Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Between Them Both

I was at the end of a New Yorker. Back where they have the TV reviews, which I usually skim, or skip. But the review was for a show called: My Mad Fat Diary. It began with a mention of the Louie episode about which I wrote a few weeks ago. Apparently it got a lot of praise for "breaking a TV taboo", which the writer correctly calls false and lists shows that have had fat themes only some of which I've seen and a few of which I hated. The Louie episode was slagged in fat blogger land. After some preamble the reviewer focused on My Mad Fat Diary and peaked my interest enough to go to YouTube and watch it.
I had trouble finding the first season and figured it wouldn't matter if I just jumped in on the second. I was wrong. I later figured out that the first season was available with Spanish subtitles. But starting with the second season meant that I began with Rae's (the fat girl) relationship with Finn (the cute boy) in full swing. I had several confusing reactions. I wasn't comfortable with how easily the relationship seemed to form. Finn didn't seem to have any issues at all about her size. And. They didn't look right to me.
After I watched the first season I felt better about the development of the relationship and I loved so much about the show. It's visually fun. The music is great. It's full of bone ringing realness. I am still filled with reactions and could easily watch the whole thing again.
While Rae is trying to accept that Finn could possibly like her she is haunted by a poster of a woman in a bra that reads: Hello boys. That poster returns later as the impact of it on her best friend (the cute girl) is reveled. Rae daydreams about setting the billboard on fire. It brought back a time when I had feelings for a man with whom I had no chance. And really. I probably didn't want one. But I was so attracted to everything about him, including his remoteness.
At that time there was a commercial in which women in bras and underwear and wings (wings) (eye roll) were looking into the eyes of the viewer with the "you want this don't you" look and I felt crushed. I felt slain. I felt assaulted. It was about being fat and old and just not airbrushed beautiful with wings. (wings) (jeez) I have the wisdom to call bullshit on it but I am and will always be a thirteen year old girl waking up to desire that felt hopeless.
Those women in those pictures are part of a machine of meanness. It's a machine that rolls over men who don't believe they can have that and women who believe they can't be that and the women who think that's all they have to offer. It distorts the real nature of attraction and longing and connection.
For me, and for Rae, this feeling of not being want-able is also rooted in an absent father. And in the show, when she meets him, he gives her a record player and she forgives his years of distance. Annnnnd. That's exactly what my father did. A record player and Beatles album. So easy.
I could go on and on about the show but it was that "they don't look right together" reaction that startled me. What did I mean? Later in the show when she meets a beefier (also very cute) boy I felt better.
My maternal grandfather was a very tall, very thin man. My maternal grandmother was a shorter fat woman. Remember the nursery rhyme?
Jack Sprat would eat no fat
His wife would eat no lean
So between them both
They licked the platter clean
I remember thinking it was about my grandparents. My Pop-pop's name was Jack, after all. I always thought they were perfect together. Except for all the fighting.
The constantly entwined narratives of food, appetite and the sexuality of fat people is frustrating to me but I didn't even get what the nursery rhyme was saying. We all ate the same dinner. My grandmother would have not allowed any food shaming at her table. What I got was a sense of fun and perfection. A sense that people are made for each other in funny ways.
The review ends by focusing on ideas about physical appetite, specifically food. There is a narrative about eating in the show. I'm always a bit confused by eating disorder ideas. I get some of it but not all of it.
The show centers around Rae but develops the lives of all the people around her in strong and perceptive ways.
No one thing about us is the reason for how we feel in the world. Fat. Thin. Fatherless. Smart. Funny. For some reason the music from The Breakfast Club is playing in my head. Which may mean I've lost my own thread. Or it may mean that I've never recovered from being a teenager.                                                
By the end of two seasons I had been moved in my sense that Rae and Finn didn't look right together. It was because of the fantastic character development and personal development arc. It didn't seem like a miracle of love and light that the cute boy liked the fat girl. Size had stopped being central.
While watching all this YouTube I discovered this amazing woman.

I've thought a lot about my initial reaction. I think there was more than one thing going on. Some of own personal developmental arc, some cultural chatter, some desire for the more beefy guy to be the ... one. What?