I don’t know how many of you partake in the nighttime television dramadies on Britain’s E4, but I’m a fan, and currently, I’m particularly turned-on by a relatively new show, My Mad Fat Teen Diary. It’s worth mentioning that this particular show isn’t yet available in the US but through the magic of the internet, a simple google search will give you access to some of the episodes.
Based the real diary of Rachel Earl from the late 1980s, the show revolves around Rae (Sharon Rooney), who has just been released from a psychiatric hospital because she is dealing with metal health issues, which include self-mutilation, anxiety, and binge eating disorder. Concurrent with her fight to be mentally healthy, Rae is a teenager, interested in hanging out with friends, passionate about music, obsessed with having a sex life, cocky, moody, sensitive, and brash. Honestly, Rae is a hot mess and watching her is so refreshing. In part because the choices she’s making feel honest, but mostly because it is a pleasure to watch a young, delightfully messy, funny, smart protagonist who is fat.
I’m not going to lie to you – like all media – My Mad Fat Teen Diary has moments that are problematic, like the stereotypical idea that fat girls love junk food and that’s how they got fat, but my past self – a high school-aged fat girl – quickly overlooks any negative bits in favor of the fantastic fat heroine that I was dying to see then, and am still hankering for now. Like the Women’s Media Center tells us – “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and as I remember it there were no fat girls on television when I was growing up, which meant fatness was something one was just not allowed to accept about themselves.
I want to tell you that this show, this character, changes that. Rooney’s portrayal of Rae gives fat women everywhere a realistic fat girl who is struggling to be happy and fat in a world that bullies fat people. There is a fantastic scene in the first episode where Rae fantasizes that she is having a conversation with a younger version of herself who takes no issue with her body. Young Rae tells seventeen-year-old Rae that she doesn’t care if she gets fat because people will love her anyways. Seventeen-year-old Rae asks: “Why would they like you?” Child Rae responds, “Because I’m brilliant,” and promptly struts off chomping away at a pastry. Young Rae radiates the confidence that seventeen-year-old Rae fights to reclaim, reminding her that she possessed this confidence at an earlier life stage. It is moments like this that relay to the audience that one can be fat and still be awesome, happy and loved.
In short, I’m telling you to watch this show – and realize that representations of empowerment – of all kinds – aren’t necessarily always perfectly free of the oppressions that Western culture normalizes. Sometimes representations of empowerment are as simple as images of people who fight to accept themselves even though the culture tells them that what they are isn’t normal or acceptable, like mad fat teen Rae. Here’s the Trailer: