The DUFF and the Concept of Bullying
The new movie, The DUFF premiered on February 20th and has already been rated 7.1 stars on IMBD.com. This film is based on a novel about a girl’s journey, played by Mae Witman, to abandon her apparent title “DUFF,” aka “Designated Ugly Fat Friend.” To sum it up, a girl in high school seeks to change her “fumpy” self into someone that is considered pretty and dateable to the rest of the world. Nerd makeover, “”ugly duckling” transformation, whatever.
This movie may come off as light-hearted and slightly humorous in the previews, but it’s probably not one of the best things for our younger audiences to watch, ESPECIALLY those that are of the same age as the characters themselves. Even if the end leaves the main character overcoming this need to give into labels, it’s still throwing out a mean term into the world for kids to use in a negative way.
The Word “DUFF” and It’s Audience
Obviously, judging by the storyline, this movie is mostly aimed towards high schoolers, and probably hopes to connect to the audience in some way just like any other movie about high school. Mean Girls magnifies on almost each stereotype found in high school (from band nerds to art freaks to “girls who eat their feelings”). ABC Family’s Cyber Bully (2011), is a movie about the power of Internet bullying and the consequences that can follow.
High school will never be ridden of it’s cliques or it’s peer pressure, that’s just how it is, and some movies have done a good job depicting that message. But this movie, with the phrase “DUFF” seen right in the title, is adding to the hurtful terminology of grade school name-calling.
Being a “designated ugly fat friend” is a relatively new slang term, one of which I never heard in high school. The earliest definition I could find on Urban Dictionary was 2003. It basically suggests that there is generally one person in a group of friends that is “subpar” when compared to the rest.
Examples found on Urban Dictionary described the “duff” as an “unattractive female” that is found with an attractive female to make them look better. Talk about a major “burn.” Not only is this offering more ammo to bullies all around, but it could also shake friend groups in unfavorable ways. “Who is our duff?” and “Am I the duff?” just to name two. As depicted clearly in the movie, the main character doesn’t seem to realize she’s the odd-one-out until she is harshly reminded by a former friend and really hot guy (a double burn).
Promoting Conformity Through Bullying
So after Witman’s character has revealed her to be the so-called “duff” title, she is then supposed to change everything about herself: clothes, behavior, EVERYTHING. She pretty much abandons her own individuality to avoid further ridicule and labeling.
In the preview, she’s told to have a “uni-boob” and is seen being forced to try and hit on a stranger in the mall. What kind of message is this? Witman’s character begins the movie being herself, which is the ultimate goal of growing up. This storyline takes this whole coming-of-age process and puts it in reverse, having the “duff” seek to change herself to conform to what is considered “pretty” or un-duff. Ultimately, The duff is showing the audience what bullying really can do, but not in an “anti-bullying” way. It is honing in on a character that is clearly not the cookie cutter girl (yet, seemed pretty content), placing a label on her as the “designated ugly one,” and following her through the process of changing into someone else.
The Possible Real-Life Application
Without spoiling anything, this process doesn’t exactly work, but it’s the principle behind the entire movie that could be misunderstood or completely missed by younger viewers. I think the worst part about this is the possibility of seeing the acronym “Duff” be thrown around schools and add to our already prevalent bullying problems in school.
Lets be real here, high schoolers won’t be the only ones watching this movie. Younger siblings will see it too, and younger children have a tendency to repeat behavior that they see presented before them. Even older kids, whom already have insecurities that come with growing up, could develop a fear of being called a “duff” and be self-encouraged to behave in such ways most parents would consider unhealthy. Girls and guys could become more conscious about their weight as a fear as being labeled “the fat friend,” and girls be more inclined to put on more makeup in fear of being labeled “the ugly friend.”
Imagine if these issues were carried into younger age groups? Just because this story is fiction doesn’t mean it won’t potentially influence kids and teens. If it’s purpose is to replicate a real-life school setting, what kid wouldn’t interpret this as realistic?
I wouldn’t consider it to be relatable, but more so a way for kids to find another way to pick on others, or for kids that already feel slightly different to feel even more singled out. Even if the moral of the whole story is ultimately good, it is still giving kids a mean word to use and a motive to pick on others.
Regardless of the ending, the book, or the intended message, it is a movie that calls a girl a “designated ugly fat friend” because she is different and clearly not a clone of her fellow friend group. If the message is missed by younger viewers, they could walk away with nothing but a new label to place on others. Even if the moral of the story is understood, “Duff” is still in existence, and could still be used despite negative connotation. No one wants to be a duff. Hell, no one is a duff.