Fat Bodies On Screen Stephen King's Carrie

Sissy Spacek as Carrie, 1976

As a horror fan, I will watch pretty much anything that promises buckets of blood and a few great scares, but Carrie – which is not exactly known for its jump scares – holds a special place in my heart.

The telekinetic teenager of Stephen King’s Carrie is as vulnerable as she is sweet. She’s heartbreakingly naïve (so much so that the famous shower scene, in which a blood-spattered Carrie is pelted with tampons by her cruel classmates, is triggered by her panicked bewilderment at getting her first period), bullied by her classmates and abused by her religiously fanatical mother. Aside from a kind-hearted gym teacher and a classmate with a guilty conscience, no one is rooting for Carrie White.

The original novel has been adapted for the big screen twice, three times if you count the 2002 NBC adaptation for television. Although the hairstyles and prom soundtracks have always been dutifully updated, one small thing, one Hollywood decision, remains consistent across the board: Carrie White is always thin.

Carrie White is categorically not thin though. Within the first fifteen pages of the book, Carrie is described as ‘chunky’, ‘a hog’, ‘a frog among swans’ and, rather cruelly, ‘a fat, whiny bag of lard.’

So why is Carrie always thin?

Part of the story’s tug is the glimmer of hope we see in her eyes as she stands onstage in front of her classmates, beautiful in a home-stitched pink silk dress, the coveted Prom Queen crown perched atop her head. For that brief minute, the victim has become the victor: she stands tall, she stands elegant, and she has done something she never thought she would do: she has felt included, potentially even liked, by the other girls.

We know the bucket of blood, placed in the rafters by the thwarted would-be prom queen, is going to fall and ruin the illusion of happiness, acceptance and inclusion that, for one night, Carrie has been granted and the thing is, even as horror fans, we don’t want that bucket of blood to fall because we’re rooting for Carrie. When she is doused in a whole heap of pig’s blood and, in a rage induced by the realisation that her mother was right, that the whole thing was an elaborate prank, the power dynamic shifts in her favour we’re still rooting for her.

Carrie is the underdog, the eternal victim, and in the grand tradition of the revenge flick, we’re rooting for her even as she tears the gymnasium apart in a bloodbath of fire and carnage, even as with a cold flick of her wrist she crushes kind Miss Collins, the gym teacher that always had her back, to death.

Why is Carrie’s physicality so consistently rewritten to be thin when she is so explicitly plus size in the original source material then? Of course, thin is the default in cinema, just like cis, white, straight and pretty is the default. Fat characters are only ever fat for a reason; as a plot point, or as crude shorthand to reinforce particular character traits stereotypically related to fatness – indulgent, selfish, lazy.

The question is really this: would audiences still root for Carrie if she was played by an overweight actress like Gabourey Sidibe, or is fat simply not a viable victim in the eyes of the Hollywood execs?

Fatness is not automatically a symptom of overeating and overeaters aren’t automatically fat, but onscreen fat characters are consistently victims only of their own lack of self-control. Carrie White, who struggles to contain her telekinetic powers when emotionally charged, is the epitome of losing control.

I want to see a fat Carrie White. I want to see her sweet and lonely with a crush on the school heartthrob. I want to see her sewing her own plus size dress for the prom she can’t quite believe she’s going to attend. I want to see her beautiful, smiling up at Tommy as she is crowned prom queen.

And I want to see a fat Carrie White standing tall, angry as hell, thick arms and round face dribbling with blood, commanding a room of bullies with the power of Ursula the Sea Witch. I want to see strength in her stance, I want to see her double chin held high and I want to see her take control.

I want to see a fat Carrie revolution.

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