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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Fat Gals on Television--Drop Dead Diva and Huge and why I watch them...

Warning: I ramble like mad. Sorry. Don't feel like revising and proofing over and over to get to essay-like laser focus. Heh.

Television--and cinema--tend not to depict US folks the way we really look. Most of us aren't toned, trim beauties and hunks with white-white teeth and perfect makeup, hair, clothes who look stunning the second we wake up and don't look droopy and pooped the moment we go to bed.

Go to a mall (one not frequented in high numbers by foreign tourists) and look around. What do we look like? For the most part, we're decently groomed, but not glamorous. There will be the occasional really elegant or really updated stylish types, but most just go for comfort. And we tend toward the pudgy side of things, with many of us walking around sporting quite a bit more adipose tissue than is desirable, fashionable, even healthful.

But on television, size 2 rules among women. Should an actress dare to show 10 lbs more than she should by the Hollywood standard, she's gonna have her butt or belly or thighs pasted across tabloids and talked about on Access Hollywood or TMZ and some celebrity blogger will taunt her. (Jennifer Love Hewitt can attest to this.)

Should a formerly glamorous beauty turn flabby and fat (Elizabeth Taylor years ago, Kirstie Alley today), she will be made fun of by late night hosts and everyone under the sun. Maybe they'll be sponsored by some convenience diet program. Because, God forbid, a celebrity look like the rest of us.

Oh, and don't grow old. That's another sin, unless you're a man, who can still get great roles and be a romantic lead at age 65+ (Harrison Ford, Sean Connery,Robert Redford, etc).

But television is right there in our homes, and while it will happily lead or reflect changes in public mores and attitudes about sex or family structure or work or etc, it's sometimes really slow in showing the changing face --and ass--of America.

As a Latina, I know that some years ago I kept asking, "Where the hell are we? We're like 20% of the population, so where are we?" I mean, Freddie Prinze and Desi Arnaz are way in the past. What's happening now?

Then  Jennifer Lopez made box office, Cristina Aguilera and Ricky Martin and Shakira made the charts and MTV's videos, and George Lopez's show gave us a family-face. Sophia Vergara is on Modern Family now (and funny, too). Cute young Latin performers are on TV (the half-Puerto Rican family on Wizards of Waverly Place). Hunkorama Adam Rodriguez makes the girls go mmmm on CSI: Miami. (Although, really, for a city that's more than 50% Hispanic, that show needs some more Latin face flavor and don't get me going on CSI: NY's dearth of Hispanics.)

So, I ask less often about the ethnicity factor and more often about the fat factor. Where are the pudgies, chubbies, zaftigs, chunkies, and fatties? We're a fat country. We're not a country of ectomorphs. We're roundies. J-Lo made the big Latin butt popular among non-black, non-Latin folks, will Drop Dead Diva and HUGE make the bigger gal popular in television programming of the future?

Dunno, but I tune in. I loved DDD from day one and haven't missed an episode. The actors are excellent and the show is fun and funny while often addressing important issues other than fat-related ones. Even my husband sits to watch with me without fail. The lead actress is plus-size who comes across smart AND pretty AND talented. She may have the soul of a skinny blonde inside, but what we see is an attractive, successful lawyer of a Lane Bryant size brunette. And it's about fricken time a plus-size lead actress can be seen as SEXY AND COMPETENT.

While we've seen big gals featured before--notably Roseanne, whose eponymous show let us into the often cantakerously dysfunctional world of a supersized wife/mom/blue-collar worker. But Roseanne wasn't put out there as desirable or super-successful. She was the tough-talking, no nonsense, unglamorous big gal married to a blue-collar supersized hubby with often rebellious kids.

But at least she wasn't a vindictive whack job like Mimi in Drew Carey Show--with the clown makeup and insane outfits that said, "I'm fat, so yeah, I am a big joke." It was okay for Drew to be the fat guy who gets the cute gal. Mimi was just the fat gal with no fashion sense and a psychosis.

Blasting to the past a bit, I have fond memories of tuning in to a new show called THE PRACTICE and seeing a size 22 or so Camryn Mannheim as a regular (even with her notable man woes). A less-cute precursor to DROP DEAD DIVA's Jane, she was a a smart lawyer gal (though not as brilliant as others in the team). Again, though, unlike DDD's Jane, who gets warm "almost passionate" looks from one of her colleagues and has a passionate relationship (spoiler: now off) with a prosecutor, Camryn's character was not drawn as an effervescent object of like and some lust.

Anyone remember LESS THAN PERFECT?  A show with two less-than-slim gals. Both Sherri Shepherd and Sara Rue have lost weight now, and Sara, who was the show's lead actress, now plugs Jenny Craig. But hey, I liked seeing a show with gals who displayed more "average" American bodies.

Back to today: I'll say this--at least the characters in HUGE are more like regular fat teens. Some are overprotected and meek, some are rebellious, some are super-hot-to-trot, all have issues with either their bodies or society's rejection of their bodies or both.

I don't remember my teen years as being all lightness and joy. I was chubby --by my own estimation and by size category, as I wore a size 10 at start of my teens and a 12 by graduation from high school. Old school measurements, not the revised ones of today, meaning I wasn't really THAT  big, geesh. My hips were 41 inches at age 18, and I weighed 139 pounds, which I remember one cousin going, "Whoa!" when I measured them. I wish my hips were that "big" now (for reference, they're 54.5 inches) . I used to read diet books that had calculations that told me I should weigh 123. Right. Yeah. Like that ever happened.

No wonder I couldn't enjoy being NORMAL weight

I rode bike. I did yoga. I walked for miles. I swam for hours in my sister's complex's pool. I loved the beach and let my poochy belly (got it from mom) show in bathing suits. I didn't FEEL fat in my activities. But society/diet books told me I was overweight and should reduce. So, I couldn't enjoy my body fully, though I was normal.

It makes me furious to this day to think about it.

So, even with HUGE not being anything outstanding yet --one can hope. I base that hope on the really charismatic presence of unkempt, snarky, cellulite-baring Nikki Blonsky. (I never saw this gal in anything else she's done, but man, she's good, good in a way Ricki Lake never, ever was when she was "the cool young fat actress of the moment." Although, to give Ricki her props, she's gotten better. Saw her in an indie flick not too long ago, and thought, "Oh, she's finally learned to act.")

HUGE is the television drama version that reminded me of an MTV documentary I watched a while back that showed teens at a weight loss camp.  It had the same vibe as HUGE, maybe was an inspiration, dunno.

 Some critique the fact that the show doesn't feature someone with total body acceptance without reservations (ie even Will has issues). Well, I had fat friends as a teen. Not merely "a bit fatter than me", but fat. Big. Round. Obese.

And not one had total body acceptance. Every single one wanted to lose weight. One underwent a radical weight loss over one summer vacation: left school in spring quite obese, and returned to the new year's term normal weight. She must have pretty much fasted, and protein fasts were very popular in the seventies. She got a huge boost of confidence, was more active in social events, and got a boyfriend. Clearly, it made a "huge" difference to her life.

I'd find it unrealistic if the characters in HUGE really were totally happy being large in a society that hates large, big in a culture that considers big a fatal flaw, particularly for females. I might believe in a character that believes in fat/self acceptance, but still wishes she could "fit in" to a slimmer world just cause it's EASIER. I've heard that view spoken by gays: "It would just be easier to be straight." Doesn't mean they hate themselves, just means that they wish day to day life was less full of obstacles.

I suspect Nikki Blonsky's "Will" may say she likes herself the way she is and it's going to prove to be nearly all talk by season's end. Maybe she doesn't have the profound self-loathing so many of us have had/have about our fat, but I suspect that it was universal in my teen circle in high school: the chubs all wanted to have the figure of the bat girls, cheerleaders, desired girls in school. The ones the boys rated 9 or 10. We wanted to shop in normal clothes stores, not Lane Bryant.

But even so, a drama needs conflict. External and internal. Otherwise, boring.

HUGE has an assortment of issues under the skin of its fat characters, and I hope the show improves so I don't just tune in cause "Hey, a show with fellow fatties." No, I want it to be a show that really delves into the issues big teens (and by extension big adults) face in a big-despising society.

At least Gina Torres and Nikki make it really watchable (as do a couple other actors doing a very nice job, imo). I like these two ladies a lot. They both have charisma.

And I admit, that I had this moment of intense sympathy and even admiration when Gina Torres' camp director character, when offered a special food one evening, says, "I don't eat after dinner. Ever." (I paraphrase, as I don't remember the exact wording of the script.) And she repeats it.  This is a character who has lost a lot of weight and is paying the price, in terms of discipline and self-sacrifice, to keep it off. The total seriousness and even bit of anger in the tone as the lines were delivered gave me chills.

It's not easy being fat. But it's not easy staying slim, either, as I think we're going to see more of in the show.

So, I'm hanging in there with DROP DEAD DIVA (yay, me loves Jane!) and HUGE (just okay, but me loves Gina and Nikki). I'm all for employing the fat in Hollywood. :D


The 50 Best Health Blogs said...

I gave away all my televisions and radios back in 2005. It sounds like I'm not missing much.


Midori Mighty Warrior said...

I think that Hollywood is obsessed with only one kind of beauty, which is constantly shoved down our throats. One doesn’t need a television or radio to know this; it’s plastered in the written media too. But I do wonder just how much the public is responsible for this obsession? I mean, if Hollywood didn’t have an audience, then they wouldn’t have their obsessions, right? So while Hollywood is certainly promoting thinness and other ‘physical’ attributes while putting down women that are big, fat, getting older, etc., society cheers them on – at least enough of them to keep Hollywood chugging along.

Good post.

karen said...

I keep meaning to give Huge a try since I found out it was on Hulu ... maybe tonight ...
I LOVE the film musical "Hairspray" and Nikki Blonksy played Tracy so I'm real interested in seeing how she does in a non-musical.