Don’t get excited. They’re shameful, but they’re not really that interesting. They do, however, lead to a point. Sorta.
Shameful Confession #1: Sometimes, I find myself craving a bit of reality TV. I used to be hooked on about five reality TV shows at a time, but eventually that wore off, in part because I just stopped watching TV for the most part. (Watching YouTube videos and looking at pictures of otters online are a far better use of my free time.) But sometimes, I miss the manufactured drama, the ridiculous editing, the pre-commercial trumped-up cliffhangers and post-commercial repeats of the exact same footage they just showed you two minutes ago. So a few weeks ago, I went looking for one I could watch full episodes of online, and that is how I came to (Shameful Confession #2) be hooked on Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods.
It’s awful on a lot of levels, just as you’d expect. (One of the most noteworthy bits of awfulness: building a show around casting Elle Woods means they’ve got an excuse for including nothing but pretty, young, white women — and mostly blonde ones at that. Way to get around all that pesky pressure to have a diverse cast, MTV!) But I love it anyway, because there’s singing and dancing and crying and vomiting and chihuahuas, which is plenty of entertainment for me.
So. If you watch the trailer for LBTM:TSFEW, henceforth to be known as LB, you will see a shot of the girls sitting around in their fairy princess loft, and one of them saying, “We all think you need to lose weight.” DRAMAZ! Ever since I saw that clip, I’ve been waiting to see it in context on the actual show, so I could blog about how fucking INSANE and sad and infuriating that statement was, given that all of these girls pretty much have to step twice to cast a shadow. They’re the finalists auditioning for the lead in a Broadway musical that’s not Hairspray — it ain’t exactly the Chub Club in that sparkly pink loft.
But then a few weeks go by, and I don’t see it, and I watch the trailer again to see if I’m going crazy. Nope, it’s still there — and I realize it’s 18-year-old Lauren who says it. Bummer, ’cause I otherwise like her. Except, wait… Back when I first started watching the show, I tried to determine whom the “you need to lose weight” bit could possibly be directed at, and there were really only two answers that could make the tiniest shred of sense in even the most fatphobically twisted mind — the two young women who actually have slightly bigger than average boobs. One of those was Emma (my favorite, until she was booted), and the other was… Lauren. (Let me make it perfectly clear that both Emma and Lauren are categorically, unquestionably thin; only a stone cold crazy person would ever tell one of them to lose weight. But there are a lot of stone cold crazy people in the acting business, and out of the pool of contestants, they had the most hourglassy figures.) Now here’s the thing: Lauren was the one who said it, and Emma had already been kicked off by the time I rewatched the trailer. And I still hadn’t seen that scene play out on the show. WTF? I’ve watched some reality TV in my time, and I know there’s no way they would leave out such a perfect bit of Catty Girl Drama.
So I was really curious about that — which brings us to Shameful Confession #3: I will occasionally follow up watching the show with reading about it online. That is how big my life is. And that is how I ended up at iamonmtv.com, reading cast members’ blogs, which occasionally offer an interesting glimpse into how the reality TV sausage is made. And that’s where I found the story of the “We all think you need to lose weight” line.
In Lauren’s recap of episode 5, she explains a bit more about something we did see in the show — the contestants being instructed to answer a list of questions designed expressly to foster Catty Girl Drama for the cameras. Who’s the worst singer/dancer/actor? Who doesn’t deserve to be here? Shit like that. The girls were told they had to answer, which flipped them all out, until they finally decided to join forces and rebel against the asshole producers by changing the questions to more positive ones — e.g., “Who’s the most improved singer/dancer/actor?”
Anyway, here’s Lauren:
[T]he question that really got me was the “Who needs to lose weight to play Elle Woods??” Now, I do not think AT ALL that I am fat, but it is clear that I am the curviest heaviest girl left on the show… I knew it would be my name up there, and that all my friends and enemies and acquaintances watching the show would probably snicker at the fact that Miss Lauren just got told on national television she is a heifer. Its ironic because I know you have all seen the trailor where I am saying “We all think you need to lose weight…” SO NOW YOU KNOW. I wasn’t saying that to anyone but myself… I was in the middle of a huge rant on why I refused to answer these questions… Sounded something like “I refuse to sit here and have you all tell me ‘We all think you need to lose weight.” Honestly, HOW STUPID is it to do this on a show directed towards young girls and teenagers. How is some 14 year old girl going to feel when she thinks she needs to throw up her food to be on Broadway? It was a repulsive idea, and I was broken hearted over it.
Okay, first, rock the hell on, Lauren. Sorry I doubted you. (Also, update: I started writing this post yesterday, and last night, Lauren got the boot. Awww. Understandable and expected, though, as she’s very talented but very young and green. On a related note, if late-twentysomething Autumn now loses to 20-year-old Bailey, I will fucking scream. I’m already pissed off enough that they axed every other contestant who was old enough to have a fully matured voice.)
Second, WTF? I expect very little decency from reality show editors and producers, let me tell you. I know they do their best to create conflict where there is none — you need it to make a story, after all — and that they can and will edit perfectly nice people into raging assholes and vice versa. But seriously, demanding that the contestants gang up on one girl who “needs to lose weight,” when clearly, none of them do? And then, when they refuse to do that — for which they all get big points in my book — you still find the one clip that, taken way out of context, makes an 18-year-old girl who’s feeling insecure about her own weight sound like a judgmental, deluded bitch trashing someone else? Charming.
I think this gets under my skin so much because when I was Lauren’s age — and definitely a few years before that — I was always the “curviest, heaviest” girl among my friends, but I didn’t know that I wasn’t fat. I wasn’t as thin as Lauren, mind you, but as a teenager I wasn’t even in the “overweight” BMI category. (Well, sorta. This was before they lowered the bar; I was probably right around 25 most of the time, but the cut-off then was 27. In any case, given what an “overweight” BMI today actually looks like, I really was not fat.) I just based my body image totally on comparing myself to other girls and women — and since I was bigger than all my friends and all the actresses on TV, I concluded that I was huge. (And that I was a shitty person because of it, natch.)
So I think of a girl like me watching that trailer and going, “They all think one of them needs to lose weight? Jesus. I really am a cow.” And I think of how much worse it would be if the contestants had played along with the producers’ evil scheme and singled out one girl as the group fatty. Let’s say Lauren’s fear had come true — all the others, stuck for anyone else to pick, got together and said, “Lauren, we think you need to lose weight.” As a teenager watching that, I instantly would have noted and internalized that I was quite a bit bigger than “the fat one.”
I mean, just watching yet another show featuring a bunch of thin, clear-skinned, conventionally beautiful young women would have sent plenty of arrows flying into my body image right there; it’s not like it took much to make me think I was repulsive back then. But hearing that one of them was “fat”? I never would have gotten that out of my fucking head. Not only am I bigger than all my friends, and not only am I bigger than every actress and model I see, I am bigger than “the one who needs to lose weight.” It wouldn’t have made me throw up my food to be on Broadway — I would have had to learn to sing, dance, and act to be on Broadway — but it would have fucking haunted me, the way that rule of thumb about only weighing 5 lbs. above 100 for every inch you are above 5 feet haunted me for years.
And then I imagine what it would be like to watch that as an actually fat teenager, not just a barely chubby one with no self-esteem. Oof.
I don’t even know how to wrap this one up (which is why I didn’t finish it yesterday). I mean, the larger point here is basically that pop culture warps the shit out of young women’s self-esteem, which ain’t exactly a brand-new epiphany. But I was just so fucking galled by this particular instance of it. It’s bad enough that so much of reality TV revolves around manufactured “catfights” to begin with — anyone remember Elimidate? But for the producers to demand — not just suggest, but demand — that a group of very thin women single out one as needing to lose weight is beyond the fucking pale. I am so glad they simply refused to cooperate, and so irritated that Lauren’s remark made it into the trailer anyway. So I guess today’s big, earth-shattering, highly intellecutal point boils down to: Fuck you, MTV. Fuck you a lot.