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I Owe Everything to Miss Piggy, a Size-Positive Icon Ahead of Her Time

Even as a child, years before I came out, there was always a special place in my heart for any character willing to punch a silk-gloved fist straight through that gender binary.

by Claire Willett
Feb 19 2019, 8:10pm

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"Cold Takes" is a column in which we express our passionate beliefs about insignificant events and Internet discourses at least several months too late.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.” —Miss Piggy

You can extrapolate a lot from which slice of the Jim Henson’s extended universe is imprinted upon a person most deeply in their youth. Repeated exposure to Fozzie Bear, for example, is how you get The Friend Who Tells Dad Jokes; also every Sesame Street kid has a library card and “the only good Jim Henson movie is Labyrinth” is peak bisexual culture. (I don’t make the rules.)

My Muppet patronus has always been Miss Piggy, and if from that you deduce that I am a big girl with a loud voice who majored in theatre and that somewhere in my past there are Halloween photos of me in marabou and a pig snout, you would be entirely correct. But you don’t have to be a femme diva to understand why she matters, how sneakily subversive she is, or why—despite the misogynist underpinnings of her initial conception—she received a feminism award in 2015 from none other than Gloria Steinem.

Miss Piggy’s origin dates back to a brief TV appearance in 1974 as a spoof on the singer Peggy Lee, after which she cropped up intermittently for a few years until a one-off joke where she aggressively threw herself at Kermit got a big laugh and the team realized she had potential.

There are uncomfortable implications to this. “BIG LADY, TINY MAN, GET IT??” is not much of a punchline, to me, nor is the very notion of fatness and desire intersecting. Frank Oz described his approach to voicing Miss Piggy as “a truck driver wanting to be a woman,” so the dubious tropes about gender and size were baked in from the beginning as well.

And yet somehow, she transcends them.

If you haven’t revisited the early Muppet canon in a while, you might be surprised how often it’s actually Piggy, not Kermit, who saves the day—whether breaking free of her rope restraints to take down a human goon squad and rescue Kermit from Mel Brooks, or prying apart her prison cell bars, stealing a motorcycle and driving it through a window to stop a robbery. She is physically one of the strongest Muppets, the only one with real combat skills, and even as the main girl in a largely-male ensemble she is rarely the damsel in distress.

I have always loved this about her, the way her penchant for beating up bad guys while wearing pink satin complicated my notions of what it meant for a woman to be strong. So many of my other fictional childhood heroines were tree-climbing tomboys who hated dresses and I couldn’t relate to them. It is my belief that our culture codes certain traits as “masculine” and rewards people of all genders for adopting them; other traits are coded as “feminine,” and they diminish you. A romantic soul and a love of pretty things marks you as weak. Strong women should not want them. (Boys definitely should not want them.) So even as a child, years before I came out, there was always a special place in my heart for any character willing to punch a silk-gloved fist straight through that gender binary.

This, to me, is how Miss Piggy subverts the shitty punchline of her origin: Because she is not in on the joke. She moves through the world with an unshakeable confidence in her own talent, capability, and fabulousness, which the narrative never treats as misplaced. If Henson and Oz conceived her as a satirical contradiction—a glamorous pig—that’s over by The Muppet Movie, which cements her as one of the few genuinely layered characters in the ensemble, who gets to be loved for exactly who she is.

And every time she kicks a bad guy’s ass to save her boyfriend from danger, she further transcends that cheap original joke; now her size is an asset, not a punchline. Over the course of my life as a plus-sized woman, the moments I’ve hated my body the least have been the times I’m reminded that, because it has to carry me around the world every day, it is also strong. Miss Piggy has mastered the kind of self-love most of us spend lifetimes working towards: Can I be at home in this body the world calls imperfect? Can I be grateful for all the things it can do?

The women I love most in this world—real, fictional, human or pig— are the ones who you instantly know are entirely unafraid to take up space.

Or, in the words of writer Nyree MacPherson: “We will not make ourselves smaller for the benefit of small men.”

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We are still, as a culture, wildly resistant to women who punch above their weight, who are driven by ambition. So it matters, that the universe of the Muppets rewards and validates Miss Piggy’s aspirations. It matters that she gets to be complicated—strong and vulnerable, flawed and adored. She speaks French to sound more sophisticated, but never quite uses “moi” correctly. She wants to work at the top of her field, and also have a big white wedding and a bunch of pig and frog babies. She comes into our lives as a farm girl with big Hollywood dreams, and by the time Jason Segel reboots the franchise in 2011 she is the plus-sized editor of Vogue.

And she does all of this while being… a pig.

A pig who reminds us that our big bodies can be loved exactly as they are, can be objects of beauty, can be powerful and strong, and can carry us through life as the heroines of our own stories.

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