If you’re not watching “My Mad Fat Diary,” you should be.
The British show, fresh off its second season, is based on real-life Rae Earl’s diary which she’d written when she was 17. The show chronicles Rae’s teenage life in the late 90’s, where she struggles to find her place in friendships, romantic relationships and her own mental health. The show handles its difficult subjects with surprising delicacy and painful honesty, but the most extraordinary part of the show is that Rae, the main character, is obviously, unapologetically fat.
Fat characters, specifically women, are hardly a new trend in the media. In fact, I’d argue that fat women are hardly ever new trends because most of them tend to portray very distinct caricatures in television and movies.
According to Beth Bernstein, a psychotherapist and pop culture analyst, the caricature of a fat woman is composed of: “never has a boyfriend, is never the focus of a story, but is kind of endearing.” Not only that, a character who is fat often finds her weight the butt of jokes and perhaps, more importantly, the crux of her character; she is fat first and herself second.
Rae is fat. She weighs 16-stone, which is the British equivalent to about 224 pounds. Rae is also funny. She’s a brat to her mom and kind to her friends. She gets jealous. She has killer taste in music. She’s wonderfully and shamelessly sexual, lusting after boys in ways that aren’t often allowed to fat girls in media. Being fat is only one aspect of who Rae is, and it is something that she struggles to accept in a heartrendingly honest way.
In one scene from the first season, Rae imagines unzipping herself from a fat suit to reveal a perfect body underneath, and when I watched this scene for the first time, I was struck with how much it hurt.
How many times have I looked in the mirror and wished I could do the same thing as Rae does? How many times have I imagined myself peeling away the layers of fat to see the “ideal body” I could have had underneath?
The treatment of Rae in “My Mad Fat Diary” is so important, especially today, when girls are being bombarded left and right with the same image over and over again.
In the show, you have a teenage girl who is visibly fat in a society obsessed with being slender, but she’s not degraded with gross fat jokes or portrayed as the comic relief. She has insecurities, goals, and a personality all her own outside her weight. She is the main character. She’s herself first.