My Mad Fat Diary

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.

2 responses to “My Mad Fat Diary

  1. Hi. Thank you for writing a review of My Mad Fat Diary. I read the first two paragraphs and was inspired to watch the show. I found the characters engaging and multi-faceted. Rae Earl and the other characters have to deal with various issues of identity and it was really interesting to see Rae’s initial reaction, her ensuing thoughts and actions, and the eventual resolution. The characters grow a lot in just two seasons. I was skeptical that the second season would be good, but I actually thought it was better then the first – the writers and the actors took the already established characters a little further and explored interesting new ground. The show is a great mix of humour and drama.

    I don’t agree with you regarding Rae’s sexuality:
    “She is open and comfortable with her sexuality, and has a happy relationship with someone that sees her and loves her without objectifying her.”

    It takes a long time for Rae to accept that a “cute guy” would rather have sex with her than a “cute girl”. She isn’t comfortable looking at her naked body and is even less comfortable showing her body to someone else.

    I think Rae realized in the second season that you don’t need to be “classically attractive” to have self-esteem, when she sees her “classically attractive” best friend Chloe struggle with hers. I think this helps in her journey to appreciate herself, and eventually accept her body.

    I found it interesting that Rae objectifies men and boys a lot. She realizes at some point that she finds it easy to fantasize about hot guys but finds sexuality a bit hard in person. She also objectifies women. I don’t think she is unusual that way. I think many people do it (I do it less that I used to, but it is a little ingrained). Over time she realizes that there is more to sex than cute bras, a 32C cup size, those awful high-heeled shoes she wears a few times to look girly (funny how uncomfortable she looks when she dresses up girly), a flat stomach and a cute butt. Not only does she come to terms with her overweight body, she also seems to value her love-interest more for his kindness than his cute butt.

  2. Fantastic post on a fantastic show.

    Your take on the show’s approach to sexuality is right on the nose. “My Mad Fat Diary” tackles it with such a refreshing yet non-gratuitous honesty, and it does the same with many other issues — homosexuality, abortion, drugs, divorce, consent, to name a few. I think the previous commenter makes a very good point in delineating Rae’s tendency to idealise sex and Rae’s actual sexuality, and the viewer sees this growth as the episodes progress.

    The third and final series due to be released in the summer, so the story continues. Exciting times!

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