*Avengers: Endgame spoilers to follow*
Representation matters. It’s an idea I don’t believe should be controversial, and yet even in progressive circles, worries about tokenism abound. If we’re just checking diversity boxes, isn’t that MORE offensive than having a homogenous cast of characters?
And the answer is no, it isn’t, but arriving at that answer in a way that satisfies—let’s stop being coy—defensive straight white dudes is sometimes a long and frustrating exercise (for plenty of in-depth and educated discussion on this topic in Star Wars specifically, Google the #SWRepMatters hashtag).
So it’s easier when something in a popular movie—perhaps one of the most popular movies of all time—pings representation in a way that intersects with an audience that might not normally care about representation.
I’m talking, of course, about Fat Thor.
(Note, Dear Reader, that for the rest of this piece I’ll be using “fat” as a reclaimed identifier, and not a slur. See: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/589/tell-me-im-fat)
For those few who have no interest in seeing the movie, I’ll sum up by saying Thor’s major arc in Endgame is PTSD-inspired weight gain. And I absolutely don’t want to claim that Endgame portrays this perfectly, or even particularly well. There are a lot of really bad, mean-spirited anti-fat jokes, and the story’s treatment of mental health issues is abhorrent (I can’t speak much to that, personally, but I do know that the “slap a person in a panic attack to fix them” trope is not good!)
Can I tell you how fucking cool it is to see a Fat Superhero? Even if he was, at least partially, added as a joke? Even if his weight was achieved using a groan-worthy fat suit? I will tell you now: really fucking cool.
I’ve always gotten amped up by hulking heroes, pun partially intended, but usually these characters—The Hulk, Zangeif, etc—are either massive because of muscle, and end up with bodybuilder shapes I can’t really relate to, or are given powers and names that directly reference their body (“The Blob” comes to mind). Kingpin is a large man, but he’s also a villain, and while villain representation is absolutely not inherently bad, it’s certainly different than portraying a marginalized population in your roster of heroes.
Given all this context, I was on the edge of my seat the entire runtime of Endgame, not because of any in-universe tension, but because I was afraid the writers were going to do what they *always* do with plot developments like this. Make a few fat jokes, give the hero a training montage and put everything back to normal. Because all it takes to lose weight is some willpower, a few days on a treadmill and a cup of raw eggs for breakfast, right???
Even until the very last act of the film, I was *sure* this was coming. I was sure the final battle would give us Thor in his “correct” body.
And then his eyes turned blue. His beard braided. And around his frame, a glorious suit of armor was summoned. No jokes about “bursting at the seams, eh???” No quips about Thor losing his breath. Not a hint from Thor or anyone else that he’ll be anything less than fully capable in the upcoming battle.
Thor is big, bold and brutal. He’s different in the way that all of us become different as we age, morph, droop, sag, gain weight or lose it, build muscle or fail to maintain it. Different, but still the same, still Thor. He fights with every bit of swagger and strength he’s ever possessed. And he’s fat. And he wins.
(And then of course, the film has to undermine its good will one last time by giving us a bizarre lingering shot of Thor’s midsection as he speaks with Valkyrie — a shot that goes without comment or context. Welp.)
I fully expect this to be reversed in Thor’s inevitable Asguardians of the Galaxy appearance. He’ll come out of the shower shirtless, with twelve-pack abs, someone will make a beef jerky/slim jim joke and it’ll never be mentioned again. Such is our fat-phobic culture.
But for one glorious act, a part of me was there, on screen, saving the world. And I got a glimmer, just the slightest soupçon, of what truly marginalized populations—women, people of color, women of color (good lord Disney/Marvel/Lucas, can we put a black woman at the head of one of these things sooner rather than later?)—feel when they see representation in popular media. To be very clear, I am not putting my experiences as an overweight white dude on an equal level with the shit that people of color, immigrants and other explicitly targeted minorities face in our current hellscape. But I do think my emotional, in-the-moment reaction is one that might be shared by other overweight people, and I hope any of those people who also equate “diversity” with “tokenism” reconsider based on newfound empathy.
(And, while we’re here, can we get some representation for large women? I love all the ladies Marvel has included, but we need some love for bigger gals. I’d love to see a 6ft+ tall Jennifer Walters in Phase 4. Thanks)