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What Tonight’s Louie Gets Right (And Wrong) About Weight and Women

LOUIE - Pictured: Louis C.K. as Louie, Sarah Baker as Vanessa. CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX
LOUIE - Pictured: Louis C.K. as Louie, Sarah Baker as Vanessa. CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/FX

Louis C.K. is fat.

Don’t worry, it’s not a secret. He works his fatness into his stand-up routines, talking about how difficult it is for him to put on socks in the morning, and it’s the undercurrent of his show, where he makes a mockery of himself every time he goes to the doctor or has a meal in public. Even if he’s not always comfortable in his body, both C.K. and the version of himself that he plays on Louie get to have a well-respected career, date a bunch of women, and occasionally fall in love, all seemingly on his own terms. Louis C.K. is fat, and for all intents and purposes he’s okay with being fat, so his treatment of overweight waitress Vanessa on this week’s “So Did The Fat Lady” made me a little uncomfortable.

I’m fat, too. I have a gut, my thighs touch, and my ass looks like it’s been beaten with a ball-peen hammer. The last time I ran on purpose I decided I’d rather be late for work than catch up to the bus that had just left, a minute earlier than scheduled. You wouldn’t say I was fat; you’d say I was in proportion for my height, or a little chubby, because we think the worst thing you can say to a woman in this culture is that she’s fat. Saying someone is fat isn’t the problem — the problem is that we vilify fatness as a failure of the human condition, and attach different gendered meanings to fatness. When you’re a fat man, the space you take up is an extension of your masculinity; when you’re a fat woman, taking up space is an affront to femininity.

I think that’s what Louie was getting at here, this gendered difference in how we treat fatness. He does so in his typically clever tone, flipping the script by being the pursued instead of the pursuer, making sure Vanessa is unapologetic about her desire, and emphasizing the absurdity of how he treats his body by going out for a Bang Bang (two huge meals back-to-back at two different restaurants) with his brother Robbie right after they make a pact to go back to the gym tomorrow. (An idea that, of course, fails spectacularly after the second meal.) Jim Norton says “yuck” when Vanessa walks by him in the club, and Louie demures and declines dates with her even though she routinely makes him blush and laugh. Vanessa is clever, charming, and beautiful, but because of her size she becomes undateable, a non-entity. I was on board with the trajectory of the episode until the last five minutes, when Vanessa gives a speech about how much it sucks to be fat.

Louis C.K. is smart to point out the hypocrisy and double standards of dating while fat. He’s right to point out that he can actively treat his body with gross neglect and still have a choice when it comes to dating or influence his own narrative when it comes to how the world sees him, all because he is a man. As the writer of the episode, he hits the nail on the head when Vanessa says, “You can talk into a microphone about dating and being overweight, but if I do it, they call the suicide hotline!”

But he started to lose me when, after she becomes hugely disappointed in his refusal to admit she’s fat, Vanessa starts to talk about weight with the bottom line is that “it sucks to be a fat girl,” and she suddenly needs to turn Louie into a stand-in for all men, like Havok absorbing all the cosmic energy she can throw at him. I’m uncomfortable because I’m not sure if C.K. is using this monologue to reveal something about himself, or if he’s actually trying to get inside the heads of fat women and take a stand on our behalf.

To me, the entire monologue was heavy-handed and aimless, relying too much on tropes of fat girl-ness (we can’t tell anyone how bad it sucks, but all we want to do is scream at men about how bad it sucks) instead of the usual curiosity into the weird complexity of the human condition that we’ve come to expect from Louie. This didn’t feel like a joke — it felt like a plea, a plea I’m not sure he’s qualified to make. I was bothered that he took this previously badass woman, a fearless street-walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm, and turned her into a pathetic showcase of hidden weaknesses just looking for the right man to unleash her unhappiness upon. The real kicker is when after all of her pleading, she says “I don’t need a boyfriend or husband, I just want to hold hands with a nice guy.”  

Fat girls fuck. We want sex, and love, and marriage, and happiness in all the ways that every non-sociopathic person wants those things. It could have been indicative of the moment, where Vanessa just wanted to hold Louie’s hand right then and there. But that’s not what she said. In her entire romantic life, all she wants to do is hold hands, like an anemic fourth grader who doesn’t know what dating or sex even is. After all the bombastic pomp of her lead up, in the end she’s willing to settle for not much at all.

There’s a conversation on television starting to happen around women and fatness. The entirely too short lived 2010 show Huge examined teenage girls sent to a summer fat camp, and many have found a hero in Rae on My Mad Fat Diary, the popular UK show with a fat protagonist. I imagine this episode of Louie will bother a lot of people. But I’m not upset that Louie broached the topic, just unsure of where he wants us to end up. In the end, after she repeats her hand-holding plea five or six times, Louie grabs Vanessa’s hand begrudgingly, which reads more as “What a great guy!” instead of “Vanessa is a great girl!” Right up until the second he touches her, he’s not sure if he’s making the right choice.

It’s a muddled moment, and it left me wanting more, but I would rather have Louie be part of this conversation than not. I was sad that Vanessa wasn’t in the next episode; I want to see more of their story. I want to see him get it right.

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