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Body PoliticsFilm / TVSex & Gender

fat girl sex: too radical for ‘sex education’?

February 12, 2020
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Fat Girl Sex is a weekly sex column devoted to the celebration of the sexual empowerment of women, body and sex positivity featuring personal meandering about all the nasty things we do in the dark.

Spoiler warning: Minor spoilers for both seasons of Netflix’s ‘Sex Education‘ coming up.

I binge-watched the UK’s Sex Education last week and, naturally, I loved it. With a charming and quirky cast of racially diverse newcomers, the series is, in many ways, a much less fucked up version of its cult predecessor, Skins. Another YA-type show known for its realistic depiction of the extreme lifestyles practiced by mostly white, working-class teens in Bristol, England.

Where Skins presented cautionary tales with bleak outcomes, Sex Education presents healthy, amazingly practical examples of how to deal with similar issues as a young person. It sounds corny, but many of the revelations, emotional battles, and growth spurts experienced by the show’s characters are legitimately heartwarming, and relevant for both teen and adult viewers. Major credit to the show’s creator and primary writer Laurie Nunn, and her frequent co-conspirator Sophie Goodhart for handling stigmatized topics with sensitivity and humor.

From the jump, we’re introduced to a lead character’s best friend, a luminous Black gay character called Eric. Eric is out, but still coming into his own as a gay man while struggling to find acceptance at home. He is a total doll, with  a couple of love interests. The other main Black character is star swimmer named Jackson, who has a sexual relationship with Mauve. There are also a few secondary characters of color, like Anwar (another cis gay male) and popular girl, Olivia.

So, I’m watching each episode go by like, where is the Black girl?

And it’s as if Mr. Netflix heard me, because before I emotionally checked out, the endearing, free-spirited Ola shows up. She’s confident and original, hard not to like. She was also petite and biracial, so we weren’t breaking new ground here — but it was enough to hold me long enough to be introduced, in Season 2, to Viv. Viv is a brilliant student and member of the school’s quiz team who tutors star swimmer Jackson, a traditionally hot jock-type character in return for a favor. Viv has a crush on fellow quiz team brain, Dex. He is white and framed to be out of Viv’s league. In contrast, Viv is so far off of Dex’s radar that he calls her by the wrong name on several occasions before she corrects him.

So, yeah, she needs Jackson’s help.

By the end of season 2, Jackson and Viv have a genuine friendship. And, in a later episode, we see the pair share an enthusiastic embrace when that friendship is realized. And me, grinning like an idiot at the TV screen, readily accepted these crumbs of physical affection as some radical ass-shit.

“Physical intimacy between the popular jock and the fat Black girl! A revelation!”

It’s sad but “hot guy” not recoiling from the touch of a fat girl is, low-key, a departure from YA and teen drama tropes on its own. The scene was touching, but kinda heartbreaking.

There are plenty of platonic friendships on the show. But it’s still the same show that opens with a frenzied sex scene and an in-your-face male crotch shot. With the exception of Florence, an asexual student from Season 2, most of the characters are either coupled up or trying to be — or, at the very least, trying to have sex with someone.

But, Viv? Viv is one of the only recurring characters whose sexuality isn’t explored or even really touched upon. And when it is, through her crush on Dex, we see her chasing someone who doesn’t consider her to be sexually or romantically viable. The crush fades, and Viv and Jackson prove to have developed an emotionally intimate friendship that culminates in a hug.

And, like, friendship is not a secondary prize — but the show isn’t titled Friendship Education. So, why is it that the dark-skinned, fat girl is so removed from the actual sex?

The success of Sex Education as a series is in large part due to its constant exploration into (relatively) deep themes pertaining to blossoming teenage sexuality, including erectile dysfunction, vaginismus, anal douching, female pleasure on her terms, alien tentacle porn, etc.

But as with just about every piece of teen media before it, Sex Education dropped the ball when it came to normalizing the sexuality of fat Black girls and women. The series, however, did remind me that sexualizing my fat Black body is still a radical act.

Fat people have sex. Fat people are deserving of pleasure. Fat people are sexy.