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One of the most poignant storylines on This Is Us has been Kate's (Chrissy Metz) journey with food, weight, and body image. We first met the character as she was stepping on the scale naked, removing her earrings to make sure the number was the lowest it could be. Season 1 Kate was obsessed with losing weight—and as the show continued, we've witnessed her relationship with her body and weight change. It's a complicated topic, one we've seen multiple generations of Pearson women deal with. That's why it's not so easily solvable.
But what's been refreshing about Kate's evolution is weight loss with a capital W-L is no longer her top priority. She's focused on being happy—on being the best mom she can be and the best wife to Toby (Chris Sullivan), even as cracks in their marriage start to form (and even though we know they ultimately break up). Of course, her internal battle with food and weight is still there—those issues just don't go away—but they're part of a more comprehensive, three-dimensional character. In some episodes, those issues are more pronounced; in others, they take a backseat.
In the case of Season 6's Thanksgiving episode—which aired March 8—it was the former. Titled "Taboo," this episode dove deep into the food trauma Rebecca (Mandy Moore) inherited from her mother, and then what Kate ultimately inherited from Rebecca. After Jack's (Milo Ventimiglia) death in the '90s, we see Kate experience weight gain—and teen Randall notice that weight gain. And then in the present, the food issues come to a head as Kate and Toby have disagreements about what to feed Baby Jack. Below, NBC Insider speaks to the episode's writer, Laura Kenar, about this and Kate's arc from Season 1 to now. Read on.
NBC Insider: This Is Us has historically tackled weight and body image issues with nuance and empathy. How has that been achieved?
Laura Kenar: I think, in a lot of ways, the writers have dealt with body and weight issues. I, in particular, have dealt with weight issues. It’s kind of just thinking through the human aspect of it. It’s a complicated subject for so many people, and I think we’re starting to realize the nuance of the diet culture we’ve all grown up in. Everyone has their own ways of taking care of their bodies, but I think it’s such a long journey for some people—I think all people, really—to feel comfortable in their own bodies and comfortable with their relationship with food. In this episode in particular, for Kate, the sugar pie in her teenage years only represents evil, in a way. But as we pull back the layers, [the pie] is this tradition between mothers and daughters.
The mothers and daughters aspect of this episode is interesting—because as viewers watch, they really see how food issues and disordered eating can be passed down generationally.
I think we all have stories of our parents or people in our lives who’ve gone through these different diets. And with Thanksgiving, it’s always like, “Maybe I’ll eat a good amount of food today, but tomorrow I’m starting my diet.” When you see your parents treat their bodies in a certain way or make certain choices, I think Rebecca sees that in her mother and then can’t help but feel judged.
And with Rebecca and Kate, I think until they went to the pool together in Season 4—there’s this breakthrough of Rebecca saying, "You're fat; I'm ancient. We're gorgeous”—[it was similar]. But this empowering nature has overtaken Rebecca since her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, really.
I think generations affect each other—just by watching what your parents do or what they say. Most people are coming from a good place, but yeah, it’s all complicated. That’s what family is.
Teen Kate noticing teen Randall staring at her because of her weight gain was gut-wrenching to watch. Why include that?
We really wanted to feel Kate stressing so much about her body, and to bring someone who hasn’t been in the home for a while—so Randall—to have him see it. And again, it’s coming from a good place, but she can also feel his judgment—and on a day like Thanksgiving, where it’s all about eating. That adds such extra stress to it. It was just important for us to show how hurtful living in a society that's not comfortable with weight can be. And it’s coming from Randall, who she has such a beautiful, strong, close relationship with. It’s hurtful and, again, it’s complicated and there’s no easy answer to it.
Perhaps Kate’s uneasiness with Randall is why she responded to his invitation to visit him at college by eating the sweet potatoes.
At that moment, she’s feeling frustrated, because she knows he’s trying to fix her. She knows that he’s at a loss for how to help her. But it’s also her own body and choices, and it’s her own internal struggle that she’s dealing with. So I think there's a lot going on. People use food as a way to comfort themselves, but then you’re always having this war in your head about what you should and shouldn’t be eating.
Bringing it back to adult Kate and Toby: Their disagreements about what to feed Baby Jack were incredibly specific and interesting. Does that foreshadow what ultimately ends their marriage?
I think this episode does a good job of showing the cracks in the relationship starting to form. I think by the end of that conversation [about Baby Jack’s food], I think the biggest takeaway is Kate saying, “I put a lot of thought into what I feed our children, and I don’t know how you don’t know that.” You can kind of feel that just in general, they’re disconnected. I think there’s a lot of logistical issues going on with their marriage—he’s in San Francisco, and she’s in L.A.—so I think just in general they haven’t been quite on the same page like they used to be. The food argument is kind of a good precursor to where it’s heading, for sure.
Kate has come so far in terms of her relationship with food, weight, and her body. How would you say she is now compared to Season 1?
We’ve had a lot of discussions about where Kate was versus where she is now. In the pilot, she’s on the ground with Kevin, and she’s fallen off the scale. She’s like, “I want to be a mom like Mom.” And I think she thought at the time the only way to do that is lose weight, become worthy and desirable, and then you can live your life. I think the cool thing about Kate is she’s been able to live her life—played beautifully by Chrissy Metz—but she’s been able to live her life, become a great mother, become a great wife, and not have to lose weight to do that.
I think her life has become bigger than just, “She will be happy once she loses the weight.” Not that she doesn’t struggle with it every day, not that she’s not trying to make the healthiest choices for herself and try to live a very long life—just like everyone else—but [weight] is not her sole focus. I don’t think she puts all of her worth into what size she is.
This Is Us airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC
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