badly, she also isn’t going to overlook the good things he does, too, or give up on him. That’s what makes the Beast change. Reward over punishment. Kindness over revenge. Beast decides he wants to be more like her, and so changes his behavior accordingly.

Again, a choice I believe he makes for himself, not for her. Yes, obviously he has a curse to break and a lot to lose if he doesn’t get her to fall for him. But he also is very lonely. And being more like Belle will gain him friends, his humanity, and happiness, even if for only a short while. He wants to be like Belle because he wants to be someone worthy of her, whether she falls for him or not. THAT’S what makes Beauty and the Beast a) not Stockholm Syndrome and b) a wonderful depiction of the fuckboy to hero trope because the fuckboy becomes a hero for himself, not to get the girl.

The same is basically true for Flynn and Kuzco. Most especially for Kuzco, since there is no love interest there. Both of them stand to lose a lot (Flynn his freedom, Kuzco his kingdom, and both of them could lose their lives), but their gradual change from selfish narcissist to selfless hero tends to stem from a desire to change for themselves, because they were lonely and now don’t want to be anymore because someone came along that believed in them and inspired them to be better.

I think that’s a key word there. Inspired. Belle doesn’t tell the Beast, “Well if you clean your act up, I could definitely see myself falling for you.” Pacha doesn’t tell Kuzco, “If you become less of a jerk I’ll help you turn back into a human.” Rapunzel doesn’t tell Flynn, “If you stop thinking about yourself for two seconds, you could have the girl AND a castle.” The reward isn’t that they get a material gain at the end of it. The reward is that they get to feel proud of themselves again, that they get to stop being so lonely because they’re putting themselves out there enough to make friends. And they all have to choose it for themselves. Kuzco realizes he wants to be a good Emperor for his people, he doesn’t want to be Yzma. Flynn decides that being a charismatic swashbuckler isn’t really his dream, that there is more out there for him as Eugene than there ever was as Flynn. It’s something that Pacha, Belle, and Rapunzel SHOW their partners through example, something to live up to.

Unfortunately, “Supergirl” hasn’t done this. In over eleven hours, Man-Ew hasn’t grown or changed once. And it’s basically implied that his only “changes” or “acts of heroism” are only for Kara’s benefit, so she can see that he’s changed and act more favorably towards him now that he likes her. And he’s actually steadily gotten WORSE as he’s pursued Kara and actively abusive once he obtains her. I use the word “obtains” here intentionally because Kara is basically being treated as an object, a trophy for Man-Ew. 

He went from a guy who was basically just pointless and bland in the beginning to a guy who was very seriously annoying after the whole kiss fiasco to grossly abusive after 2x13. He lies to Kara. He makes promises to her that he then immediately, intentionally breaks. He humiliates and belittles her in public, where he co-workers can both see and hear him. He gets murderously jealous in a situation that absolutely didn’t even CALL for jealousy and was certainly not cute. 

In short, instead of being inspired by Kara’s example, he actually calls her “full of herself,” a “bad judge of character,” an “attention whore,” and selfish. He DOESN’T LIKE her version of heroism, he refuses to follow in her footsteps, and actually does completely the opposite basically just to prove a point. If she gets him an internship at CatCo, he foists the job off onto another woman at the building and then, when Kara catches him at that and puts a stop to it, convinces the same woman to have public sex with him in a closet at CatCo. If Kara tries to get him to be a superhero, he goes out and becomes a thug for hire who beats up other aliens. I mean, these are very intentional choices meant to be cruel to Kara. He is actively, canonically, REPULSED by Kara’s example and DOES NOT want to rise to it. He sees no need to better himself because he already sees himself as better than Kara, so why change?

“BUT HE HAS CHANGED, THAT WAS JUST HOW DAXAMITES WERE, HE’S BEEN SO NICE TO KARA, WHY CAN’T YOU SEE THAT YOU CRAZY BITCH” I hear the karahell shippers yell. Man-Ew was the FIRST to call Kara out for presuming he was awful just because he was a Daxamite. Which means the narrative DOES NOT want us to assume all Daxamites were just… spoiled arrogant sexist violent assholes. It actually punishes Kara for that assumption. Which is fine, prejudice is bad, and you can’t condemn an entire planet of people to one stereotype. But if they’re going to give us that message, then the excuse “He was raised on Daxam, what can you expect” actually doesn’t work. That’s exactly what I - what we all - have been explicitly told NOT to believe. He could absolutely be a wonderful person, even if he WERE from Daxam. Which means it’s just him. He is just awful.

And he continues to not be inspired by Kara, even after he gets together with her. Kara does not murder people, she defeats them and then has justice done. Man-Ew spends the majority of 2x13 trying to convince everyone that murder is the only option and then goes against express orders, not just from Kara but from everyone at the DEO who are his superiors, to go try to murder the bad guy anyway. And then when she asks him to give her adopted father the benefit of the doubt until proven guilty, he confronts Jeremiah at what is supposed to be a celebratory family dinner. When Kara loses her job, he just tells her that there are other jobs, with zero sensitivity, especially given his own role in her getting fired. 

I mean, those three guys in the Disney films are SHOWN changing and getting better. They stop doing the thing that makes them “bad.” Beast stops getting angry. Kuzco and Flynn stop being selfish. Man-Ew has not stopped his bad behavior and has, in fact, only gotten worse. He still doesn’t think much of Kara, he still doesn’t respect her or listen to her, he still thinks he’s better than she is, he still actively does the opposite of whatever she asks of him no matter how menial or important, and he still does whatever is in his own self-interest instead of what is actually the right thing. He is not a hero. This is not a hero’s journey. This is a villain origin story.

I mean, it’s classic. Guy falls in love with girl, girl isn’t in love with him so guy does whatever necessary to get the girl to fall in love with him and then keep her for eternity, when this goes wrong the aggression then moves on to the rest of the world in retaliation because it’s the world that’s wrong, not him. If Kara were to figure out that he was treating her like shit and come to the conclusion that she should dump him and then actually follow through, I think we would see the full manifestation of a new villain, Mr. Meninist. 

And honestly? That would probably actually be a way better ending than whatever they’ve got planned for this character. 

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Natalie Dormer -   “For me, it’s not necessarily interesting to play a strong, fearless woman. It’s interesting to play a woman who is terrified and then overcomes that fear. It’s about the journey. Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s overcoming it.”