Barbie Ferreira's Euphoria character Kat Hernandez is defying expectations one fatphobic TV trope at a time.
In the latest episode of HBO’s Euphoria, the focus of the episode was resident HBIC, Maddy Perez. It served to be an interesting one too, and one that took a deep dive into the intriguing, but harrowing dynamics of her relationship with the volatile Nate and the story behind her immeasurable confidence.
That said, for some viewers, she strangely wasn’t the most interesting part of the episode. That came when a distressed and crying Maddie called up Kat (played by Barbie Ferreira), who blew off her friend to, well, blow some guy.
It was a moment that prompted many fans to call out Kat for being a terrible friend. But it was also a moment that made me, a fat woman, laugh hysterically.
Why? Well, it’s simple.
Kat is not your typical fat friend. She’s smart, cunning, kinda rude, and has her own rich life away from any skinny character. In fact, it seems that Euphoria has no intentions of making Kat the typical fat friend and honestly, that is very exciting for a variety of reasons.
We’re kind of overdue for a fat character whose sole existence is not to be the emotional labor mule for their oft-skinner friend.
There are a couple stereotypical “settings” you come with as a character if you are a fat cishet woman in media who is someone’s best friend. Sometimes, you’ll be the boisterous and extroverted fat friend who serves as the comic relief, your skinny friend’s hype-man, or some external version of your skinny friend’s confidence personified. Sometimes you’ll still be comic relief, but in an understated and self-deprecating way that preempts any and all insults you may get about your weight. Sometimes you’ll be the friend who is so insecure about said weight that you overcompensate by becoming the very best friend ever to your skinny friend by being their shoulder to cry on or their listening ear at each and every moment of every day. Often on demand. Often at the drop of a hat. And often at the expense of your own character development.
The idea is that you, a fat girl, are supposed to drop everything in this dramatic way because you, a fat girl, should be grateful to have friends to begin with. Or lovers. Or people who like you even just a little bit. You should be grateful, and thus nigh-subservient to said “friend,” lover, or person as a result.
It’s a virulently fatphobic belief, but it’s one that usually manages to find its way into an array of fat characters in media. Julie from Lady Bird is a recent example of this, which writer Rose Hooligan describe as Lady Bird’s “chubby, shy, self-deprecating friend, Julie (played by Beanie Feldstein), who essentially operates the way a reflector operates at a photoshoot: throwing all available light onto the model, [Lady Bird].” Fran (played by Lolly Adefope) from Shrill is another example. While the Hulu series has been praised for trying to tackle body positivity in an inclusive way, Fran still suffers from the intersection of the fat best friend trope AND the black best friend trope. Yes, she is an unapologetic black lesbian and has had her share of casual relationships, but we don’t find out much else, mainly because the only other thing we know about her is that she is Annie’s constant companion, gets the play-by-play about each and every bad decision Annie makes and why her life sucks, and most of her dialogue revolves around speaking up in defense of Annie for whatever reason. Terri MacGregor from Degrassi is an even older and more problematic example. She constantly got steamrolled by skinny “friends” Paige and Ashley, and sacrificed her own well-being and happiness to be a good friend to Ashley in particular, even through Ashley’s ecstasy controversy.
With all of those instances (and more) helping set the precedent for fat girlfriends, one would assume that was going to be the case here in Euphoria. But, it really hasn’t. Yes, Kat hangs out with Maddy and Cassie, and they’re friends, but she has never been shown to be the fat friend who would literally pause her life to cater to either of her skinny friends. She also has a life outside of them (to be discussed) and has other friends (Jules) and interests as well.
Episode 5 follows the same pattern as well, with it culminating in the trope-defying moment where she declines to drop everything to go comfort Maddy in favor of engaging in oral sex with her date. Does that make her a terrible person and friend? Perhaps. But it’s interesting that Kat has even been written to embody those personality traits. That instead of being written as the fat, “good” best friend who’s always there no matter what, she’s allowed to be crappy and problematic and, dare I say, unreliable.
But of course, this all comes back to the fact that Kat is a character whose story line doesn’t solely revolve around being insecure about being fat or hating herself because she’s fat.
Euphoria allowing Kat to defy the “good” fat best friend trope in episode 5 was only made possible by the fact that Kat has been given a very rich story line that easily could have been fumbled because of her fatness.
While we started her special episode with her facing the harsh realities of how people treat and perceive fat people, Kat has quickly become the most interesting, cunning, and self-possessed character on the show — even over the ultra-confident Maddie. From her eleventh-hour Kris Jenner-esque spin on a sex tape that was released on social media without her permission and her blackmailing the McKay twins — who distributed the tape — into buying her nice things, to her complimentary outfit upgrade (that includes a body harness) that is usually reserved for more important [read: skinny] characters, and her business savvy ways as the sex-forward Kittykween (which is hard to hate on, but harder to cheer for since she’s only 16), it is clear that Kat has plenty to do than just be fat. Or rather, sit around and mope about being fat or complain about how unfair it is to be treated badly for being fat. Including being fairly sexual. Or being a middling-to-okay friend to Maddie.
In fact, via Rue’s all-knowing voiceover in episode 5, Kat recognizes there’s “nothing more powerful than a fat girl who doesn’t give a f—,” and she walks accordingly.
This is an interesting departure from how fat female characters usually fare, especially if we compare it to another fat character who is currently on TV: This Is Us sibling Kate Pearson. Kate, for all intents and purposes, has zero sense of self. Or rather, she had zero sense of self outside of her relationships with her brother Kevin and husband Toby until she had a baby (which is still kind of…yikes). Before then, we didn’t know much about Kate except that she could sing, but primarily that she was fat. And that she hated that she was fat. And would do anything to not be fat.
Her season 1 story line revolved around weight loss and an overeaters anonymous group. Season 2 kicked off with her diving more into her singing aspirations, but she immediately became intimidated at an audition because everyone there — besides her — was skinnier and younger. Her season 3 story line focused on her aspirations to become a mother but also had her lamenting the hardships of becoming pregnant because she is…you guessed it…fat. She has only one friend outside of her family (Madison), but her appearances are sporadic. And even her romance was constantly bogged down at the beginning with conversations of them both being fat (they met at that overeaters anonymous group; then-boyfriend Toby was having a much easier time losing weight than her when they dieted together).
With characters like Kate, Julie, Terri being the blueprint that characters like Kat have had to look to, it’s not hard to see how underwhelming the representation for fat women and fat girls is in media. Even in 2019. But, if such representation opts to go the way of the multifaceted and incredibly flawed Kat, then there may be hope yet.