By Emily McClanahan & Madison Whiteman
Euphoria is a provocative teen drama that was released by HBO in 2019. The show captured audiences attention through its bold depiction of teenagers in today’s society. The show doesn’t shy away from topics such as substance abuse, mental health issues, sexual violence, abortion, sex work, gender identity, etc. While Euphoria was intended for adult audiences it has become extremely popular among teenagers. For this photo essay we will analyze the depiction of Kat Hernandez in Euphoria. Kat Hernandez falls under the problematic trope common among teen dramas, the fat best friend. We will study how Euphoria is both reinforcing and subverting the DUFF trope through Kat’s character development.
Conventions of the Female Fat Best Friend
An all too common media trope that occurs time and time again in western entertainment is the female fat best friend. She tends to be partnered with a protagonist that embodies hegemonic femininity, meaning straight, white, attractive, and definitively slim. Even though she is hardly ever overtly “fat,” seeing as the average American woman wears a size 14, the female fat best friend is often a source of “comedic” relief that the other characters target to make cheap jokes. She rarely has any action happen to her and is instead an advice giver for the protagonist. Lastly, she is typically desexualized in nature despite the sexual revolution that has set out to empower women to embrace their sexuality. Women who do not fit within the barriers of femininity previously described are rarely allowed sexual desires and are often mocked for their sexual activity (PLOTZ, 2020 Pg. 91).
Introduction to Kat & How She Initially Fits the Trope
Euphoria’s Katherine, Kat, Hernandez is not introduced to the audience as the empowered woman that viewers have come to know her as. Instead, her initial presentation and backstory closely follow the conventions of the female fat best friend trope. In her backstory, Kat is described as being popular enough, smart enough, and pretty enough until she went on vacation and gained 20 pounds. Now she was 5’2” and 127 pounds, a healthy weight for her height, but when she got back from vacation, she was treated differently and was broken up with by her childhood boyfriend. 11-year-old Kat attributed losing everything she had loved to her weight gain.
When the audience first sees present-day Kat, she is an unconfident, conservatively dressed, virgin with low self-worth which we can see when she says, “I’d settle for 4 Corona Lights and some non-rapey affection.” This conveys how she measures her value compared to the other girls who are conventionally attractive and thin say they are worth a million bucks. As far as Kat’s sexuality, at the beginning of the show, she is a virgin and is teased for having never “caught a dick” but when she does lose her virginity, she gets teased by her friends. The way the other characters address their sexuality compared to Kats is also very telling. The other girls’ sex lives typically live more privately within the public sphere. Their actions are posted on a private social media page; whereas, Kat’s are posted publicly on the internet for the whole school to see. While both get viewed publicly, the thinner women’s sexual photos and activities are treated more like treasures to be hoarded, and Kat’s are fair game to ridicule and shame. These initial moments with Kat set her up to be just another “Fat Best Friend.”
Kat’s Sexual Renaissance
Euphoria depicts Kat with always having had a complex relationship with sex. From a young age some of her first sexual experiences were with fan fiction and smut. She is described as becoming one of the most prolific One Direction fan fiction authors and is credited with creating the Larry Stylinson fandom, where Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson have a secret homosexual relationship. Kat lived a double life though, her fame on social media was a secret to people in her life. Kat’s creation of fan fiction media furthers the desexualization of her. The audience still sees her as sexually undesirable and only writes about sex but does not engage in it.
Kat’s era of sexual exploration begins with assault. In episode 1, Kat loses her virginity after being coerced into sex by a guy. In episode 2 she finds out that she had been recorded and that the guy she had sex with released the tape and spread it around the school. She quickly threatened him with child porn laws and the video was seemingly scrubbed. She discovers later that the tape is on PornHub. The video has thousands of likes and hundreds of positive comments. This is an important turning point in Kat’s story arc. She realizes she is not only desirable to men, but can monetize from it. This begins her journey into the world of webcam sex. Through her engagement in camming she starts to earn large sums of money. She begins dressing completely differently, adopting a more dominatrix-esque look. She carries herself confidently and unapologetically, at one point saying, “Theres nothing more power than a fat girl who doesn’t give a fuck.” She also undergoes a complete attitude change, no longer willing to do emotional labor for Maddy. In episode 7 Maddy angrily says, “I don’t know about everyone else but I miss the old Kat. You know the one that had a sense of humor and wasn’t a fucking c*nt.”
Kat becomes empowered through sex work. From the sexual acts Kat engages in on camera and in real life we get a sense that she doesn’t find pleasure in sex, but power. At one point she says, “I had this, like realization, you know like, this epiphany. That no matter how cool or sexy or smart you think a guy is. They’re actually just fucking pathetic.” We see this as a manifestation of the anger that developed from years of internalizing the male gaze. She began to see sex as a way to overpower men.
Kat’s character development can be seen as empowering for many viewers, but it is equally problematic. At the end of the day, Kat is only 16 years old, legally a minor. This means she is not only creating and distributing child pornography, but that she is engaging in legally nonconsensual sexual activities with the men she cams for. Kat is a victim in this story. While she has become empowered through sexual liberation, she is simultaneously a victim of sexual violence, an important viewpoint Euphoria fails to address.
Though HBO intended for Euphoria to be a show for adults, it is also popularly consumed by teens. This can be harmful to teenage audiences by glamorizing this kind of sexual abuse. In an article titled, “From Sex to Sexuality: Exposing the Heterosexual Script on Primetime Network Television”, the impact of television on teens is emphasized when they say, “…the Heterosexual Script is a form of sexual content that saturates television programs targeting teens, but…adolescents who are engaging in their first relational and sexual experiences may seek such scripts that orient them to how boys/men and girls/ women think, feel, and behave in relationships until they develop a body of experiences of their own.” (Kim, Sorsoli, Collins, Zylbergold, Schooler, and Tolman, 2007) This article explains how teenagers are an impressionable audience and that depictions like these can affect their own sexual experiences.
What This Means For Society
What we watch and see in the media helps shape how we process the world around us. “If there are very few characters on television belonging to a particular co-culture, then those few characters carry greater weight both with the majority culture and that of those represented” (Kidd, 2016 Pg. 27). Having characters that are categorized as overweight that are constantly treated poorly, asexual in nature, hardly ever the main character, and not to mention, barely overweight sends a message to those that look and identify with these characters. Consequences of having “fat” characters represented in this manner are that those who see this as their representation will begin to “self-stereotype and try to fit into limited roles instead of exploring the options available” (Kidd, 2016 Pg. 27).
The main criticism of Kat as a character, other than being a minor performing countless illegal activities, is that she had to go through a sort of metamorphosis to love herself that the other characters did not. This sends the message that it isn’t standard for fat women to love themselves. Kat is a strong contender for body positivity, but it would have been just as impactful, if not more so, to introduce her as the self-loving woman she becomes. Not to mention, seeing as this Euphoria is predominantly consumed by teenagers and young adults, having a character that unconditionally loves themselves and their bodies without having to exploit it would have created a healthy depiction of sexuality for young women. Regardless, Kat has opened a new door for heavier women. She embraced her body and her sexuality, and it made her confident and powerful. She displays that women who don’t fit into stereotypical beauty roles are not less than those who do. Kat represents a shift in how fat people can be portrayed, and since there are few characters of this nature, she can change public and personal perceptions of what being fat means.
PLOTZ, BARBARA. (2020). Fat On Film: Gender, Race and Body Size in Contemporary Hollywood Cinema. BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC.
Kidd, M. A. (2016). Archetypes, Stereotypes and Media Representation in a Multi-cultural Society. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 236, 25–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.12.007
Kim, J., Sorsoli, C., Collins, K., Zylbergold, B., Schooler, D., & Tolman, D. (2007). From Sex to Sexuality: Exposing the Heterosexual Script on Primetime Network Television. The Journal of Sex Research,44(2), 145-157. Retrieved June 30, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25701753