READERS PLEASE NOTE: This article was published
“Wait, are you telling me that this isn’t an SNL sketch?”
This sarcastic tweet is one of many in response to a Netflix trailer for a new coming-of-age rom-com entitled Tall Girl premièring today.
Since the release of the trailer last month, numerous social media users have ridiculed the premise of the movie, highlighting the hilarity of depicting a tall, cis, white woman’s battle with “tall discrimination” in the face of very real, very pertinent systemic racial discrimination toward black people and marginalized bodies.
“I can’t believe Netflix decided tall white girls are a minority that need representation ASAP,” tweeted one user.
Now, I’m all for representation in mainstream media and there’s no doubt that being the “tall girl” can be a real insecurity. But since timing is everything, I have to agree with the so-called “haters” in the Twitter-verse.
In our #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, #LoveIsLove era, is a movie about an attractive, white, able-bodied, cis-gender, lanky girl really a story in dire need of being told? No. Does this movie, centred on body positivity and representation in the media, delegitimize the fight by communities that actually need it? Yes.
In a 1976 paper titled, “Living with Television,” researchers coined the term “symbolic annihilation.”
“[It’s] the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant,” says Nicole Martins, an associate professor in the Media School of Indiana University in a Huffington Post article.
According to a U.S. statistical report, from years 2002 to 2016, the percentage of white leading roles has increased from 74 per cent to 77 per cent, while that of black roles has decreased from 15 per cent to 14 per cent.
A 2003 study of prime-time television shows only 14 per cent of female characters and 24 per cent of male characters were fat, according to the American Journal of Public Health.
Not to mention the lack of statistics for trans, agender, disabled characters on screen.
If lack of representation were the only problem, it’d still be a big one. But the way in which black, fat, queer, and disabled people are represented is a problem in itself.
British blogger and writer Nikesh Shukla mirrors these sentiments.
“[…] white people think that people of color only have ethnic experiences and not universal experiences,” he says.
In a PBS News Hour report, he says achieving greater diversity in film and television is about more than just putting non-white faces on screen — it’s about how these faces are portrayed.
“It feels like it’s a celebration of otherness. I want my otherness normalized,” he says.
Black people are not the sassy black best friend (*cough* Tall Girl) or a dangerous thug; the fat girl doesn’t always want to lose weight; disabled, agender, trans people are more than their dis/abilities, gender, race or weight.
There’s no denying the important link between representation and self-understanding. But the idea of “representation matters” depicted by Tall Girl is tone deaf to the real fight being fought by marginalized communities. The movie, adding to the stream of problematic Netflix content (i.e. Sierra Burgess is a Loser; Insatiable) oozes ignorance in its misunderstanding of representation.
When people are still being killed because of their skin colour, who they choose to love, how they choose to dress and what religion they choose to follow, tall white girl discrimination falls short on the list of things in need of promotion. I will even go as far as to say it makes a mockery of the kind of representation of minorities we have begun to see in mainstream media.
Movies like Tall Girl, a seemingly innocuous premise of body positivity and self-love, dims the light on real social issues, occupying a space in progression not yet meant for it.
A prime example of this “inclusion equals overshadowing” is the body positivity movement.
What started as a movement created for people with marginalized bodies (i.e. fat, queer, trans, intersex, bodies of colour, etc.) was hijacked by slim, “socially acceptable” bodies, showing pride in their stretch marks and cellulite.
“The body positivity movement that we all recognize today does not centre fat people anymore,” says award-winning author and blogger Stephanie Yeboah in her article “The body positive movement is not for slim bodies already accepted by society.” “It has become simply another safe space for slimmer people to feel good about their bodies in a society that already does that for them.”
The commodification of body acceptance, which “includes everyone,” de-legitimized the original purpose of the movement and overshadowed the bodies still in need of this representation. The bodies once at the forefront of the movement have once again been excluded.
I would love to someday live in a world where discrimination against tall, white, beautiful women ranks number one in most pressing social issues. But for now, Tall Girl puts a person at the forefront of a movement not yet meant for her.
Teenagers are trash. There’s no sugar-coating it. No matter what, someone will find something wrong with you — the mole behind your ear, the smell of your lunch; hey, I was called “Sweaty Strawberry” as a preteen because I sweat and blush easily. It sucked. But I won’t equate my issue with persons who are truly stigmatized, nor insert myself in the fight for representation that I already have as a white woman — all five feet three inches of me.
Our world has scarcely progressed enough for marginalized folk — we cannot include height discrimination in the conversation while we’re still doing introductions and ice-breakers.