To start off today, I’d like to present you with two things.
1. This quote from Community (s01e04):
“Even though you’re an 8, which is a British 10.”
2. These photos of Catherine Tate:
The thing about running my own blog is that I can write about whatever I like. So now that I have lulled you into a false sense of security by writing relatively straightforward analyses of your favourite tv shows, films and songs that most people appreciate (if not necessarily agree with), I feel that I now have a captive enough audience to get away with writing some slightly crazier shit, i.e. the internet’s raison d’etre (come back next week for my take on the Illuminati!). Suckers.
Ok, it’s not actually that crazy, and if you’ve been a witness to one of my many Facebook rants on the subject, you’ll already be familiar with my argument: that fat female characters on British television are characters first and fat second, while fat female characters of American television are fat first and characters second, and further, that fat begins at much lower thresholds than in Britain.
Now listen up, because this is all I will ever write about HBO’s Girls on this blog: I hate it. I think the premise that Hannah (Lena Dunham), a twentysomething college graduate living in New York who has dreams of making it as a writer yet doesn’t seem do actually do anything productive, is outraged upon being financially cut off by her parents is ridiculous. I think Hannah should get a job. I made it through three episodes, and I think that the only thing that sustained me even that far was the fantasy of Hannah making out with her attractive best friend (played by Allison Williams). Pretty much the only thing I found redeeming about the show was that Hannah was played by someone who looked a little different from the Hollywood usual. ‘How refreshing’, I thought. And then I found out that Hannah was actually played by the woman who created the show, and thought, ‘Oh. Of course.’
Because although the show is critically acclaimed (I can only assume it got better after I tuned out), most articles about Dunham’s show focus on her ‘insistence’ on nuding up and putting her average-sized body on our television screens. While I don’t hear any complaints from the mainstream media about the constant, gratuitous nudity we see on Game of Thrones, while I think only Fleshbot (a porn blog, obviously NSFW) actually makes any positive comments about the boobs Lena throws our way. Worse still, most articles call her ‘fat’, focusing mainly on her body and barely comment on Hannah’s actual character development at all (has Hannah developed as a character? I don’t even know. Because the articles about Lena Dunham are bullshit. This is my point.).
Of course, this is an overarching theme in American television and film. Mike & Molly is a show about two fat people dating, which was apparently just too repulsive for this Marie Claire writer. In true American one-note sitcom style, many of the episodes are driven by Mike (Billy Gardell) and Molly’s (Melissa McCarthy! We love her!) weight loss efforts, because apparently, the audience must never be allowed to forget that these characters are (unacceptably) fat. Again, US attention on the show has focused on the leads’ body size to the exclusion of all else. The only reason I know that Mike is a police officer is because I unfortunately caught 5 minutes of it once – and his friend was telling him to eat fewer donuts (because he’s fat! Feel the LOLs.). It’s worth noting, as my good friend Tommy pointed out to me, the show is not attracting this attention because it features two fat people. Mike & Molly is groundbreaking because it features a fat female love interest – while fat male characters have been regularly-sexed husbands for decades.
While I’m not one of those people who ‘doesn’t do American tv’, on this issue the difference is stark – crossing the Pond, we find a marked difference in the perception and treatment of fat female characters.
Two of the best examples I can think of are Jonathan Creek and the Vicar of Dibley. Jonathan Creek stars Alan Davies as the titular character, obviously, but the other main role, of investigative journalist/true crime author Maddy Magellan, is portrayed by the generously-proportioned Caroline Quentin. What I love about the show (apart from it being generally well-written and excellent) is the way Maddy’s weight is barely mentioned. She eats normally, she cooks, she dates attractive men, she is a credible love interest to Jonathan. On top of which she is intelligent, crafty even, and therefore extremely successful at her job. Admirably, the show treats her as a well-rounded character who just happens to be, uh, well-rounded in a way that simply doesn’t seem possible on American television. Similarly, the Vicar of Dibley has Dawn French in the main role, for whom it was written (not by her). Her character is sexually liberal, and Wikipedia states that her character describes herself as “babe with a bob cut and a magnificent bosom“, and “is well aware of her obesity but seems to take a relatively laid-back attitude toward it”. Tellingly – I hear more about the series’ strengths than the vicar’s size. For while her chocolate binges may smack a little of body shame, the fact that the British media did not focus on French’s body to the exclusion of all else speaks to the acceptance of body diversity on their particular side of the Atlantic.
Mindy Kaling (whom I also love) is another funny, talented lady who gets attention for her body, presumably because as an average-sized woman of colour, she clearly falls outside the Hollywood norm, yet dares to call herself ‘hot’. She and Dunham are some of the only women of a certain size on American television in leading, sexual, multi-layered roles – because they wrote them themselves. On British television, it seems pretty obvious that there is more room for diversity – making fat actresses there a reality, and not just as a gimmick.
RESULT: The photos above show Catherine Tate as she appears on Doctor Who (UK) and The Office (US). I think that pretty much sums it up.
Up next: Songs I Listen To While Running #2: ‘Sexy and I Know It’, LMFAO
P.S. I’m interested to know if I’m the only one who’s noticed (invented?) this broad, obviously-won’t-apply-in-every-situation difference. Please tell me in the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter if this is something you’ve picked up too (and/or you think I am crazy)!