By Elizabeth Stebbins
First I must say I cannot possibly do My Mad Fat Diary justice. It first premiered in January of 2013, and finished its second series this past Monday (March 24, 2014). Based on the book My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary written by Rae Earl, the TV show is unlike anything on cable right now – especially in the US. It follows a teenage girl who suffers from a mental illness and struggles with her weight. On paper it sounds dreary, but Rae—the main character—is likeable, clever, honest and funny, and the darker parts aren’t the centerpiece. The series begins with Rae being released from the hospital and quickly making friends with a group of other kids. The first season chronicles her integration into society, and the second series explores her return to school.
This is the point where I fail to do the series justice: I don’t have the space to scratch the surface of the characters in the show or its unique portrayal of sexuality, body image, and life. The majority of people on TV, in movies and newspapers all look and act a certain way, causing all the other options to fade away and leaving a wholly unrealistic image that people fruitlessly strive to achieve, but My Mad Fat Diary combats this false representation. The show depicts reality. The main characters actually look like they belong in high school, and—unlike the beautiful, but unrealistic girls on Pretty Little Liars—they have their bad days.
Rae is overweight, but the show doesn’t exploit or mock her for it – it’s just one part of her. She does struggle with her weight and correlates her sense of self-worth with her body, but instead of drowning in the social pressure to look a certain way, she pushes back: in one episode, she sees a lingerie ad and imagines burning down the billboard. She proves that you don’t need to be thin to be loved and this makes her powerful. Girls face constant pressure from the moment they are born to be beautiful; while this may feel like a repetitive idea, its repercussions are too pernicious to be ignored. To have something you can’t change – your body – be the determinant for your value, to have the multitude of other qualities a human being hosts disregarded, is degrading. For women especially, being reduced to a body often means being reduced to what you offer sexually – not your sexuality, not your sexual preferences, not even how you feel about sex, just what you have to offer. What people can take. Rae rejects this entire structure. She is open and comfortable with her sexuality, and has a happy relationship with someone that sees her and loves her without objectifying her.
My Mad Fat Diary is funny and dramatic and hard to watch at times—thanks in large part to the strength of Rae’s character. I am dying to be her best friend. She is compelling—and I love her—because her presence is in her spirit, her thoughts, her preferences, and her ideas—not her physical appearance.