Louis C.K. brought back his show Louie for a fourth season and got everyone talking about the episode “Model,” in which Louie got to hook up with the very attractive Yvonne Strzechowski, and got in some trouble after accidentally elbowing her in the face. People weren’t talking about the elbow to the face, but about how a guy who looks like Louie could get a girl who looks like Yvonne Strzechowski on TV and only raise a few eyebrows, yet Lena Dunham sleeps with Patrick Wilson on Girls and the Internet won’t shut up for weeks.
Well, Louie did it again last week with “So Did the Fat Lady,” the third episode this season. It focuses on yet another gender double standard, one that’s not only limited to TV but experienced in real life: dating while fat. In this episode, Louie is pursued by Vanessa, a fat woman who is confident, funny, charming, beautiful and smart. She’s a waitress at the Comedy Cellar and she’s not shy about how much she’s into Louie, who seems intimidated by her even though they seem to have great chemistry together.
It’s obvious her weight is what’s making him reject her advances, and that’s where the double standard comes in. Louie is a fat man himself, yet dating a girl like Vanessa (no matter how awesome) is somehow “beneath” him. There is this awful scene in which, after she’s made Louie laugh with a Marlon Brando impression and is walking away, his friend and fellow comedian, Jim Norton, walks up behind him , looks at her and simply says “Yuck.” Because they have the privilege, being men, to just look at a woman —especially a fat woman— and judge her worth based on whether or not they want to fuck her.
This is the first time I’ve seen a show actually touch on not only male privilege but thin privilege so succinctly. There’s an unforgettable scene with his brother Bobby, where Louie admits he has to lose weight, then immediately goes on a “bang-bang,” which is when you gorge yourself at two different restaurants in a row. Then he completely backs out of going to the gym on the following day by using excuses. This is “Fat Person 101” if you listen to any so-called “concerned” person who has thin privilege and thinks you can judge a person’s health and habits by the way their body looks.
The way we finally get to see Louie and Vanessa on a date is because she quits the Cellar and offers him hockey tickets, no strings attached, because she likes him, won’t see him again and it will make her feel nice to do something like that for someone she likes. That’s what it takes for him to ask her to have coffee —as friends.
They go for a walk after coffee and it’s going well until Louie kills it. He says the words every fat girl hates to hear: “But you’re not fat.”
Vanessa goes into an amazing monologue that explains the double standard. She says that it’s okay for a guy like Louie to complain about being fat (or just be fat and still get chicks) but when she does it “they call the suicide hotline on her.” She’s tired of people trying to placate and silence her with those three little words, “You’re not fat.”
And it doesn’t end there; she explains how, as a fat woman, she can flirt all the time and the real hot guys flirt back because “they know their status will never be questioned,” but guys like Louie never do, because maybe they get scared of being with a girl like her —fat. And she asks Louie on behalf of all the fat girls “Why do men hate us so much? How is that fair, and why am I supposed to just accept it?”
She ends the monologue (Sarah Baker, the actress who played Vanessa deserves an award!) by saying that all she really wants is to walk down the street holding hands and talking with a nice guy. So, he grabs her hand and he seems so proud of himself and off they go, as he tells her a joke about a fat lady at the circus. I rolled my eyes because, while Louie can see the hypocrisy of this double standard and get over his selfishness for five minutes in this standalone episode, let’s face it: Nothing’s really changing here.
Because this isn’t every fat woman’s experience. The opposite of this experience is true for a lot of fat women, actually, but this experience is prevalent and just as relevant. It was, I think, skillfully handled by the show especially when you realize it’s Louis C.K. —a man— who wrote this.
Why isn’t it okay for her to just say it? It’s a topic that is so taboo both on television and real life, a word people are so afraid to use as a descriptor (unless it’s an insult), that it was so refreshing to see a character like Vanessa, a fat woman who wasn’t afraid of her fatness, address it head-on. As a woman who used to be 130 pounds heavier than what I am today, I hated hearing the word “fat” then and, even worse, hated when someone would try to “be nice” and tell me “You’re not fat,” like I was stupid and didn’t have eyes.
Even now, the word still follows me, but it’s in a different way. I have family saying, “Wow, remember how fat you used to be?” or, when my weight fluctuates, “Be careful, you don’t want to get all fat again.” I won’t lie, I still have body image issues, no matter what the scale says. We are conditioned as a society —by TV, pop music idols, “health” ads, even doctors— that “fat” is something to be feared, something to be avoided at all costs. Weight loss and dieting itself has become a very lucrative business.
But fat is just a word, a descriptor. I think as a nation what we should worry about is health, and you can’t tell how healthy someone is simply by looking at them.
The fact that Louis C.K. can be this self-aware about privilege isn’t new, he’s explored white and male privilege in past seasons and in his stand-up comedy, but this is the first time he’s touched on the inequality between genders when it comes to thin privilege, and shows the female perspective without being condescending.
I’m glad he’s doing it now, at the height of the show’s popularity, because I think it was a conscious choice.