5 Lessons Michelle Buteau’s 'Survival Of The Thickest' Netflix Series Taught Me
Culture & Entertainment

5 Lessons Michelle Buteau’s 'Survival Of The Thickest' Netflix Series Taught Me

Michelle Buteau’s comedy series Survival of Thickest recently premiered on Netflix. And as a plus-size woman in her thirties, seeing a plus-size character who wasn’t the sidekick was extremely refreshing. Yes, the Plus community has had a few main characters (i.e., Miss Piggy – fat and fabulous). But at what cost? Like other plus-size characters, Miss Piggy was constantly ridiculed for her size.

Historically, plus-size female characters were pigeonholed into comedic relief roles or underwent a transformation to be deemed “attractive.” Such portrayals perpetuate the damaging message that one's value or beauty is tied to their body size. And because I didn’t have the representation, I wanted on-screen then, I am so happy to see the shift in how plus-size characters are portrayed now. Representation matters immensely. It shapes perceptions, builds confidence, and fosters acceptance. Everyone deserves to see diverse bodies depicted as confident, beautiful, and worthy of love.

Buteau refers to her series as a “love letter to fatty baddies” during an interview with NPR, and I couldn’t agree more. In addition to being an attention-grabbing and funny series, Buteau was meticulous in creating the on-screen lead – Mavis Beaumont. She was fun-loving, empowering, and raw. Mavis stood in who she was, not just as a woman but as a plus-size baddie. She never settled, which once again…thank you! This series taught me five lessons – some new and some I just needed a friendly reminder of.

Loving your plus-size body isn’t WEIRD (or even wrong)

This was one lesson I always knew, but seeing a TV series reaffirm it makes it that much more important. Something about seeing fat positivity seems to irk some people’s spirits. It doesn’t matter if you’re a size ten or size twenty-two; you deserve to love the skin you are in. You deserve to feel comfortable, loved, and seen. And no one has the right to take offense to you loving every inch and roll of your body. Mavis did a fantastic job showcasing this lesson throughout the season.

But unfortunately, there are still so many who disagree. For instance, plus-size beauty and fashion influencer Stella Williams is often criticized for her confidence in wearing various clothing – side cut-out swimsuits, crop tops, etc. She is constantly criticized for not “minimizing her stomach” no matter how cute the outfit is, but why should she? Why is it wrong that a plus-size woman loves her body and has no issues hiding it? Williams continuously breaks the barriers of unrealistic beauty norms and refuses to be shut out.

Plus-size characters are MORE than a joke

Survival of the Thickest proved that writers can create a character without making that individual a stereotype. A fat character on screen doesn’t have to be glutinous, sloppy, or joking about their bodies. And let’s be honest; fat jokes are unoriginal. Fat jokes have plagued TV shows and films for years. One example is the popular cult classic Next Friday, where Day-Day (Mike Epps) used food to influence Baby D (played by rapper The Lady of Rage) to stop chasing after him. Those types of jokes imply that plus-size people have an unhealthy relationship with food, an obsession.

Plus-size people can be a MAIN CHARACTER

This lesson applies to real-life and on-screen. Your size doesn’t mean you can’t be the main character ever. Nowadays, I see plus-size people who own who they are, but this lesson is for those who never saw a plus-size main character or didn’t feel they could be the main character in their own lives.

I grew up in an era where plus-size representation was SCARCE. Honestly non-existent. Unless it was coming from close to home, you might’ve not experienced being told you were beautiful without it was a backhanded comment – “Pretty for a big girl” or “You would be prettier if you lost weight.” Therefore, you had to have tough skin on the playground and in the world. And it would be the same sentiment in movies and books. But do not dim your light because of how others believe you should be or look.

Be Authentically YOU

One thing I respected about Mavis was that she was authentically herself. People change to conform to spaces that weren’t meant for them. And I’ve always said I’m too big to be placed in a box, personality included. Plus, life is too short not to be who you are and meant to be. Every space – friends/circles, environments, etc. – aren’t meant for you, and that’s OK.

A great example: Survival of the Thickest co-creator, executive producer and star Michelle Buteau. She has consistently reinforced that one's power comes from being authentic to oneself. By sharing her experiences as a plus-size woman in the entertainment industry, Buteau demonstrates the importance of being genuine in a world that often promotes idealized images of women. This lesson teaches us to empower ourselves and inspire others by honoring and showcasing our authentic selves.

Plus-size bodies ARE desirable

Like number one, this was a lesson I learned early, but once again, Mavis reaffirmed it throughout the season. I enjoyed that Mavis found love without feeling the need to change. One movie you witness this in is the 2006 rom-com Phat Girlz. The main character Jazmin, played by Mo’Nique, couldn’t believe Dr. Tunde was initially interested in her or was faithful, so much so that Jazmin questioned him at one point for not trying to sleep with her. I remember being frustrated that the main character only felt desirable through a level of sexual attraction.

Another time we see this is in the early 2000s series Degrassi. I wanted so much more for Terri’s character. She was plus-size and one of the prettiest girls on the show, but her character was made to be insecure. And I understand this was a teen series; therefore, they were dealing with underage drinking, insecurities, and love, but she deserved a more fleshed-out story.

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Feature image by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Netflix

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