Phat Girlz (review)
A few years ago I went from the girl who’d been fat her whole life to not-exactly-supermodel-skinny-but-not-so-bad-either. Eighty pounds gone from my highest weight, and for the first time ever, I am within the “not anorexic, not obese” range on those weight tables that so torture anyone who has ever fretted over her weight. So, I am allowed to say this, because I’ve been on both sides of the fence:
Phat Girlz, shut the fuck up.
Deal. With. It. One way or the other. Either enjoy your body as it is, whatever size it is, or put down the goddamn french fries — and double bacon cheeseburgers and extra-large milkshakes and entire goddamn pies (which constitutes a late-night snack for Mo’Nique in this flick) — and do something about it. Either act like you really believe that you are, to borrow Phat Girlz phraseology, “sexy succulent” or “fat-tabulous,” or stop wasting your money on all the expensive and useless diet pills, stop eating so goddamn much, and maybe take a walk around the block once in a while.
Now, look, I ain’t saying there ain’t issues our society needs to confront when it comes to women and body image, recognizing what constitutes a healthy weight, and even ensuring that everyone, whether they’re in the ritzy suburbs or poor inner city, has access to affordable and nutritious eatin’ and not just cheap empty fast food. What I am saying is that Phat Girlz is not about those things, not even peripherally. Not even by accident.
It is, instead, about a large woman, Jazmin (Mo’Nique: Domino, Soul Plane), who constantly complains that she “hates skinny bitches,” by which she means that she wishes she was one of them. She’s got the bitch part down already, it seems — I guess it’s okay to be a bitch if you’re “sexy succulent.” She makes her best friend, Stacey (Kendra C. Johnson), who is kind enough to stop by every morning and give her a ride to work, sit outside her house while she tries on every article of clothing she owns in an attempt to find something to wear. And as with most comedies of this type, it makes fun of the very person it believes it is advocating, cuz isn’t it hilarious how the fat girl can’t even squeeze into her own duds? (We’ll pretend to ignore the very serious implication of this, that Jazmin has a major eating disorder that causes her to eat so much she’s getting even fatter, because there’s nothing funny in gorging yourself to death, right?)
Now, Phat Girlz pretends to be about not being shallow and getting to the point where a gal genuinely feels fat-tabulous, but it’s as sad and phony as all those skinny bitches Jazmin belittles and envies. This comes by way of Tunde (Jimmy Jean-Louis: Monster-in-Law, Hollywood Homicide), who looks like a Calvin Klein underwear model but happens to be a doctor, and he thinks Jazmin is the most gorgeous thing ever. Not because he is wise enough to see through all the cultural programming that helps shape what we consider beautiful and sexually attractive, but because his cultural programming is a little different: he’s from Nigeria, where Plump and Round = Rich and Alluring. (Generally speaking, of course… as thin and toned, generally speaking, equates to wealthy and desirable in the Western world. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t people in both cultures who think otherwise. The cultures at large, however, do not.) Jazmin is very happy with this turn of events, naturally, because hadn’t she just been bitching that “skinny always gotta get the good ones”? The “good ones” being Not Fat, cuz it ain’t like Jazmin is happy to settle for some poor guy who might be really sweet and smart and funny but who’s also a bit on the chubby side. No: she demands an impossible kind of perfection in others that she does not demand in herself.
And you know what? Even that might be fine, if it had been handled in a way that acknowledged that it knew what it was saying: We’re all shallow when it comes to whom we find attractive, and we maybe can’t help what we’re either biologically predispositioned or culturally programmed to feel. But the real feel-good message all us insecure women — of whatever weight — are supposed to leave Phat Girlz with is that as long as you think you’re fabulous, you are. But unless part of Jazmin’s plan for her plus-size fashion line — which the film conveniently arranges for her to launch, to enormous success, by the end of the movie — is to import massive numbers of hot Nigerian model-slash-doctors to American shores, then all these gorgeously dressed sexy succulents are going to continue to be jealous of skinny bitches, who will still be gettin’ all the good ones.