Melissa McCarthy Is Just Like Every Other Plus-Size Woman: Searching for Cute Clothes

When you Google Melissa McCarthy, the top automated search suggestion is “Melissa McCarthy weight.” Sure, McCarthy stars on a popular TV show in which her plus-size status is central to the concept (Mike & Molly), but the fascination with her weight is voyeuristic at best, fat-shaming at worst.

This is nothing new, of course. The public is cruel when it comes to celebrity standards of beauty. But this week came another reminder that the problem extends beyond viewers. Despite being one of Hollywood’s most unanimous sweethearts in recent years — magazine editors, please try out a different tagline than “favorite funny gal” — McCarthy struggles to find designers to dress her on the red carpet.

“When I go shopping, most of the time I’m disappointed,” she recently told Redbook. “Two Oscars ago, I couldn’t find anybody to do a dress for me. I asked five or six designers — very high-level ones who make lots of dresses for people — and they all said no.”

I’ve heard this before, and from an actress whose size does not even fall within the standard department-store plus-size range: “It is difficult come awards season, and I need to find a gown to walk down the red carpet in, and there are only size zeros and size twos available,” Christina Hendricks told Glamour in 2010. “Then it becomes downright annoying because all these designers are saying, ‘We love Mad Men, we love Christina, but we won’t make her a dress.’” Then there was Jennifer Lawrence’s claims that by Hollywood standards, she’s “obese.”

Keep in mind, at the Oscars for which McCarthy struggled to find a dress, she had a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her breakout role in Bridesmaids. Perhaps it seemed unlikely that McCarthy would trump one of The Help actresses, but there was still the potential for her to give this dress some serious airtime. McCarthy did indeed lose out to Octavia Spencer, but hey, at least she looked great — in non-couture. Marina Rinaldi, a designer whose glamorous plus-size ensembles are available at high-end department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, dressed McCarthy in a flowing, jewel-encrusted dust-rose gown (see above) that ranks among the actress’s best-received red carpet looks.

Armani, Dior, Valentino, or even a new-school red carpet favorite like Zac Posen, Elie Saab, or Jason Wu — none of them would dress McCarthy at the height of her star-making moment? She may not have possessed the established glamor of Angelina or Charlize, and no, she would not be able to fit into one of those size two samples on loan. But people look at Melissa McCarthy — and, if you’re a plus-size woman like myself, to her. It became clear to me after the 2011 Emmys that McCarthy had a distinct fashion point of view: along with dressmaker Daniella Pearl, McCarthy designed her gem-toned purple deep-plunge dress with front pockets, strong shoulders, and geometric stitching. And that Eloquii fit-and-flare black-and-white patterned dress McCarthy wore with such casual flair on a red carpet back in April? Yep, ordered the sleeveless version of it.

Melissa McCarthy at the 2011 Emmys.
Melissa McCarthy at the 2011 Emmys.

McCarthy, who studied clothing and textiles at Southern Illinois University before dropping out, and eyed FIT after moving to New York, will team up with Pearl again for her long-in-the-works plus-size clothing line. Talk of the ready-to-wear line first came in 2011, at which point McCarthy told the Hollywood Reporter, “Trying to find stuff that’s still fashion-forward in my size is damn near impossible. It’s either for like a 98-year-old woman or a 14-year-old hooker, and there is nothing in the middle.”

She’s not wrong, and I can only hope McCarthy’s line comes to fruition. Much of the fashion industry has let its own prejudices against the overweight stop it from making a buck, as fashion-forward plus-size lines are still not as common in brick-and-mortar stores as they could be. (Hell, all my fellow fashionable fat girls order entire wardrobes from UK online-only retailer ASOS’ Curve line.) Although at this point, McCarthy’s so in-demand in her day job that who knows when she’ll fit it in among the summer blockbusters? Now, if only one of those films would cast McCarthy as a character with just an ounce of style.