Why Is The Lone Plus-Size Woman In “Bridesmaids” Wearing A Different Dress?

Women across the country will be flocking to “Bridesmaids” this weekend, which is good news for everyone: Jessica has confirmed that the movie is laugh-out-loud funny and high ticket sales during opening weekend will show Hollywood studios that women want to see intelligent movies about funny women and that there is a demand for more movies like this.

One problem: on the “Bridesmaids” movie poster, why is the chubby bridesmaid, played by Melissa McCarthy (of “Mike and Molly”) wearing a much more modest version of the matching bridesmaid dresses? Four of the five bridesmaids wear sleeveless hot pink taffeta mini-dresses that are tight and hit well above their knees. However, Melissa McCarthy is wearing a slightly different dress: her skirt is looser and covers her knees, she’s wearing elbow-length sleeves, and she doesn’t have as much as a hint of cleavage. If the dress wasn’t hot pink and had less ruched taffeta detailing, she could probably wear the dress to a job interview. There’s an awkward, unsavory history of chubby bridesmaids wearing different slightly dresses from the rest of the bridesmaids. Type “plus-size bridesmaid dress” into Google and “with sleeves” and “with jackets” immediately pop up as suggestions. But is the sight of a larger woman’s chubby triceps so shocking that bridesmaids need to spring for jackets and look more like the mother of the bride than one of her eligible friends? In the case of “Bridesmaids,” “shocking” is exactly what producer Judd Apatow is going for, shining a light on female flatulence, food poisoning, and why women are funny. So if “Bridesmaids” is a provocative film that’s pushing limits and testing the waters for how America thinks about modern women in comedy, giving the fat girl a frumpy take on a sexy bridesmaids dress is pretty timid.

In defense of Judd Apatow and the marketing folks at Universal Pictures, it looks like Melissa McCarthy might not be so crazy about her arms either. It’s hard to find a photo of her on set or on the red carpet donning sleeveless clothing. She should dress however she feels most comfortable, but I think she’d find that Hollywood would embrace her showing some skin. (Naturally, the internet trolls would have at her, but at this point in her career, she’s probably past considering the opinion of trolls.)

Anecdotally, I’m a size 18 and I love getting dressed up. When I lived in Los Angeles after college last year, I was surprised by how much positive attention I got for being an overweight woman in LA—one of the only overweight women in LA—and I felt liberated to try on LA’s generally skimpy aesthetic. I bought a sewing machine and took to my flouncy dresses and A-line skirts, sewing them so they’d have that Kim Kardashian-esque, thigh-hugging, rear-accentuating tight look; I took up all my hems two to four inches. I wore mini-skirts with ankle boots and no leggings. I wore tight, one-shoulder shirts and mini-dresses … and I rode a Vespa. One week last summer, I went on a date every night.

I had expected to feel uncomfortable and intimidated in a city known for its strict physical ideal of preying mantis-thin women. Instead, I found it was easier to be a fat woman in West Hollywood than it was in New York City (where I was in pretty good company). Which is great news for chubby women, that they can be considered desirable in LA where most of our country’s movies are made.

So as much as I want to root 110 percent for “Bridesmaids,” I can’t help but feel slighted by the silent dig at overweight women. Melissa McCarthy’s character in “Bridesmaids” isn’t supposed to be sexy (actually, her character’s hyper-sexuality is intended to be laughable and slightly gross) but Melissa McCarthy is sexy … and there’s no reason why she needed to cover up for the movie poster. As discourse on body image and acceptance of women of all shapes and sizes moves forward, the sexuality of overweight women is probably going to be the one of the next big issues to be discussed, decoded, and ideally, de-stigmatized. In the meantime, “Bridesmaids” is a huge step in the right direction for women in Hollywood, but it’s obvious that the path for plus-size women is going to be longer.