The highly anticipated Volume 2 of Stranger Things Season 4 arrived on Netflix at the beginning of July, and with it brought heartache, triumph, epic battles, and emotional reunions. The end of the previous season of the series saw local police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) presumed dead in the “Battle of Starcourt” before we learn he was captured by the Russians. As a result, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) spent much of Season 4 fighting to rescue him from a Demogorgon-infested prison. In the final episodes of Season 4, Joyce and Hopper finally acted on their feelings for each other and Joyce brought him home to the rest of their little family in Hawkins, Indiana.
For the most part, each of Hopper’s reunions was breathtakingly emotional — particularly those between Joyce and Hopper, and Hopper and Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). However, for some deeply strange reason, a joke about Hopper’s weight was written into each one of these scenes, almost like clockwork. Now, noticing a change in the person you haven’t seen in months is normal, but it’s rarely necessary to point out the physical aspects of those changes. Yet in every single reunion scene, Hopper makes comments about his change in weight that come off very uncomfortable and border on trivializing the horrors that the character faced for the past eight months.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: fat is not a bad word and being fat is not a bad thing. Weight has no moral significance — being skinny does not increase your value as a person and being fat doesn’t decrease it. However, if you aren’t skinny, you are constantly and consistently bombarded with comments about your weight — or, in the case of Jim Hopper, if you were once fat and you suddenly become skinny, it’s still somehow all anyone talks about. Commenting on anyone’s weight is something that we desperately need to let go of as a society, and to see Stranger Things do it so aggressively is wildly disappointing.
It starts out simple enough with a single self-deprecating joke from Hopper, with Joyce — and I’m sure by extension Ryder — having an appropriately somber reaction. But when Hopper makes it back to Hawkins, that pattern is repeated when he reunites with Eleven, and she says “You look…” and he supplies her with “not fat.” Then not ten minutes later when Hopper reunites with Mike (Finn Wolfhard), we round out Hopper’s reunions by having the kid poke at his waist and say, “You shrunk.” One might assume that we’re meant to handwave these kinds of reactions away because of the time period that the show is set in, but that excuse falls apart immediately because the show certainly was not written in the 1980s. We have to do better when it comes to body neutrality on television.
The repetitive nature of these jokes comes off especially gross when you remember exactly how Hopper lost as much weight as he did. It’s not like he woke up one day in the summer of 1985 and decided to take up jogging to the Hawkins city limits and back. No, Hopper was captured and then subsequently tortured for eight long months. His weight loss is the direct result of starvation and extreme duress. Laughing off such a serious matter, or worse yet, celebrating it as if it’s something Hop should be proud of is incredibly dangerous. Not all bodies are meant to be small, and trying to force someone’s body into a shape that it doesn’t naturally fit can cause long-term health problems. The results of starvation are never a healthy physique you’ll be able to maintain forever — in fact, most often the result of starvation is death. It’s disappointing that this aspect of Hopper is the one that he and his loved ones were written to fixate on during these happy moments.
David Harbour recently spoke to GQ about the real-life weight loss he did in order to portray Hopper’s emaciated form in Season 4, saying that he doesn’t think he’ll “ever do that again.” Harbour elaborated saying, “And I gained [it back]. But now, yeah, never again.” Losing any amount of weight really quickly is dangerous for anyone of any body type, so it’s good to know Harbour is doing what’s right for himself following what seems like a grueling process. Having an actor drastically alter their body for a role is already dicey territory, so it’s bold (and not in a good way) that Stranger Things chose to shine such a spotlight on it. On a show that celebrates outsiders and nerds for their differences, the last thing you want to hear is joke after joke about a character’s torture-induced weight loss.
The strangest thing about choosing to write jokes about how Hopper “needed to lose weight” or calling him fat in a derogatory sense is that his “dad bod” was perfect exactly as it was. When Stranger Things Season 3 hit Netflix in 2019, Hopper appeared as a roguish brute determined to woo Joyce Byers and protect his hometown. The summer-themed installment of the sci-fi series featured Hop looking like he walked right out of Magnum P.I. and it was so attractive that Hopper-thirst tweets went viral all over social media. Simply put, a fat Jim Hopper is a hot Jim Hopper. And he’s hot for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that he’s happy and comfortable. Hopper has always been attractive because David Harbour pours charm, humor, and his own natural charisma into the role. He’s a delightful contradiction of so many things that make him Hopper, he’s simultaneously respectful and reckless — he’s brave enough to walk into the Upside Down with nothing but a knife and unassuming to the point that it took him 20 years to tell Joyce he’s into her.
Following both the second and third seasons of Stranger Things, the internet went wild for Hopper’s dad bod, prompting various media outlets to ask Harbour how he felt about becoming a sex symbol of sorts. “I sort of love it and the reason why I love it is actually very serious. I do think that in a certain way, I’ve become a bit of a sex symbol for our time — there are articles about people digging Hopper. But I’m also a little big and a little chubby. I love the idea of real bodies on television. And I love the idea of making real people beautiful and loved,” Harbour told CNET Magazine.
With Harbour making statements like this and the show having previously celebrated the dad bod — with Hopper essentially being the romantic lead on the ensemble series — it’s heartbreaking that jokes about his weight were given any screen time at all, let alone so much of it, in the Season 4 finale. We still have a long way to go in celebrating real bodies in film and television, but Harbour’s quote is still the ideal goal: to make real people feel loved. We need to see more real bodies on television and their storylines need to be as vast and varied as anyone else’s.
Whether Stranger Things Season 5 will begin with any kind of time jump, as the previous seasons all have, is still a mystery but hopefully, the show’s final installment won’t waste any more time making weird comments about Hopper’s weight. As people, our value lies so far beyond our bodies. Hopper is a good character because his ruthless determination to protect the people he loves is tempered only by his capacity for tenderness with those same people. Focusing on his weight is incredibly reductive and harmful to both the character and the audience.
In the words of Winona Ryder, stop it, seriously. It’s 2022, and it’s well beyond time to leave fat jokes in the past. Harbour should feel free to have any kind of body that he feels comfortable and happiest in and that infectious charm will spill over into Hopper regardless of his size.
Seasons 1-4 of Stranger Things are now available to stream on Netflix.
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