Warning: contains mild spoilers for Euphoria, but only for Kat’s storyline. Promise.
The premise for Euphoria feels like any other teen show: an ensemble of characters from varying cliques (popular girls, jocks and weirdos included) all attempt to navigate adolescence, participating in parties and prom nights whilst still trying to make their grades.
But there’s a depth to this show that sets it apart from the rest. Created by Sam Levinson (Assassination Nation) and starring Zendaya (most recently seen in Spider-Man: Far From Home), Euphoria is a depiction of what it’s like to be a teenager right now – at least, that’s what it feels like to me, at the grand old (irrelevant) age of 26.
This is a snapshot of a generation for whom the boundaries of gender and sexuality are more flexible and yet volatile than ever; who have the weight of a world that’s almost completely fucked on their shoulders; who make it clear that there’s no point in telling them not to take nudes, because literally everybody already is.
Rue, played by Zendaya, is a drug addict just out of rehab, and she is riddled with anxiety. Jules (Hunter Schafer) is the new girl in town; she’s trans, but nobody cares, and they never misgender her. Nate (Jacob Elordi) and McKay (Algee Smith) are the jocks, their entire lives haunted by the toxic masculinity that’s been passed down to them through the generations. Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) and Maddie (Alexa Demie) are the hot girls; they see themselves mostly as objects for sexual violence, and so do the guys they date.
Every second of Euphoria makes you want to press pause, so as to soak it all in for just another second. Levinson directed the majority of the episodes and his vision for this story is told in long sweeping shots, zooming in from what feels like miles away to an intense close-up on each characters’ face. There are weird and wonderful dream sequences, and the use of kaleidoscopic neon lights and the Inception-like tilting of a hallway has the viewer feeling just as high as the kids.
Zendaya is outstanding; this is a breakout performance from her, not that she needed one. And each character is so richly painted they could well carry their own series. But my favourite, without a doubt, is Kat Hernandez.
Played by Barbie Ferreira, a plus size model/actress/body positivity advocate, you would be forgiven for letting loose an eye roll when we first meet Kat on screen. At first, she seems like the embodiment of The Fat Friend trope, through and through.
In case you’re not aware:
the fat friend
- A character who is deemed ‘fat’ by the writers and those around her, though in actuality may only be a dress size or two bigger than the thin protagonist.
- Someone who has no trace of their own inner life, storyline, thoughts or feelings; they exist only to willingly serve the thin protagonist, and is used by said thin protagonist to make them feel more attractive by comparison. A ‘wing-woman’, if you will.
- Has never kissed anyone, had a boyfriend (or girlfriend, though we never know her well if enough to find out if that’s the case), had sex with another person, or possessed any kind of sexual power/desire/feelings at all.
- If honoured to receive enough screen time, normally undergoes some kind of makeover and/or loses weight to then become hot.
But as her storyline progressed, Kat has ended up becoming one of my favourite plus-size characters on screen, ever. Here’s why.
For a start, her friends never mention it; not once. They never imply she should lose weight, never put her down for her size. They’re just her friends. Plus, the love interests of the thin friends (Cassie, Maddie, Jules) never cross over in terms of using Kat to get to them. The only exception here is that Kat sleeps with Daniel after he almost hooks up with Cassie – but if anything, this is showing the different ways in which Kat and Cassie are approaching their sexual encounters.
She starts the show a virgin – a big red flag for The Fat Friend stereotype at first – but that doesn’t last long. Accused of being a prude at McKay’s party in the first episode, Rue’s omniscient voiceover tells us “No, Kat wasn’t a prude, but she was a virgin” before confirming that she was “on a mission to enter junior year as a woman of questionable morals”. It’s rare we get to see fat characters that actually express desire as Kat does, never mind see them act on it.
As Kat becomes more sexually experienced, she seems fascinated by the anti-climax of it all, laughing to herself as the coolest boy in town finishes inside her at the back of the carnival. She begins using her sexuality to her advantage, becoming a camgirl to wield power over middle-aged men desperate to pay her for degrading them.
It’s at this point Kat gets her makeover, but as she struts through the mall in her mesh top, choker and body harness, it’s more like she’s stepping into her true self and embracing her body than changing it to fit in with what’s expected of her. In the season finale, as she prepares for the school dance, she asks her mother if the red studded PVC number she’s chosen makes her look stupid. Her mum looks her up and down, and smiles – with no judgement, she says “No, not in the least”. In any other show, she would likely have grimaced, and suggested something more ‘flattering’.
Kat may put on a front of confidence, but she’s not completely bulletproof. However, rather than expressing self-loathing towards her body, as we so often see fat characters do, her insecurities seep out in the way she expects boys to treat her. She assumes they could only want her for sex; that they would never want anything serious with her. She avoids any emotional intimacy as a way of protecting herself.
Mid-chat with the attractive emo guy who serves her at the clothing store, she says they can hook up if he wants – it’s clear he just wanted a conversation first.
When Ethan (the cute beta-male that sits next to her in class) tells her he likes her, she says there’s no way they can be boyfriend and girlfriend. They finally hook up at a Halloween party, and Euphoria continues to turn the tables on how we expect this kind of scene to go. “I’m a virgin,” Ethan blurts out. Kat jumps to the conclusion that he’s just using her to lose it, and shuts him down – but he puts her pleasure first anyway. Then, Ethan is the one to excuse himself to the bathroom, needing a minute to compose himself. Too often, we see this the other way around. We see the girl having to take a deep breath, and prepare themselves for what’s about to happen. But this time, Kat has all the power, and it’s fucking brilliant to see.
The most pleasantly surprising thing? Of all the characters, Kat gets the happiest ending. She’s not the thinnest, not the most likeable, and not the most popular, but she’s the one that respects herself enough to make a good choice.
In a show that is ultimately a fairly bleak outlook at the problems we’re passing on to our kids, a plus size character that we last see with a huge smile on her face is enough to put one on mine too.