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Insecure by Issa Rae

by Liz Barlow

I love Insecure, Issa Rae’s hit series on HBO. It is so personal to so many women and men, whether they are in relationships or single. I even joked about how I think she may owe me money for digging into my life so deeply with each episode.

Most of the writing is brilliant at magnifying the small interactions of black culture, friendships and black womanhood. However, there is one area where I am completely disappointed in the characterization of a certain type of person: the character Kelli. Kelli, played by Natasha Rothwell, is the plus-size, middle-brown, natural-haired friend of Issa and Molly on the show. I understand that the series is a comedy, but she is literally a caricature.

She is portrayed as an oversexed, boy-crazy, exaggerated trope of a plus-size woman. Everything is about sex, everything is about chasing down men, everything is about proving some tangible attractiveness and nothing is about having actual nuance. Kelli is portrayed as irresponsible with her body, her money and her emotions. It is almost like watching the baby from the Dinosaurs spliced with Resputia from Norbit, but on a smaller frequency. A grown child who is overbearing when it comes to relationships, but not mature enough to handle something more developed.

Insecure by Issa Rae

Yvonne Orji, Natasha Rothwell, Issa Rae and Amanda Seales in “Insecure.”

I cringed at the birthday party, for the season finale, where all the women of the show gathered for Kelli’s big weekend. They are in a nightclub. Issa, Molly and the light-skinned girl have on these hip, fun outfits and Kelli has on an outfit that would make any Baptist church mother or any fat woman in 2006 proud. The outfit is already othering her body in the scene, juxtaposing her against smaller bodies who are meant to be dressed well and modern.

When they go on the dance floor, the first thing that is said to her by her dance partner is that she reminds him of another fat, black, natural haired woman who sings: Jill Scott. That hit me hard, because as a fat black women, we are often only seen as useful if we are entertaining or singing. If I had a nickel for each time someone thought it to be a compliment to compare me to another fat black woman who sang, I could buy HBO and create my own series to combat the stereotype.

Related: #TeamFunctional: On The Messy Breakup of Issa and Lawrence from HBO’s “Insecure.”

I think the worst part is, she’s othered in scenes where she should be included — or even the focus. I am not naïve in understanding that she is a secondary character, but if the men on the show get to be dynamic, why can’t the fat girl? Every scene she is consistently, painfully the same; she does not advance. There is even a scene where Issa goes to her in confidence, seeking counsel — and while I hate the “big girl friend gives great  advice” tired-ass story line, I at least thought it would soften her portrayal.

Nope. She just rambles on, makes an attempt to guess Issa’s issues, and when she doesn’t think they are valid enough for her concern, she moves on. She’s not just insecure, she’s immature. While we all have friends who may grow in different time intervals than the rest of us, I can’t help but think if this is a real reflection of what the creators of Insecure think about fat people and dating.

Related: In Issa Rae’s “Insecure,” Sisterhood is Everything

It seems that this show’s writers room is fatphobic in its views on the women who did not fit the visual representation of people who deserve to be in insecure relationships. That we are all these roaming fuckpods looking for good times that we are willing to pay for and have no other dimensions. That we do not carry on serious, dynamic relationships, that we do not long for the love and support our smaller counterparts have gained.  

The least they could have done was have her having an actual sex scene to match up with her dialogue. They could actually show a fat woman being pleasured and enjoying her body. Without that, her claims of sexual prowess are left to fall on deaf audience ears. Her character seems empty, basic and hollow. She lacks a motivation beyond penis and she is not even getting that. The show is called Insecure, and I do not expect these women to be flawless, because that is the charm of the show. It is just disheartening that what must be insecure about Kelli is her clearly her self-esteem, which we are all supposed to link to her weight.

However, I am not giving up on Insecure. I know Issa and her writers room can write a dope story line for women. I’m trusting that they will give Kelli her day in the Sun, let her be in the room and allow parts of her character to be shown. This show is about turning the ideas of traditional relationships on their heads, whether it be through sexuality, double standards or cheating. If it can do that in a less-than-10-episode season, they can take Kelli’s character places where fat women can feel completely included.

Also, I hope to gawd they get this woman a better stylist. We don’t wear shrugs no mo, bae.

Liz Barlow is a stand up comic, actor, writer, poet and all around trapstar from Virginia Beach,VA. If she isn’t watching funny pug videos, she’s probably telling your favorite womanist joke.


  • Vex

    Its truly upsetting. The newest season they proudly show a bigger man having a sex scene but not a bigger women? So big girls get no love? Hmmm

    May 25, 2020
  • Rose

    Natasha Rothwell, who plays Kelli, is also in the writer’s room. I think aboutb that too and wonder if she brings it up. I feel like the only time I saw Kelli as a real person was when she and Tiffany had an argument about planning the baby shower. After that, back to the same caricature.

    Apr 18, 2020
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