Worth Your Weight

June 14, 2008

Fat as a mutation

Filed under: fat acceptance — worthyourweight @ 10:17 pm

And I’m talking about mutation as it’s used in the X-Men universe. The X-Men are Marvel Comic characters who, by virtue of a genetic mutation, have a special power or powers. They call it the X-Factor. It’s interesting to note that in our world, an “x factor” is used to denote that special je ne sais quoi that charismatic people have. It’s usually used to talk about superstars and that “It” they have that makes them stand out.

The X-Men are superheroes essentially. They are called mutants. To them, the term simply describes a genetic variation — some argue it’s evolution from Homo sapiens to Homo sapiens superior — a variation that gives them special ability and makes them different from other humans. Jean Grey is one of the X-Men whose mutation enables her telekinetic and telepathic powers. Her teammate Wolverine has a regenerative ability as well as retractable claws. Storm is a fellow mutant who can control the weather.

Some humans (and self-hating mutants) use the term “mutant” as a slur. “Mutie” is another favorite. “Mutie FREAK” is frequently heard, too. The X-Men are often described as defending a world that hates and fears them.

[If you’re familiar with the X-Men world, forgive the exposition.]

The X-Men are often described as an allegory for people fighting for their human and civil rights. In fact, this comic universe even struggled with its own version of the HIV/AIDS virus, the Legacy Virus. There is an island called Genosha in X-world that enslaved mutants. In the film version of the X-Men (third installment) a vaccine was developed to turn the mutants into “normal” humans — effectively a “cure” for their reviled “condition.” There are other examples.

I’ve been an X-Men fan for a long while*. Recently I’ve started to wonder if this allegory extends to fat people as well. Can the X-Men be a symbol for fat acceptance? Well, not so fast.

Leaving aside the fact that I think mainstream comics and games in general can well stand to be more inclusive, *especially* of variations in body types — I mean, come on! You have a super power. Why are you in the gym four hours a day getting ripped? — I think the X-Men are particularly remiss in not representing the rainbow of human variation precisely because of the symbols they are. Who exactly is fat in the universe the X-Men inhabit?

The two examples that spring to my mind are both villains. Mojo and the Blob. Stop it, I can hear your eyes rolling. Yes, “Blob” is such an original name for a fat character, isn’t it? Such a fresh concept! Mojo isn’t much better.

From the Wikipedia entry on Mojo:

Mojo is one of the “Spineless Ones,” an alien race that is immobile without advanced technology. He is a slaver who rules the “Mojoverse,” a dimension where all beings are addicted to his gladiator-like television programs.

Spineless, immobile, and addicted to TV? Now, where have I heard that before?

A little intro to the Blob, again from that handy Wikipedia place:

A mutant, the Blob claims to be unmovable. He possesses an extreme amount of pliable body mass, which grants him superhuman strength and his own gravitational pull. Possessing the mindset of a bully, he mostly uses his powers for petty crime and as a member of the Brotherhood of Mutants and Freedom Force.

Another stereotype applied to fat people: the bully. A criminal on top of it. Bonus.

So no, X-Men, you aren’t really cutting edge anymore. But you could be. The following two clips from the first two X-Men movies easily apply to fat people, too. Now how about taking that a step further and having a fat hero/heroine?

The first clip is from X-Men. It runs 00:53. If you find it difficult to decipher the pertinent line or you just don’t feel like watching the video, you can highlight the text below the video to read it.

Highlight here: You know, people like you were the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child?

The next clip is from X2. It runs 00:23. Again, if you find it difficult to make out the exchange due to the accent and the voice FX, you can highlight the text below the video to read it.

Highlight here: Nightcrawler: Excuse me. They say you can imitate anybody, even their voice.

Mystique: [Imitating Nightcrawler] Even their voice.

Nightcrawler: Then why not stay in disguise all the time, you know? Look like everyone else.

Mystique: Because we shouldn’t have to.

Note that Mystique is one of only a handful of mutants who would be able to stay in disguise all the time. (I wonder if the percentage of those with that ability — shapeshifters — is between 2 and 5.)

I always thought the same thing about the argument “people can’t change the color of their skin, but you can lose weight.” Even if we could choose a different skin pigmentation, we shouldn’t have to. The same goes for enduring a permanent state of self-imposed semi-starvation …

So yeah, fat is a mutation à la the X-Men: it’s a genetic variation that makes some of us different from others of us. It may or may not imbue us with super powers.

*[Although I’m not currently up on the goings-on in the X-universe. So if I’m out-of-date on any information in this post — like if there is a positive X character who is also fat — please correct me in comments. I’d appreciate it.]

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11 Comments

  1. I only saw the movies for the first time recently, and this is exactly what I thought then. :) Especially the fact that some of them want a cure and some don’t.

    Comment by Tiana — June 15, 2008 @ 3:04 am

  2. And it’s interesting, too, at the end of the film it seems the cure wasn’t as permanent as they thought (Magneto and the chess piece).

    Comment by worthyourweight — June 15, 2008 @ 3:29 am

  3. A couple years back I discovered that my local library had original-flavor and Ultimate X-Men paperback collections, so I read them. I was disappointed that Ultimate Blob was almost exactly like his original Marvel Universe counterpart, except for being internet-savvy. Yeah, he was a fat guy who spent most of his free time on the internet, usually typing with one hand and eating with the other. They could have actually done something interesting with him, but no.

    In the original Marvel Universe a while back (I think in the mid-90’s… the most memorable thing from that collection was the stupid Xorn thing) there was a chubby girl with insect-type wings at the school. They did a teen pregnancy plot with her. In the House of M alternate universe story arc she was a plus-sized model.

    I’m enough of a geek that I’ve actually spent time wondering about how the fat/size/body acceptance movement would interact with the mutant rights movement in the Marvel Universe. Not that the actual Marvel writers/editors are likely to show anything about FA in the comics.

    Comment by mms — June 15, 2008 @ 9:47 am

  4. That was very insightful and entertaining. I liked the way you compared the two, keep up the great work, I enjoy your blog!!

    Comment by ApplesnPnutBttr — June 15, 2008 @ 11:06 am

  5. You know it’s funny I was thinking on all this just the other day.

    And like you said the “cure” being a temporary fix I think really parallels dieting or WLS.

    We are all supposed to want this “cure” to make us like everyone else, but Oh the horror when it doesnt work…I dont think any of the mutants got blamed when they started getting their powers back. But a fat person that puts weight back on is a weak failure.

    Comment by MrsDrC — June 15, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  6. Not sure I’d call it positive, but last I heard an extremely incidental character Big Bertha had been reclassified as a mutant, though I don’t think she’s officially an X-Men. She is a part of the comic team of the Great Lakes Avengers (briefly the GLX-Men). Her character is a supermodel who’s mutant ability is to get extremely fat. Her powers tend to be described as similiar to the Blob’s, but she can turn it on and off. Actually, her bio on Marvel.com suggest that her power is actually to control her body’s fat and her success as a supermodel was due to her become exactly what she needed to be to find success. The money earned then supported her superhero career where she is able to be her powerful and fat self. As she’s a part of a comic team, her size is usually primarily a sight gag.

    Comment by BStu — June 15, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

  7. mms,
    I agree that the writers could do much more interesting and groundbreaking stuff in this area. Heck, I think even having a fat character where it wasn’t explained (as opposed to BStu’s example of the mutant who could control the amount of fat she had and became a supermodel) — that would really make a statement.

    ApplesnPnutBttr,
    Thank you ^_^

    MrsDrC,
    “We are all supposed to want this ‘cure’ to make us like everyone else, but Oh the horror when it doesnt work…I dont think any of the mutants got blamed when they started getting their powers back. But a fat person that puts weight back on is a weak failure.”

    Too right.

    BStu,
    Thanks for the update. Sadly, I agree with you. Big Bertha doesn’t sound like a positive portrayal of fat. Shoot, I’d even be happier to see a neutral portrayal of fat. Her name, too, is about as original as the Blob.

    Comment by worthyourweight — June 15, 2008 @ 2:58 pm

  8. From what I’ve read about the Big Bertha character, it sounds like the writers keep getting close to writing her in a unique and nuanced manner, but never follow through. Probably because ultimately the GLA are a comedy superhero team who’s schtick is co-opting other super-hero teams. Though the members are at least allowed to be seen as earnest and well-intentioned. It seems a running theme with Big Bertha is that she is uncomfortable with the fame and adoration she receives as a supermodel. She does seem to identify more with herself as the fat superhero and does resent that she’s seen as a joke for being fat when she’s actually a very effective and powerful hero. She sticks with her misfit team because they accept her without judgement. Still, this seems to all veer in a very “Shallow Hal” direction with the notion that she’s seeking love in spite of her appearance and not inclusive of it. She’s angered when another character expresses physical attraction to her fat form because she ultimately prefers to disassociate herself with her body. Seemingly, because its easier and more identifiable to write fat people like that. They want love, but not as a fat person. Only in spite of their fat. As powerful as her fat makes her and even though she plows ahead, taking the insults and jeers, they never really let her reconcile her relationship with her body. They could do a whole She-Hulk thing where she decides to just stay in her fat form, but that would be too radical for even a satire title, I guess. After-all, She-Hulk’s form was a massive and muscular amazon who was conventionally beautiful, albeit green. Big Bertha also gains strength, but she’s giving up beauty and that’s a trade-off I don’t think they’d let her make permanently. It’d be a fascinating character if she did.

    Comment by BStu — June 15, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  9. Actually, since we’re discussing Big Bertha, in the GLA/Deadpool special, Deadpool asks Bertha out on a date and gets actively upset when she comes in looking like a supermodel. The scene is played for comedic effect (with the horrifically scarred Deadpool getting so worked up by Bertha’s “I want to be who I am” speech that he takes off his mask and makes her sick), but at least there she is portrayed quite sympathetically.

    Comment by D — June 16, 2008 @ 4:04 am

  10. I’d disagree on that D. When I read that sequence, it struck me as very faux compassion. Big Bertha herself isn’t looking for someone to love her for what she is. Rather, she’s looking for some who won’t care what she looks like. That’s a significant difference and one which subtly but significantly advantages thinness. Because she doesn’t really want someone to love her as she is. She wants someone who ignores her body. That her body can take on a thin and fat form is just a gag. Its very much the pattern of what fat people are told is the best that can or SHOULD hope for. Being attracted to a fat body is naturally deviant and undesirable in a way being attracted to a thin person will never be. Fat people are not allowed to be comfortable in their bodies. Rather, they must disassociate themselves with it. They make their bodies into an “other”, which is just a way of codifying fat hatred. No one deserves to be loves in spite of how they look. The act of loving someone “anyone” is just about enforcing thin privilege and the limits on acceptance and self love made available to fat people.

    Comment by BStu — June 16, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

  11. I just rewatched X-Men: The Last Stand last night, and I neglected to mention another parallel. The pushers of the cure contend that mutants are diseased. That the very thing that makes them a mutant is a disease to be “cured.” Just as “obesity” is pushed as a diseased state.

    I love when Storm firmly points out that they are not diseased and are in no need of any “cure” because there’s nothing wrong with them.

    Comment by worthyourweight — June 21, 2008 @ 2:36 am


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