Garfield isn’t the only cartoon hero relentlessly mocked for his weight.
I was shocked at the continual stream of fat jokes while watching the animated hit, Kung Fu Panda. The story is about a panda, Po, who dreams of becoming a martial artist instead of a noodle seller like his father. What holds him back is his weight. The Furious Five, a pack of martial artists he idolizes– who are all male except for a token female voiced by Angelina Jolie– constantly make fun of Po’s weight. When these characters mock Po, surprisingly they retain their hero status; they are not portrayed as cruel bullies. Kids watching this movie see that it is OK and justified to put Po down for his body size. It’s espcially odd to witness teasing behavior shown as acceptable and funny, because making fun of others is a constant theme in kids movies; but it’s always potrayed as bad and wrong, acted out by the villians, not the good guys. Unless, I guess, the teasing is focused on fatness. Then it’s OK, just funny and true. Po’s teacher, Si Fun, constantly beats him up to convince him to quit his training, because he’s too fat to succeed. This prediction seems justified also.
In one scene, Po explains that the brutal training and beatings he suffers are mild compared to the pain
he experiences every day “just being me.” Then he looks down sadly at his big stomach, equating “me” with his body size, obviously feeling a lot of shame.
Po explains that when he’s upset, he eats. The turning point in his training comes when Si Fun realizes that Po can be motivated to perform amazing acrobatic feats by a jar of cookies on a high shelf. They begin to train with food as a reward. Po does pushups over hot coals while trying to slurp noodles from a bowl of soup. Po and Si Fun battle over a bowl of dumplings. It’s good, I guess, that Po doesn’t end up becoming thin in order to be a master. But the way this movie uses fat and food to advance its plot line and character development is truly odd and confusing if you’ve taught your kids– as I have– not to experience food as a reward and not to think fat people are bad, or to be made fun of, or that they are not as good as thin people. After about two hours of fat jokes, my kids came out of the movie with lots of questions about why being big is funny and bad why don’t I think so too?
Another popular animated movie, Wall-E (also named for its star male character) has a central plot line where the fat aliens are mocked. The aliens have evolved into an existence where machines do everything for them. They are fat, lazy, and nasty. Lucy asked me during the movie, “Why do they all look like that?” I guess I was supposed to say, “because they don’t get exercise. They’re lazy.” The message that fat people lie around all day and that if you don’t work out, you will look like a fat, pink alien is not something I want my daughter to learn. She’s six years old. I’d rather her do the monkey bars and play soccer because she loves it and it’s fun. I’d like my girls to learn to use their bodies out of joy and pleasure, not fear, for as long as possible– their whole lives?