I’ve got a feature about “More to Love” and “Drop Dead Diva” up at Salon today, and since I’m not putting myself through the agony of dealing with comments there, I’d love to hear what you guys think here.
I had to cut a lot of things out of that because I am so long-winded it’s not even funny, and I worry a bit that my argument ended up muddled. (Also, it started as a trend piece on how I actually am seeing little positive signs that pop culture is getting fat-friendlier, but once we decided it should be pegged to “More to Love,” that kind of went out the window.) Basically, the question I was dealing with was: Is some representation better than no representation? And I’m inclined to say yes, even if the representation we get is loaded with negative stereotypes. It seems to me that getting fat people on TV in noteworthy numbers at ALL is at least a step in the right direction, and given how much fat hate permeates our culture, I am so utterly unsurprised by the shitty parts that I can’t even be outraged. So I’m not as interested in how these particular shows are representing fatties as I am in what will come next, based on how they do. Will the point-and-laugh market get priority, so we’ll see yet more humiliation of fat people? Does simply having more fat people on TV humanize us a bit – in that at least we’re seeing fatties as different individuals with their own personalities — or are the stereotypes and nasty editing in the reality shows just dehumanizing us in larger numbers? Will these shows tank and only reaffirm the idea that no one wants to watch fat people on TV, for reasons positive or negative? I don’t really know yet, but I know that before this fatty programming boomlet, there was no opportunity to even ask those questions.
As to the specific shows, having watched 2 episodes of “Drop Dead Diva” and one of “More to Love,” I’d put the former at about 70% fat positive and the latter at about 20%. But shit, the fact that the 20% was even there in “More to Love” surprised me. One thing I ended up cutting in the Salon article is that in the introductory interviews, some of the women espoused basic fat acceptance principles. One talked about how she realized that she had to learn to love her body in order to be ready for a healthy relationship. Another one, identified as a fitness trainer, was like, “Look, some people just aren’t going to end up thin, no matter what they do” — and she said it in a very “whatever” way, not a “woe is me” way. HAES 101 might have just slipped into Fox prime time! Granted, more women than not cried about all the romantic disappointments they attributed to their weight, one wished she could lose 50 lbs., one said she rejects the label “fat,” one has some fucked-up antifeminist fantasy of being appreciated for her “wifey-mom skills,” and some of the ones who express confidence seem like they’re posturing. The flipside of 20% good is, of course, 80% suck. But I was so primed for 110% suck, the parts that didn’t make me cringe were actually impressive.
One thing I did say in the article, but wish I could have elaborated on, is that it’s a little mind-blowing to see the “star” of the show going on and on about how amazingly beautiful he thinks all these women are — and even just getting to see 20 fat women who do, in fact, look fantastic on a television screen. Unfortunately, being objectified just like thin women can’t exactly be considered a victory, and they’re all made up to conform to conventional beauty standards as much as possible, and yes, some of the audience will not only mock the fat girls in their pretty dresses but the dude who actually thinks they’re hot. Despite all that, it’s something we’ve never seen on TV before, so I think there’s at least a modicum of value in it.
As for “Drop Dead Diva,” I think my biggest problem with it is that it’s a pretty standard Lifetime show. (I may belong to their target demographic, but I’m not really who their programming is made for.) But even with the stereotypical bullshit regarding food and exercise, by the second episode, I was convinced that they’re genuinely trying to do something positive here, and at least partially pulling it off. This is one where I think feedback could actually have an effect — if we tell them we’ll watch and promote it if they axe the fucking donut and easy cheese jokes, they might actually listen. Unlike “More to Love,” which really only gets points for not immediately sending me into a blind rage, I think “Drop Dead Diva” actually has potential.
Shapelings, what do you think about all this?
Update: Forgot to mention Marianne did a fab review of “More to Love” for The Daily Beast, and Lesley will be recapping it at Fatshionista, which I am so excited for, I can’t even tell you. (Also, I added the subtitle to this post after recalling a conversation with Marianne regarding her comments about the connection between Luke’s barbecue lust and the likelihood that he’s into BBW porn.)