On Sunday night, while “Big Little Lies” was getting well-deserved accolades for a brilliantly wrought season, something equally delightful happened on “Girls.”
The show, which has been having a quietly captivating season, did something I have seen only a handful of times before on mainstream television. It gave a plus-size woman a romantic storyline with a thin man ― and nobody said a damn word about her size.
On the episode, Ray and Shoshanna run into Abigail, Shoshanna’s old boss, played by “SNL”’s Aidy Bryant. Despite Shoshanna’s warning to Ray that Abigail is “a lot,” Ray and Abigail seem to hit it off, and by the time the trio heads to lunch together, sparks are flying.
Abigail and Ray go on to have an actual dream date, wandering around Brooklyn interviewing its residents about gentrification and kissing on the carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
In contrast to many of the other relationships on the show, Abigail and Ray’s connection is uncomplicated and sweet, a good old-fashioned “meet cute.” Watching the two wandering the streets talking felt like watching a romantic comedy, which made it especially remarkable that the object of desire was a plus-size female actress.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen plus-size women get their romantic due on television without making their size a plot point. There’s Paula on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” whose body type has never been mentioned on the show. There’s Miranda Bailey on “Grey’s Anatomy,” who scores a hot boyfriend in season 6. And over a decade ago, we had Sookie on “Gilmore Girls” ― she courted and married Jackson without her size ever becoming a factor.
But too often on television, plus-size women are still shown (when they’re shown at all) as somehow outside the realm of romance ― sad, sexless and lonely, or worse, the butt of a sexual joke.
Even “This Is Us,” which made strides in representation by casting the fantastic Chrissy Metz, doesn’t allow her to date a (fat) man without much fretting about her size first. (The couple initially agree to be “fat friends.”) And of course, Metz’s Kate is perpetually trying to lose weight ― through everything from surgery to an expensive health resort.
The one time Louie dated a plus-size woman on “Louie,” their whole relationship revolved around Louie’s discomfort with her size, culminating in the actress delivering a long monologue about dating “on behalf of all the fat girls.”
While it’s obviously true that there are challenges to being an overweight person in society, and therefore also in the dating world, fat people participate in both every day. And in the real world, being a “fat girl” doesn’t keep you from getting to be the romantic lead in your own story.
Fat women have partners and spouses. They date. They fall in love. They have sex. They do all these things while having fat bodies but without endlessly referencing that fact. Sometimes they do these things with thin partners, or partners who, like Ray, have also dated thin women. (In fact, Aidy Bryant’s real-life partner, comedian Conner O’Malley, is thin.)
So why shouldn’t television reflect that reality?
In an interview on the HBO website, Alex Karpovsky, the actor who plays Ray, described the character of Abigail this way: “She’s really fun, funny and smart... There is a levity about her [Ray] finds really refreshing ― a levity that is tempered by someone who is actually cool, mature and smart. Those things don’t often go together, and they haven’t gone together in the type of women Ray has been hanging around with.”
All of those qualities are wonderful, and none of them have anything to do with the character’s body.
There are two episodes left in the season, so it remains to be seen what will happen with these two characters and their relationship. But they’re off to a great (and refreshing) start.