“It’s important for me to portray being fat as beautiful,” said Jennifer Jonassen, a 40-year-old up-and-coming plus-sized actress, dancer, and writer intent on breaking sizeism barriers in Hollywood. Originally from Brooklyn, New York she worked in various off-Broadway shows from the age of 18 to well into her thirties. With the exception of one stage role, she exclusively played mothers. It was only when she moved to Los Angeles and broke into film that she was cast in a wider variety of roles. She stated, “I finally was able to be portrayed as beautiful.”
It hasn’t been easy. Via her regular column at PLUS Model Magazine she shares her frustrations at the excess of demeaning roles for fat actors in Hollywood. Although she admits that she could work more, she will not compromise herself. In 2007, Jonassen was hired to play the lead in a film shot in San Francisco. Upfront and transparent, she clearly stated her conditions: “I do not want to be a fat joke and I won’t do any scenes depicting binge eating in a comical way.” Somehow the production company didn’t hear her. The script demanded she break a scale by stepping on it, as well as provide comic relief by overeating. Without ever shooting a scene, Jonassen chose to fly back to LA. The experience, though difficult, crystallized her path. She explained,
“I realized then, having that experience, that it’s more important to portray being fat as something different than what it’s been. I have since turned down roles by HBO and Fox. There were projects where I could have been easily cast but they were always demeaning, always ugly.”
Her award-winning monologue in Girlie Show (2000), created by Lori Lamb and Susan Greenhill, was far from ugly. Her monologue, Manifesto 275, not only described her weight at the time, but more importantly, how she makes no apologies for it. Recent projects include a recreation of a Twilight Zone episode, directed by Jim Pasternak in which she portrays a classic 1930s Hollywood leading lady, and an upcoming guest segment on the web-based series, Squatters. One current undertaking she is particularly proud of is the documentary Fat, due for release later this year: “It was an amazing experience. The director Julian Dahl and the producer Linnea Dahl are very supportive. It’s going to be a powerful, powerful film. It shows very different, idiosyncratic stories of different perspectives of what it’s like to be fat or feel fat. Fat is so stigmatized in our society that it’s time to reclaim it.”
Her role in Fat not only includes a nude scene, but also documents the first time she performed with her dance troupe R.A.I.D. (Random Acts of Irreverent Dance) – in a full-body gold spandex suit. (To get an idea of the troupe’s caliber, some of the dancers have worked with Madonna and Rihanna.) In September 2008, Jonassen began her dance career at “38 years old and three hundred and forty some-odd pounds.” She explained how the creator and choreographer of R.A.I.D., Ramie Becker, aims “to have everyone incorporated into dance. She wants different shapes and sizes, and ages and levels of dance because she sees there is a real stigma in the dance world. She wants to expand that world so that everyone is included.” Jonassen recounted how coming to the decision to wear the spandex suit challenged her. “I really deliberated for weeks. Will people think it’s offensive? Or will it be, she’s fat and it’s funny?” Ultimately, she is grateful for the inner transformation it triggered. In fact, she asserts that everyone should slide into a gold spandex body suit at least once. In her opinion, “you can’t hate yourself in it.” Today, Jonassen celebrates her body.
In her debut article for PLUS Model Magazine, she wrote,
“I am a plus-size actress who is trying to change the way larger women are thought of and portrayed on film and onstage, as well as the world that they live in.”
Determined to realize her goal, she’s decided to create her own opportunities. In conjunction with Becker, she is developing “a one-woman burlesque show a la Mae West” to be performed in LA later this year. She also envisions creating a series of one-woman shows that could incorporate other themes – trapeze or maybe even rock climbing – all in the name of bashing stereotypes. And she’s not stopping there. She is also co-authoring a script that features her ideal role: “A leading lady with no mention of weight.” Based on her accomplishments, courage, and unwavering resolve, Jonassen’s vision for both herself and Hollywood is well within reach.