A few years ago I worked with someone who annoyed me so much that I delighted in torturing her. Not in a waterboarding kind of way (of course) but rather, I indulged in inflicting extreme mental anguish.
She was, in essence, the type of woman that drove me insane. It took her hours to get ready for work each morning as she had to straighten or blow dry her hair to within an inch of its life and trowel makeup over her face. Apparently even her husband was not allowed to see her un-made-up face. I have friends who are girly girls, but this woman was insane.
I tormented her by happily regaling her with (mostly true) stories about doing my grocery shopping in torn t-shirts and old tracksuit pants – usually combined with unlaced sandshoes and unbrushed hair, occasionally hidden under a cap. She would hyperventilate and gasp, ‘It’s no wonder you’re single. How do you expect to meet a man when you leave the house like that.’
Despite all of this, there were aspects of this woman (whose name now escapes me) that I secretly envied. She was, you see, quite a buxom woman. Like me she was tall and a bit overweight (note, that the ‘like me’ bit only related to the tallness element. I am very overweight!). Although I wouldn’t be seen dead in most of her clothes, she dressed with pride and little self-consciousness; flouncing about in low cut form-fitting bright dresses and ensembles.
I found this intriguing. As a bigger woman, I cloak myself in loose shapeless shirts and pants. I add some funky jewelry to try to give myself an iota of ‘style’ despite being forced to wear what is almost akin to a mu-mu. Even when just ‘slightly’ overweight though, I was prone to covering up; to not drawing attention to myself, or holding myself up for comment or ridicule. As a result I envy those bigger girls who have the confidence to flaunt their bigger-than-the-norm curves rather than tucking them away and hoping others fail to notice them.
Which is why I am both intrigued and heartened by the Sony Pictures TV series, Drop Dead Diva. I have watched the show since its launch here in Oz… initially on Channel 9, before being relegated to one of its digital stablemates, GO!
The show’s leading lady, Jane Bingum, played by the larger-than-is-the-norm-in-TV-land, Brooke Elliot, is a smart and savvy lawyer. Well, in fact she is a size nothing vacuous blonde model (Deb), who is killed in a car accident – but rather than actually, you know, dying – inhabits the body of the decade-older plump lawyer with a heart of gold.
After the initial shock, Deb settles into life as Jane, bringing a sense of style to the character. So, what I like about this show is that Jane’s weight isn’t really an issue. I mean, obviously Deb is no longer stick thin and immediately superficially attractive to everyone, but Jane (like my former colleague) flounces about her life as if she is some sort of supermodel rather than a chubby lawyer.
I suspect there are some lessons here: how we feel about ourselves on the inside being reflected in our behavior towards others and how we treat ourselves etc. And I wonder if this is true. If I act confidently – and as if I was slim and beautiful and stylish – would others view me this way or, at least, judge me less savagely?
I am about to start a new job and need some new clothes. Tempting as it is to buy more loose shirts and boring pants (until I lose weight and fit into my trendier clothes), perhaps this is my opportunity to put it out there a bit. Well, by ‘it’, I mean me. Perhaps I should embrace my curves (while simultaneously trying to lose the 30kgs I need to!) and strut my stuff with style and confidence. Just like Jane Bingum.
It helps that Brooke Elliot is gorgeous. Smiley and vivacious she is perfect in this role. And as Deb/Jane, she dresses confidently. She doesn’t don baggy shirts and pants to cover herself. She wears bright skirts, dresses and jackets. She totters about in high heels, red lipstick and glossy hair. And she looks gorgeous. She twinkles, and I find that I don’t pay any attention to her weight or her size. They are – for me – irrelevant.
But, so rarely do we see someone less-than-perfect playing a lead character.
A couple of months ago Marie Claire blogger, Maura Kelly created a furore when she wrote a somewhat scathing article about a new CBS show Mike and Molly. The show hasn’t hit Australian screens yet, but I gather it is centred around a plus-sized couple (and show’s namesakes) who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. In her blog, Kelly basically says she doesn’t want to see two fatties ‘get it on’ on television. However, after much hue and outcry (and 4000+ comments on the MC website), Kelly posted an apology for her insensitive comments, admitting some of her reaction may have been more related to her own post-anorexic preconceptions than a response to the actual show and its characters.
The aforementioned and much-censured Marie Claire blog was Kelly’s response to a CNN article, which asked the question, ‘Can plus-sized actors have starring roles in which their weight isn’t a major part of the character or story line?’
Frankly, given the controversy around Mike and Molly and the fact that the CNN article even needed to ask the question… it seems not.
Even Melissa McCarthy, the new female lead of Mike and Molly, has done her time as ‘the best friend’ on the now defunct, The Gilmore Girls before her elevation to leading lady.
I mean, the TV show Roseanne has been on the shelf for 10 years now, and how many other larger women have we seen in lead roles on the small screen (or large one for that matter) during that time?
There have been a few hits and misses over the years, and the American show, Less Than Perfect, and British show, Linda Green, come to mind, though neither were blinding successes. And of course, the talented Dawn French bucked tradition as The Vicar of Dibley… but it seems we are so accustomed to petite actors that we react (in one way or another) when faced with something different.
But, I wonder, is it really the fault TV Executive boffins that less-than-perfect leading ladies fail to grace our screens? How many people out there are of the same mindset as our Marie Claire blogger and would be turned off by an overweight character playing a role normally earmarked for the trim and perky? And, are we more accepting of the too-thin, than we are of the too-fat, when either extreme is unhealthy? As a bigger girl, I should have been huing and crying myself at the Marie Claire article, but instead I wondered if I too am turned off by less-than-perfect leading characters.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against not-perfect actors or, you know, people in general. But, I am a bit fussy about my TV viewing so tend to tune in only if I find the lead or supporting characters interesting or charismatic. So, The bigger question for myself and others, I guess is, are the two mutually exclusive?
Hopefully not. And given that I find Drop Dead Diva’s slightly imperfect Jane Bingum delightful AND inspiring, I hold some hope for me and the rest of mankind.