Eat or Be Eaten: Are fat people Hollywood’s worst nightmare? by Kelly deVos
"The depiction of fat people in horror films is a nightmare that I’d definitely like to wake up from."
This post was written by Kelly deVos, author of Eat Your Heart Out
Being thin and conventionally attractive has its downsides.
If you’re a fan of horror films, like me, you’re probably used to the conventions of the genre. In Halloween, Michael Myers wants to murder the gorgeous babysitter portrayed by young Jamie Lee Curtis. In Nightmare on Elm Street, demented child killer, Freddie Krueger, only seems to torment people who look like Heather Langenkamp and Amanda Wyss. And unless you’re Florence Pugh, don’t worry about getting invited to Midsommar.
Maniacs, apparently, prefer to chase girls in the midst of living through #hotgirlsummer.
Every time I rewatch Friday the 13th, I imagine that the people who look like me are safe and sound in their cabins at Camp Crystal Lake, playing Truth or Dare, wondering what all the screaming is about. The fat people on Elm Street are probably taking nice long, relaxing baths. Nobody seems to want to show us fatties that video from The Ring. We’re all snuggled up at home, streaming true crime shows on Netflix.
If you do a quick scan of the most popular horror films, you won’t find many fat people. That’s because in horror movies, we are mostly nonexistent. When we do appear, we tend to eat or be eaten.
It was really in the 1970’s that the idea of eating too much and getting too big began to be used in horror films in order to disgust and terrify people. In 1975’s Criminally Insane, we meet Crazy Fat Ethel, “250 Pound of Maniacal Fury,” who is out to eat everything she can as well as murder anyone who tries to stop her. The film ends with Ethel eating her own grandmother’s arm. Fat people who resort to cannibalism is another common element in horror with other examples like Pearl in the 1998 film Blade and Darlene in the video game Dead Rising 3.
The reason why horror is so much fun is that it allows us to experience fear from a position of safety. Usually, it centers around the unreal. We don’t really live in houses built on top of cemeteries. Lunatics can’t really murder us in our nightmares. The Purge doesn’t actually happen. But fat people are real. We make up around 30% of America society. It makes me wonder if fat people are Hollywood’s worst nightmare?
Horror films often seek to punish their characters for moral failings. This is the plot of Se7en, a film in which detectives hunt for a serial killer who chooses victims that have committed the seven deadly sins. The first murder victim, known as Gluttony, is a fat man who is forced to eat himself to death. It’s worth noting, however, that this concept of gluttony completely (and deliberately) misrepresents the nature of that sin.
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Gluttony is the overconsumption of anything to the point of waste or harm. St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval Catholic philosopher who defined gluttony, and who was himself a fat man, was far more preoccupied with the consumption of fancy, expensive and unnecessary foods. For him, a drunk man snacking on oysters in a bar would be glutinous while a fat person eating to natural fullness would not. But you’ll rarely find a film that tries to turn someone who enjoys a nice bottle of Scotch or orders Beluga caviar into an inhuman monster that must face grim and gory destruction.
If fat people don’t eat, they must be eaten. I’ve always really had a thing for zombie movies and one of my absolute faves is Zombieland, which is a super fun film once you get past the opening scene. In this scene Columbus announces, “The first rule of Zombieland: Cardio. When the zombie outbreak first hit, the first to go, for obvious reasons … were the fatties.” Considering that the heroes of Zombieland spend the majority of their time driving around in an absolutely enormous SUV and roaming through Bill Murray’s giant house, I’m not sure I buy the idea that thinness is necessary to their survival. I mean, couldn’t the fatties drive cars?
So, is it better to eat or be eaten? Or to be invisible? As Hillary Monahan asks in her essay, “Fatness and Horror: The Match Not Made in Heaven,” found in The Other F Word, “Is it better for the world to pretend you don’t exist, or is it better to be zombie snacks?”
The answer is obviously that it’s better to be treated like an actual person whose life has dignity and value. That was the inspiration behind my young adult novel, Eat Your Heart Out, which follows six disgruntled teenagers who are shipped off to a fancy fat camp during winter break. When they get there, they find that things are worse than they thought – the place is crawling with zombies. My crew, which includes several fat characters, must not only fight for their survival but also take down the pharmaceutical company behind the dehumanizing camp.
While writing the book, it was super important to me to show fat people not just surviving but being heroes of these kinds of stories. I want a world of horror where the fat girl can be the final girl and the fat guy can save his friends.
The depiction of fat people in horror films is a nightmare that I’d definitely like to wake up from. But I’m optimistic about the future. I know the fat teens of Eat Your Heart Out are ready to kick some zombie butt and I feel certain that even more positive representation is on the way.
A new world is coming. One where there are choices beyond eat or be eaten.
Get your copy of Eat Your Heart Out by Kelly deVos here.