The DUFF: A Feminist’s Review

unnamed-15When I first saw the trailer for The Duff, I was immediately turned off. The movie appeared to tell the story of “The Designated Ugly Fat Friend”, an idea that really left a sour impression on me. Add to that Mae Whitman plays the lead character, or the DUFF. As you can see, this actress is clearly doesn’t fit our society’s standards of “fat” or “ugly”. In fact, I think she’s gorgeous and I’m certain she’s skinnier than myself. Perhaps what bothered me the most about the DUFF acronym is that this movie is likely going to be very popular with middle and high school students. It seems to me that this idea of a Designated Ugly Fat Friend could be pretty damaging to that demographic. Heck, I know I would begin to wonder if I was a “DUFF”” if I heard that term when I was a teenager. As you can imagine, I quickly decided I wasn’t going to see this film.

However, I generally don’t like to slam movies before I have a chance sit down and watch them. I knew I couldn’t write a post tearing this movie apart until I knew there was evidence to validate my complaints, so a viewing of The DUFF was in order. So what was the verdict? Pleasantly surprised. I actually quite enjoyed the movie and it wasn’t the misogynistic mess I expected. In fact, it seemed like the whole movie was actually trying to show that the idea of a DUFF is simply a pointless label and nothing more than a load of crap. Did I still find some faults in it? Sure, but I’m glad I gave the film a chance.

In the movie, high school senior Bianca Piper attends a party, one that she didn’t particularly want to go to in the first place, and is told by one of the school jocks that she’s the “DUFF” in her group of friends. Bianca thinks back on the number of conversations that people have had with her regarding her friends and who they’re romantically interested in. However, it’s rare that people talk to Bianca about anything else and they certainly never talk to her as though she’s the datable friend. After the party, she is hung up on the idea of being a DUFF. She cuts ties with her two best friends because she’s convinced they also see her as the ugly friend, and then enlists the help of her childhood friend turned jock, Wesley. He’s at risk of losing a scholarship because of his slipping grades, so he reluctantly agrees when Bianca offers tutoring in exchange for help becoming more datable. A series of makeover mishaps, an embarrassing viral video, and one bad date later, and Bianca gives up on trying to make herself over and accepts the fact that she may be the designated ugly fat friend. She’s fine with this though because she realizes that everyone is someone’s DUFF. There will always be people prettier than you, better at something than you, but should you let that define who you are? It’s all useless labels and Bianca never should have let others’ negativity have such an impact. In typical teen movie fashion, she makes up with her friends, gets the guy, and everyone lives happily ever.

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There were many pleasant surprises through the film. First of all, Bianca’s friendships with her “prettier” friends were actually incredibly positive. They never treated Bianca as though she were the ugly fat friend. In fact, when they heard the term DUFF, they didn’t even know what it meant and told her the entire things was BS. Of course they didn’t see her that way! Additionally, when an embarrassing viral video of Bianca was released on the Internet, her tech-savvy friend was quick to take down the site. Bianca was still angry with her friends at this point, making me appreciate their friendship all the more. They could have chosen to be petty, but they still stood up for their friend.

Even though there was a makeover scene in this movie, it didn’t send the message that I think a lot of films targeted at teenage girls send, which is “once you’re pretty, you’ll get the guy”. Instead, Bianca struggles to find a new wardrobe, finding everything considered hot and trendy to look silly on her. It doesn’t fit her personality at all, which means she leaves the mall minus the new look we’d expect. Her attempts at talking to guys go just as poorly; once again, being true to herself won out and she only connected with someone when she wasn’t even trying to spark the guy’s interest.

Finally, I like the message that the movie wraps with. As I’ve mentioned, I expected this would be one of those films where the girl gets a makeover and gets the guy because of it. In this case, it’s the opposite. All of her attempts to become more datable failed and the guy who she ended up dating fell for Bianca, minus any makeovers or changes in her personality. Branching off of that, I love that it promotes the idea that that there will always be people out there who we see as better than us in some way but we can’t let that define who we are. From my experience, high school is a time full of petty competition, social hierarchies, and efforts to one-up each other. We also can’t let meaningless labels and negativity, such as the term DUFF, define who we are either.. Again, this is a message that I think young people, especially women, can benefit from.

While The DUFF has more positive traits than I expected, I still have my concerns about the acronym itself. After seeing the movie, I don’t think the writers ever intended for it to be misogynistic, problematic, or degrading to women as I initially thought. If someone actually watches the film, I think they’ll also see this. However, you have to know that there will be tons of people who don’t see the movie and take away nothing from it other than, “DUFF means ‘designated ugly fat friend’”. That’s exactly what I thought after seeing previews. My thoughts about the acronym weren’t malicious at all, but there will certainly be people who take the term DUFF and use it as a way to degrade people. In the movie, the acronym is introduced by a male character, which to me implies that it’s mainly targeted at women. Despite the character insisting DUFF isn’t meant to be insulting, we see from Bianca’s actions that it is damaging. I can just imagine how this might play out in real-life. DUFF could end up as just another term used against women.

The Duff wasn’t quite what I expected and I’m glad that I actually gave the movie a chance, even if I might have been reluctant at first. I find that the story has a shockingly positive moral and Bianca is a fantastic leading lady who deviates from many of the female characters I’ve seen in similar films. However, I still worry about the real world implications that the acronym DUFF might have, particularly when people have not seen the film.

If anyone has seen this film, I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments!

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