As Emma Watson once addressed writers, “Have you challenged the language and imagery used to portray women in the media?” “The Duff” gives me the perfect opportunity. In this high school romantic comedy, Mae Whitman is casted as the “DUFF,” an acronym for the designated ugly fat friend. It’s pretty apparent that calling Whitman fat and ugly in a movie intended for teens, is a problem.
Whiteman plays Bianca, an intelligent teenage girl whose “world is shattered when she learns the student body knows her as the DUFF.” Our appearance has the power to break our entire life into a million tiny little pieces? That is what our main concern should be? Why is a smart, brainy girl who is the star of the schools newspaper, so shattered that the student body cares about her looks? This isn’t just women either, men can be DUFFs too. This is what the media is teaching the younger generations.
Once Bianca is notified she is the DUFF of her friend group, she begs her former friend, neighbor, and star football player, Wes, to “fix” her and in exchange, she will help him pass his class. Wes implies that Bianca has horrible posture and that she has a “uniboob.” Since Bianca’s overalls and plaid shirts aren’t cool enough (which I thought was back in style), she’s obligated to make investments in a new wardrobe. With any cliché movie scene where there is fixing of somebody who doesn’t meet society’s standards of beauty, there is a trip to the mall. Once Bianca gets new clothes, Wes points out how happy Bianca looks. This disturbed me to say the least.
But what is a teen flick without the mean, beautiful, popular girl that predictably used to date the leading male character? Madison, a wannabe reality TV star, seeks out to destroy Bianca and stop her friendship with Wes. She surfaces a video of Bianca in her new clothes talking to a mannequin, who she pretends to be Toby, her guitar-playing crush.
Once the video is leaked, Wes advices Bianca to ignore the video, and asks Toby on a date. However, Bianca finds out Toby is DUFF’ing her in order to get more time with Bianca’s “more attractive” friends. When Bianca seeks Wes to vent, she finds him kissing Madison.
As in most high school films, whatever the issue, it is resolved at the schools prom. Bianca tells off Madison, stating that everyone is a DUFF and we should embrace our individuality. The rest is pretty predictable; the Madison wins prom queen, Wes is crowned king, and then Wes rejects Madison and kisses Bianca (in front of the entire school, of course).
If I could describe the movie in two words, it would be cliché and predictable. It was nothing original. If the film didn’t have a horrible way to approach beauty norms, it would have been kind of funny. However, with a major motion picture aimed towards the younger generations, you’re basically poisoning a change in beauty norms. If girls in the audience see Whitman and weigh more than her or see themselves less attractive, they’ll think “well if that’s what is considered fat and ugly, what must I be?” The movie could be inoffensive and meaningless for those that know better, but not everyone does.
The film tries to portray Bianca as normal once she receives a makeover and a boyfriend. Many reviewers say the film is similar to works of John Hughes. I’d have to agree in the sense that “The Breakfast Club” represents the strange, outcast girl Ally, to be “better” once she wins the heart of the cute jock and gets a makeover from the popular girl. The film’s underlying meaning of changing who you are in order to achieve love is frightening to me.
The desire to find romance isn’t a bad thing, but the way the movie portrayed it, has mediocre written all over it. However, I enjoyed Whiteman’s acting, so I can’t bash the entire film. I hope to see her in more films but hopefully next time not in an insulting one.
Cover photo credit: dm2dev.com