One of the things about being my size is that I don’t see many “people like me” in the media. TV, movies, books…generally if it seems at all like “the fattie” is a joke, not a character, I don’t bother watching or reading it. This does wonders for my sanity, even as it reduces my score on pop-culture quizzes.
I do have Dykes to Watch Out For (also known as DTWOF) though. Alison Bechdel‘s strip debuted in 1986 in the feminist newspaper WomaNews. Other feminist and lesbian papers picked up the strip, with Bechdel “self-syndicating” across the US and beyond.
A few years later Bechdel introduced her recurring characters: Mo & Lois; their friends Toni & Clarice; Lois and Mo’s boss Jezanna; and Mo’s initial love interest, Harriet. Unlike most comics*, the women didn’t all have exactly the same body with different heads. Clarice and Jezanna are African-American; Toni is Latina; Harriet is plus size; Jezanna is supersize.
Initially much of the strip’s action was in the bookstore, which meant Jezanna got lots of face time. The cast has grown significantly, and the storylines with it. Jezanna settled down with her beloved, Audrey, as part of an extensive storyline involving Jezanna’s parents. Jez hasn’t been onstage much since she closed her bookstore a while back, but she still bops in occasionally.
Now, I don’t just read** the strip for the fat characters. I read it because it’s funny and smart and addicting. But I didn’t read it despite how the fat characters were depicted, either. This is NOT Cathy.
Examples? The only character who gives Jezanna a hard time about her weight is her mother, off-screen. The food obsessions of the strip involve vegetarians vs meat-eaters, not calories and carbs. Most of the characters get nude scenes, and the drawings of Jezanna and Harriet*** are as well-done and attractive as the rest.
Both For Better or For Worse and Doonesbury have done short storylines about women who’ve decided to accept their bodies as-is. Both involved characters we don’t see regularly (Anne and Nicole). But for everyday depictions of fat characters, I much prefer DTWOF.
If you want to check it out:
- There are 11 comic collections so far. Check your favorite library or bookstore.
- Long ago, Quality Paperback Book Club published a Complete Dykes To Watch Out For, which combined the first 7 collections in one massive tome. (It WAS the complete DTWOF at the time!) You might find it at a secondhand store.
- Bechdel’s own site has most of the 2006+ strips.
- The Essential Dykes to Watch Out Forhas the last strips produced and a good sampling of the others.
- Alison Bechdel is also the author of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic :)
*One exception being For Better or For Worse, by Lynn Johnston.
**It’s actually on a permanent-looking hiatus at the moment.
***Harriet & Mo’s first night together forms a novella at the end of More Dykes to Watch Out For.
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