The entertainment industry has two ways of presenting “big girls” to the masses, either as comic relief, or as “sexy for a big girl” girls who aren’t actually big girls at all, so when Showtime’s Homeland (Spoiler Trigger Alert Warning!) presented an actual big girl as an actual sexy big girl, it was refreshing… and hot.
When the media’s idea of a sexy big girl comes to mind, I immediately think of Meghan McCain, because she’s dead sexy, she’s a friend of mine, and she’s long been championed as a crusader for women’s body image (even by me). But here’s the thing about Meghan McCain, and Lena Dunham, and any of the other examples of “real women” that the entertainment media throws at us like inclusionary bones: she’s not a big girl. That she’s become a sort of symbol of defiance in the face of fat-shaming is just a demonstration of how sick our popular culture is on the subject of women’s bodies.
No, if you want to see really big girls, the kind we all know in real life, it’s almost always as comic relief. That’s why one scene in Sunday’s two-part Homeland opener stood out so much. Conflicted CIA hitman Peter Quinn (Rupert Friend) is drowning his sorrows in a lounge chair next to his motel’s pool, when into the scene walks Emily Walker, the manager of the motel, who banters with Quinn about his drunken ways. Walker is a crackling presence, but history has taught us that this can only lead to laughs, which is why the scene ends up being such a (PG-13) surprise:
That Quinn and Walker end up having sex isn’t such a shock, but instead of playing it for laughs by smash-cutting to one of those morning after double-takes, the show actually shows an actual big girl having actual sex, and instead of following that up with a walk of shame, she and Quinn spend the day getting to know each other. Sure, the scene plays on some stereotypes, but then it turns them on a dime. Much of the credit goes to Emily Walker, who just owns every scene she’s in, and who (surprise, surprise) has her roots in comedy. A veteran of Chicago’s Second City, Walker stars in the web series Modern Women.
As good as Walker is, and as welcome as this scene was, it’s unclear if the character will stick around now that she’s served the purpose of shining up Quinn’s hitman heart of gold. On Homeland‘s IMDB page, Walker’s character is listed only as “Landlady,” which doesn’t bode well, but a show whose lead is a horrible person who just barely turned herself back from drowning her creepy ginger terror-baby can use all the charm it can get.
Update: XO Jane has a really great essay on the scene, and according to them, “Landlady” will be back, so that’s good. Some New York Times critic thought the sex scene was weird and terrifying, which isn’t so good. This is in the same show in which Carrie grudgingly stops drowning her baby, but sex with a beautiful, big woman is weird and scary.