Is Jacob the Neville That Should Have Been?

Unrealistic body standards are unapologetically thrown upon men and women in the film industry. The Potter films missed a great opportunity to teach body positivity, but Fantastic Beasts seems to be picking up the slack through Jacob Kowalski. Jacob’s character isn’t just the comic relief in the film.  He’s the heart of Fantastic Beasts. He’s able to win the girl of his dreams by simply being himself. The spectacular part of Jacob and Queenie Goldstein’s romance is the unquestioned love and attraction between them. Queenie never references his body type. She uses her mad Legilimency skills to explore his mind, and the love affair begins.

 

 

The emphasis of Jacob’s character is not on society’s perception of handsomeness but on his actions and natural attributes. Fantastic Beasts doesn’t use the “beauty within” trope that degrades a person’s worth by insulting their body. Sharply dressed, kind, and hilarious (not to mention a great baker), Jacob is a fantastic person inside and out. Despite one comment in the film (I’m looking at you, Tina), Jacob overcomes the stereotypes of the plus-size side character.

 

 

Plenty of people would want to marry such a man! Even if he is a Muggle. Queenie isn’t presented as out of his league, and she’s able to see the world through a progressive lens. They are both portrayed as equals and quite deserving of each other.

The term “Longbottomed” has become a common societal term regularly used to describe an incredible body transformation. Matthew Lewis’s portrayal of Neville is beloved by the Potter fandom, but is Neville’s dramatic physical transformation in the movies the true essence of his character? His brave evolution into a Carrow-resisting snake fighter is amazing, but the physical changes seem to have overshadowed his actions. I’m not saying that Matthew Lewis coming out of his shell isn’t an empowering reveal, but I prefer my version of Neville who is both brave and round-faced. Let’s hope that Dan Fogler doesn’t feel pressure to change. Perhaps he’ll be a new version of Neville who gives a new generation a voice and a positive role model.

 

 

Do you think Fantastic Beasts is promoting body positivity through Jacob? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

  • Diagonotter

    To be fair they kept our boy Neville in cardigans, and teeth (which drove me me nuts since Herimone had Emmas teeth) we really had no idea until after the films or at least filming what Matt Lewis looked like.

    That as side, yes Jacob is a wonderful expletive of letting people come in many sizes… now for some people of color!

    • Iain Walker

      Well, we’ve hopefully got Leta Lestrange to look forward to. And I wouldn’t mind finally meeting the Shafiqs.

  • Kelly Dischinger Loomis

    I read an interview somewhere that JKR gave Dan Fogler a preview of his character arc and he said the transformation will be incredible. She’s definitely using him in the same way she used Neville – is it a physical thing only? I think not – but physicality could be one measure people use to discount certain people. She’s all about overcoming stereotype.

    Neville’s shedding of his round face and teeth were just part of his transformation. Being a part of Dumbledore’s Army and accepted by his peers was as much a part of his transformation as anything else. The battle at the ministry elevated him in his grandmother’s eyes. She finally bought him his own wand – well, she had to – but that helped him further break out from his father’s shadow.

    • Martin Miggs the Mad Muggle

      Neville’s emotional transformation is inspiring in the books and movies. I really do like Matthew Lewis, I grew up with him. But I think physical transformations can also be confidence and physical presence, not just change in weight. I know Matthew Lewis can’t help being a good looking man. I just hope that Jacob is allowed to be comfortable in his current body while growing as a character.

  • Stevie

    In a lot of the fairy tales there’s a direct correlation between outer and inner beauty that I think HP sometimes gets stuck in– especially with weight. Umbridge is fat, Slughorn is fat, the Dursleys are fat… And yes, there’s a point to some of them being so (to contrast with the poor way Harry is fed, for example), but it still sort of equates a state of moral goodness with being slim and attractive. (But, you know, not TOO attractive, because then you’re threatening. *side-eyes the whole attitude towards Lavender Brown and Fleur*)

    • Iain Walker

      “it still sort of equates a state of moral goodness with being slim and attractive.”

      It’s true that there is an element of physical appearance reflecting moral character in the books, but it’s far more complex than “fat=bad” and “thin=good”. We have thin villains (Voldemort, Bellatrix) and thin heroes (Ron, Arthur Weasley, Sirius, Dumbledore) and thin characters who are just unpleasant people (Petunia). We have thin and morally ambiguous characters (Snape). We have plump or overweight characters who are good (Molly Weasley, and ultimately Slughorn) and those who are, if not bad, then at least highly unpleasant (Dudley as a child). We have stocky characters who are good (the Twins, Professor Sprout) and stocky characters who are bad (Umbridge, who is described as “squat”, not fat) or simply unpleasant (Vernon, who is likewise not fat, but “beefy”).

      When Rowling links body shape to personality, it’s rarely in a reductive, generalised way. Dudley (before his fat turns into muscle) is spoiled and gluttonous – a negative stereotype. Yet Molly Weasley’s plumpness is linked to her warm and nurturing tendencies – a positive stereotype. And Slughorn’s is linked both to his hedonism and his jovialness – a mixture of the two.

      Furthermore, when Rowling dwells on a character’s thinness, it’s often to highlight something unhealthy about them. Snape’s thinness goes with his sallow complexion. Bellatrix and Sirius are skeletally thin from their years in Azkaban. Voldemort’s thinness reflects his otherness, his lack of humanity. And as you note, Harry’s thinness in the early books reflects neglect and malnourishment rather than anything positive.

      In short, any correlation between body type and moral character in the books is ambiguous at best. Attractiveness and moral character seem to correlate slightly better, in that the least attractive characters tend to be villains rather than heroes. But even then it’s complex – Voldemort and Bellatrix were both attractive when younger, and the Malfoys are implied to be sleek and elegant lot. Lockhart the narcissistic mind-robber is very handsome. And on the other side Mad-Eye Moody is alarmingly disfigured, Lupin is prematurely aged, and Bill goes from handsome to ugly (and remains the same person). Snape is unattractive, but is the most morally complex character in the books.

      If there’s a problem with how Rowling treats attractiveness and moral character in the books, then I thinks it’s because the most memorable correlations (Umbridge, say) tend to stand out. It’s only when you look more closely that the picture becomes a lot more nuanced.

      “But, you know, not TOO attractive, because then you’re threatening. *side-eyes the whole attitude towards Lavender Brown and Fleur*”

      Really? Lavender is implied to be pretty, yes, but nothing in the books suggests she’s a great beauty. As for Fleur, she’s a deliberate deconstruction of this trope, and the other character’s superficial responses to her are a part of this.

    • Kathrin ‘Lily’ Franke

      Aunt Petunia isn’t fat – she’s thin and bony with too much neck. Neither is Moody particularly thin, in the films that is. And what about the Malfoys and Bella?
      I’m not sure the aversion – mainly on the part of other females – to Lavender and Fleur has too much to do with being pretty, though. Lavender seems to be a rather silly girl, and Fleur is French – and all we have is povs from people who don’t like them much (Hermione, Ginny and Molly) because they think they’re not the right sort of girl for the boy in question. But they eventually come round.

      • Stevie

        I’m not saying it’s a 1-to-1 correlation; Molly isn’t thin either. But it’s something I’ve noticed JKR falls into, describing ‘evil’ characters as ugly or disgusting in some way, like their evil is manifesting in their looks.

        Lavender and Fleur are both presented as extremely feminine, and it’s treated as some kind of character flaw– that they’re shallow for having an interest in being attractive. It always struck me as a little ‘I’m not like the other girls’, if you know what I mean.

        • Kathrin ‘Lily’ Franke

          I know it isn’t 1-1 after all most of the Death Eaters we see aren’t fat.

          Regarding the Dursley’s, though, I’ve noticed an other thing. Most of the time when they talk – especially to Harry – it’s described with animal noises (barking, shrieking, hissing, growling etc), apart from Uncle Vernon’s penchant for yelling at his employees. It certainly creates an atmosphere, and not a very pleasant one at that – which probably was the point of it.

          Of course, other characters get angry/argue – like Percy at Ron, and Arthur and Molly in PoA, before they go to Kimg’s Cross – but it doesn’t seem to be their default setting. But even when they do, they usually just shout, or a variant thereof.

  • Rosmerta

    Apart from the metaphorical transformation, it’s nature for children to change shape during the teenage years. Most teens do not look the same aged 11 as they do at 17. With Jacob it’s different (obviously!) as an adult he shouldn’t have a physical body change. It’ll be fascinating to see the character development though, as we love him so much already!