Five Years Too Late, Seeing Myself

I love movies. I’ll watch nearly any genre, and I can usually bear the tropes. But among movie tropes I dislike, one turns my gaze particularly red: Overweight Guy Gets With Insanely Hot Girl.

That’s not to say I oppose such relationships. Of course not — as long as both sides are happy, power to them. However, until recently, I could not remember a single movie or TV show that turned the tables. Yes, I have not watched anywhere near all movies or shows. Yes, I am as forgetful as a sloth is slow. But as a young woman who’s struggled with my body and self-image, I have spent 19 years searching for representation in the media. I have spent 19 years looking for a hot guy attracted to an overweight girl.

Today, I found it.

On Friday, the band DNCE released its music video for “Toothbrush,” in which model Ashley Graham plays lead singer Joe Jonas’ love interest. In the video, Jonas gives Graham loving, longing glances; they make out in a club; he pleads for her commitment.

All usual music video fare, except that Graham is a plus-size model. She wears a size 16, and accordingly to Internet estimates, weighs between 180 and 200 pounds.

As befits her profession, Graham is gorgeous. She deserves her appearances in Levi’s, Marina Rinaldi and Nordstrom ads. She deserves her Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover. But by standard definitions, she’s overweight, and obviously so. The woman whose body and companionship Jonas desires weighs even more than me.

Graham’s heaviness and sex appeal — simultaneous, intertwined— are so important. 

When I was 14, a few pounds tipped me over the healthy limit: at that most vulnerable of ages, I was overweight. I developed an eating disorder because of my conviction that no one could love me if I had fat. It took more than a year for me to overcome my illness. Learning my worth did not depend on my weight took months alone.

To this day, I still struggle with my body image. At every doctor’s office, I step on the scale backwards. Certain pictures and words trigger the despair and self-hatred I once felt. Only this month, years after my eating disorder, have I begun learning how to eat healthy. For the past three years, I’ve been too worried that if I watched my weight, my disorder would return.

I wonder what I would have done if, at age 14, I had seen videos like “Toothbrush.” I wonder how I would have felt about my body if I had seen Ashley Graham adored by Joe Jonas. I may have developed an eating disorder anyway. But I may not have — and that possibility is crucial. It’s also heartbreakingly new.

That’s what this video means for people like me. It means we are sexy. It means we deserve love. Of course, we are worthy whether this video exists or not. But sometimes, drowning in a sea of skinny girls deemed Most Beautiful, we can forget that worth. I did.

I finished watching “Toothbrush” with tears in my eyes, thinking of the overweight, 14-year-old girls who will see themselves in Ashley Graham. I can only hope that soon, they’ll see themselves in other media, too.

Maybe one day, we’ll even have a Hot Guy Falls In Love With Overweight Girl movie. I’ll buy the first ticket.