Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wow, just wow: Why Glee is the best show on TV

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I had already posted Tuesday's blog when I watched Glee on Tuesday night, which is too bad because ALL I WANTED TO DO after that was write about Glee.

Well, now I finally have my chance.

The reason I was so anxious to write about Glee is because, as Dave said while we were watching it, this week's episode was kind of like watching my blog being brought to life.


As some of you know, one of the main characters on the show—Mercedes (played by the luminous Amber Riley below)—is not your typical skinny actress.

And in this episode, Mercedes is told by her new cheerleading coach—the always crazed Sue Sylvester—that she has to drop ten pounds in a week or be kicked off the team.

Mercedes responds by doing what any high schooler would do—she goes on a diet. But after eating chicken breast and salad for a few days, she hasn't lost weight. She's gained it.

So she turns to the other cheerleaders—all of them about as big as my pinky—and asks them for help. They tell Mercedes about the "Sue Sylvester Master Cleanse: water, maple syrup for glucose, lemon for acid, cayenne pepper to irritate the bowels, and a dash of Ipecac, a vomiting agen," all of which is designed to make them flush every unshakeable calorie out of their bodies.

Mercedes joins their cult, drinking the cleanse she even admits must be unhealthy and otherwise giving up food altogether. A few days later, she's on the verge of starving and starting to see visions—her glee club friends looking like giant pieces of food.

Not long after that, she passes out from hunger.

In the nurse's office, Mercedes runs into former head cheerleader Quinn (kicked off the squad for getting pregnant), who tells Mercedes:

"You are so lucky. You've always been at home in your body. Don't let Miss Sylvester take that away from you. . . You are beautiful. You know that."

The next time the Cheerios perform, Mercedes takes the floor and says this to a gym full of awkward, sweaty teenagers:

"So most of you know Cheerios is about perfection and winning, looking hot and being popular.

Well, I think that it should be about something different.

How many of you at this school feel fat? How many of you feel like maybe you’re not worth very much? And you’re ugly and you have too many pimples and not enough friends?

Well, I felt all of those things about myself at one time or another.

Hell, I felt all of those things about myself today. And that just ain't right.

And we’ve got something to say about it. And if you like what we have to say, come down here and sing it with us.”

After this call to action, Mercedes launches into a heartfelt rendition of Christina Aguilara's "Beautiful." If you don't know the lyrics, they go something like this:

You are beautiful no matter what they say
Words can't bring you down
You are beautiful in every single way
Yes, words can't bring you down
Don't you bring me down today...

Of course, everyone in the gym joins in before the song is over.

Obviously I loved this episode because it was incredibly uplifting, and I completely embrace its love-yourself-the-way-you-are message.

But it is so much more than that.

I also love that in this episode, they show a character who is overweight eating HEALTHY FOOD! In the past, we have seen so many overweight characters who have been depicted—ridiculed even—as junk-food-loving pigs.

I'm sure we all remember the awful "Fat Monica" on Friends—who was never shown without a candy bar in her hand.


Just because you're overweight does NOT mean you eat a lot. Trust me, as someone who eats healthy food six days a week at least, I know. A balanced diet does not always equal a skinny body.

My father-in-law always says that if you don't see an overweight person eating a lot of crap, it's because they're doing it in private.

Do I have to say it again?


That is some of the biggest crap I have ever heard.

(It's right up there with the same father-in-law telling me, "Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?" when Dave and I moved in together. And we all know how that worked out. And, yes, it is not lost on me that I'm the "cow" in this scenario.)

If you know anything about science, you know that our genes and the chemicals surrounding us play a huge role in our body size. Assuming that everyone who struggles with their weight also stuffs their face is just plain ignorant.

And that's what I love about Glee. The writers get that. They get that just because you try to lose weight—just because you starve yourself or use miracle diet aids—that doesn't mean you'll be thin.

The other reason I love these writers is because they do something else that so few writers have done before—they broach the obesity issue head on.

As Entertainment Weekly said, "The weight loss subplot involving Mercedes may have been one of Glee's riskiest and edgiest storylines to date. Talking about teenage girl's weight is definitely a tricky topic."

Sure, every once in a while we see overweight characters who are not pigging out, but I can't think of a single other time when a television show or a movie actually addressed the issue of obesity with any seriousness. In fact, most of the time overweight characters are only there for comic relief. So it's insanely refreshing to see Mercedes' character being treated like a real person with real issues, real hopes and dreams, real assets and real flaws.

In my creative writing classes, I teach my students that all good characters must have both good and bad qualities if we are to find them believable, and that's what the Glee writers do so well.

Yes, Mercedes is overweight, but that doesn't mean she has to be treated like a punchline or that the writers have to feed us with immature fat jokes. No, the writers of this show get it—we want fun and uplifting entertainment about REAL, BELIEVABLE characters.

Thank you, Glee, for giving us just that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oh, the hypocrisy

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Some of you may have heard already that last week ABC and FOX refused to air a Lane Bryant lingerie ad during Dancing with the Stars and American Idol at 8 p.m., saying it was inappropriate. (The ad is pictured above on the left, and you can watch in its entirety in this You Tube video.) The networks said this DESPITE THE FACT that FOX was airing a Victoria's Secret commercial (pictured above on the right) at the same time.

Why were they willing to show one lingerie commercial and not another?

Wait for it . . .

Apparently, the plus-size models who appear in the Lane Bryant commercial are TOO sexy for eight o'clock. Even sexier than the women in the Victoria's Secret ad.

Well, I could have told you that.

Still, in all seriousness, the double standard is disturbing.

According to Lane Bryant, the networks said that the cleavage in their ad was excessive. FOX News correspondent Gretchen Carlson says,"With plus-size models, you're gonna get more cleavage," which is apparently what makes the Lane Bryant ad too risque for family programming.

Or . . . maybe we're just totally used to seeing skinny models with big breasts but not at all used to seeing regular-sized women showing off their assets?

I have a feeling it's the latter.

I know that I don't even blink anymore when I come across a Victoria's Secret ad because I've become completely desensitized to seeing skinny women without their clothes on, but when I see a real woman in her underwear, it gets my attention every time.

I think that's why the networks balked—it's just an unusual thing to see.

And until we make it more common to see regular-sized women looking beautiful and sexy, all of us are going to feel bad about our bodies and keep going to unhealthy extremes to make them match the images in the media.

As one commentator says, "What does the double standard say to young women—that it’s okay to show skin if you are leggy and lean and not if you are curvy and plump? . . . That the only time you can wear beautiful lingerie is if you have what society deems a beautiful body?"

I couldn't have said it better myself.

On the other hand, kudos to Lane Bryant for making plus-sized woman look incredibly gorgeous and sexy (and for giving away free underwear!). If we had more commercials like this one, I guarantee that we would all feel better about ourselves.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ugly people and reality television

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I just watched the Project Runway season finale, and it was killer. The three contestants all sent amazing collections down the runway at Fashion Week, and the moments leading up to the announcement of the winner were possibly the most dramatic in the show's history.

But I want to talk about something that happened in the reunion show that aired right after the finale.

Some of these reality shows can get pretty catty, but for the most part, the Project Runway designers keep things relatively harmless. Yes, they GO OFF on each other's work, but it never gets truly ugly and almost never personal.

Until tonight.

There was one designer—Jay Nicolas Sario—who found out that his work had been heavily criticized by a model named Cerri, and after watching the clip in which she said he should be designing for blonde women in L.A., Jay said this to her:

"And I wouldn't hire a model with thick legs and bad teeth."

I teach writing, and one of my favorite lessons is the one on fallacies. Jay's comment is what is commonly known as a personal attack, people, and it's designed to change the subject from the issue at hand and cripple the other person with self-doubt.

And it belongs in high school.

Yes, Cerri's comment was tough, but what Jay said was simply cruel and worse than that it was personal. Cerri criticized his work, but Jay criticized her as a person.

Which makes me wonder—what the hell is wrong with people?! And why on earth would someone say something so incredibly ugly on national television? And, furthermore, do people really act like they're still fifteen?

Honestly, I feel like Jay felt comfortable saying what he did because Cerri is a woman. If she had been a man, I don't think he would have ever gotten so personal. Unfortunately, we live in a country where it's acceptable to attack women for their looks but men don't often get held to those same standards. And attacking this amazingly beautiful woman's looks (see the picture above) is kind of like saying Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn't selfless enough.

In other words, it's complete horse shit.

But it gets better.

WAY better.

I logged onto my favorite blog of all time—Project Rungay—to say how much Jay's comments bothered me and that I would never wear his clothes as a result, and here is the response I got from a commenter who will go unnamed:

"Molly McCALFrey, no need to worry about wearing Jay's clothes anyway. Yo fat heifa ass couldn't fit into 8 of his outfits stitched together."

I am not making this up.

Someone actually wrote this about me on a blog (or the comments on a blog). Honestly, I don't know if I should laugh or cry. I mean, it's so ridiculous that it's funny, and it's so awful that I actually feel more sorry for the person who said it than I do for myself. I mean, really how unhappy do you have to be to say something that nasty?

Well, I figured that I had to respond, had to show I didn't care what some stranger thought about me, so here's what I said:

"Marion, I have to disagree—I feel confident I could fit into two of Jay's outfits stitched together."

Bottom line: I REFUSE to be ashamed of my body or my weight, and I will celebrate it no matter what anyone says about me.

Enough said.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I don't care what anyone says—I think you're hot.

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Okay, this is going to be a little bit ugly, but it needs to be said . . .

I've noticed something over the years that really irritates me, and it's this: when I see people I haven't seen in a while—old friends and family—they often tell me how good I look. Yes, I know I should be happy when people say this, and I also know that people usually sometimes say these things out of obligation. But I can almost always tell that when they say it to me it's genuine because it's an utterance that is repeatedly delivered in an incredibly surprised tone of voice:

"WOW, you look good."

Translation: "I honestly cannot believe how good you look because the last time I saw you, you looked like complete crap."

I got this a lot when I was younger. Back then I think people had the false sense that I was bigger than I was because I wasn't stick thin (though I was thin). And now I get it all the time—probably because I post my weight on the internet, and unfortunately no one in our society can fathom that a nearly two-hundred pound woman can look good.

No matter how you slice it, it's a backhanded compliment, and I hate it.

Really, the person saying it might as well have called you a fat-ass for how good it makes you feel to hear those words delivered in a completely astonished tone of voice.

So if you're going to tell someone they look good, please do us all a favor and don't act like it's the last thing you thought would come out of your mouth when you saw that person.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Why I love the guys at Project Rungay

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I make it a point on this blog NOT to criticize women who I feel are too thin.

As I've mentioned before, I think that would be counter-productive since it won't make curvy women feel any better about their bodies if we make thin women feel bad about theirs. And, let's face it, going off on any woman's body just seems wrong.

But I came across something the other day that I do want to share, something that in some ways falls into the category of discussing—or even dissing—the body of a thin celebrity.

I read this "something" on one of my favorite websites—Project Rungay, a blog run by two amazing and insightful gay men named Tom and Lorenzo, a.k.a. TLo.

Though these comments may seem a little mean at first, there is something really important that's being said underneath the surface cattiness.

In response to Demi Moore's claim (in the cover story pictured above) that she finds it frustrating that most of the roles in Hollywood are for women who are between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, TLo said this:

"You know, we don't deny that there is sexism in the entertainment industry and rarely does the industry have any place for women over 40. But we look at these pictures and think 'You know, you might be up for more roles if you didn't look like, oh, say... a CRAZY STARVING PERSON?' It's the same thing with Nicole Kidman. There's a certain class of Hollywood women who have dieted and surgically altered themselves to the point where they really don't look like people. Not healthy people, anyway. There's a reason that the leading actresses in the over-45 category are women like Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren. Because they smartly realized a long time ago that the ingenue parts were gone forever and there was no use going after something they were never going to get again."

Obviously, it's the second half of their comments that really interests me. I've long been a fan of both Streep and Mirren and am always wowed by their amazing bodies, especially Streep's which is incredibly real.

But it never occurred to me until I read TLo's response to Moore that maybe one of the reasons that these two get so much work in Hollywood is precisely because they do look so real. (The same could be said of Emma Thompson or even America Ferrera.) I said in my post-Oscar post that I don't think women over thirty-five look attractive when they're still super skinner, and Streep's and Mirren's success may just prove that I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Maybe the truth is that we DON'T want to see women on the big screen who look like they're starving. Maybe we really DO want women who look more like us—sure, perfect, beautiful versions of us, but still us.

But if that's the case, then why the hell don't more people in Hollywood and in the media get it??? Why do we still have so many celebrities who look plain old hungry?

I don't know the answer to this question, but I do know this. . . I'm not giving up this fight until the women in the movies look a lot more like me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When will the rain be gone?

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One of the things I haven't talked about on this blog is body dysmorphia.

Why haven't I talked about it yet?

Probably because it's a can of worms I don't really want to open and a problem of mine I don't really want to admit.

Unfortunately, I usually see myself one of two ways . . .

1) Some days I see my body as much, much, much bigger than it is. I feel like I'm busting out on all sides—with hips that sit along my middle like a bulging UFO and a butt that people could safely set their drink on.

2) Other days I see myself as fit and attractive and even a bit voluptuous, a modern Joan Holloway . . . without the fabulous rack, of course. I used to call this Shallow Hal disease because on days like this I look in the mirror and see someone amazingly glamorous and gorgeous even if that's not the reality.

The problem is that there aren't many days when I'm in between these two insane extremes, when I see myself clearly. And what I want to know is, why is that? Why is it so hard to have a realistic and healthy body image???

If you figure it out, be sure to let me know. In the meantime, I'm going to put this can back in the pantry and pretend it's not there.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Childhood Obesity, Part III: Don't be an enabler

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I've talked before about my take on the current childhood obesity epidemic. As I mentioned in my "Letting Go" post, I don't think this problem can be solved until parents start letting their kids play outside as much as we did when we were kids (which was basically all the time).

The bottom line is that kids today are raised in a very insular and protected world—one in which they are not allowed to play outside alone, one in which they are given a trophy just for participating, and one in which they are not often enough held responsible for their actions. In a nutshell, kids today are coddled. And until we let them venture out on their own—into a world where there are consequences (both physical and emotional), they will become more and more lazy, entitled, and overweight.

I'm sorry if you think that's too blunt, but it's the truth.

But one of the things I haven't talked about is how we feed our kids today. Partially because the problem with the way kids eat isn't that different than the problems with the way us adults eat. We all eat too much processed food, and we all need to cook at home more. Even though I know this is true, over the past few weeks, I've become more aware of some additional issues with childhood nutrition.

One of them is obvious but bears repeating: the way adults enable their kids poor eating habits.

Dave and I were on a walk Tuesday when we came across a family of three: a father and his two kids, a boy and a girl, probably around ages nine and eleven.

The father was typical—middle-aged, a little bit overweight, but not unusually so.

But the kids stood out to me as being much bigger than normal—no, they weren't morbidly obese, but they were carrying much more weight on them than they should. They almost looked to me like the little boy in last summer's Up!—just too round.

But what was really alarming was what they were holding.

Both of them had gargantuan slurpee cups. I am not kidding when I say they were each about a foot tall. One had some kind of blue frozen drink, and the other was yellow.

They were both nursing these monster-sized sippy cups as the three of them walked over to a nearby grave (we were in the cemetery at the time), and I couldn't help but note the irony: would these kids die younger because of the junk food they were putting in their bodies? And more importantly, what kind of father would buy his kids that kind of crap??? Especially in such a large size and for kids who should be cutting calories rather than adding them?

I imagine that it must be difficult to say no to a child who begs and begs for something they really want. I can guarantee you that if I were a parent, I would be lousy at that kind of discipline. But I do know this—no matter how difficult it was, I would not let my children feast on a 100-ounce cocktail of high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors.

And I sure hope you don't either.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Happy birthday! Happy anniversary!

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It's not just my 40th birthday, it's also the first anniversary of this blog. A year ago I started writing about my desire to lose weight, and 112 posts later, I'm still here.

This is both good news and bad news . . .

. . . good because I still have so much to write about it. Just over the past few days, I've come across the inspiration for three or four more posts. It seems that, unfortunately, there is never a lack of material for someone writing about body issues.

. . . but bad because I haven't lost as much weight as I would like in the past year. I had really hoped to be in the 180s by now, but I guess it's not entirely fair to say this is bad news. The bottom line is that I weigh eight pounds less today than I did at this time a year ago. So that's definitely something.

To celebrate, I'm going to buy the blog a fabulous gift . . . a new website and a new look. Because isn't that all any of us want? A shiny new dress to make us feel amazing?

The new look won't be available until summer, but if you have any suggestions before then, feel free to let me know.

Also, I want to thank everyone out there who reads this blog—your comments over the past twelve months have kept me going every time I've started to lose momentum, and I can't thank you enough for that.

Happy anniversary, friends!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Elle Enchanted

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More good news for curvy women everywhere!

The French version of Elle magazine currently features a curvy model on the cover of its April issue. Model Tara Lynn graces not only the publication's facade, but also a twenty-page fashion editorial inside the mag. Lynn is the centerpiece of an issue devoted to curvy women—or "ronde" as the French say.

I'm not going to lie—some of the photos of Lynn really surprised me. It was just shocking to see someone with such a real body in a fashion magazine. I think that I am so unused to seeing women who are not thin in the media that I had to look at these images several times before I realized that Lynn is probably the same size I am. But still it took me a minute, proving how rare it is to see women like her in print.

It's no surprise to me that it was the French who first put a curvy women on the cover of a women's fashion magazine. After all, the French have been leading the fight to ban models who have an unhealthy BMI (meaning they're too thin), so why shouldn't they be the first to show how beautiful regular-sized women can be?

I can't read the French version of Elle, but there is one thing I can say: Je t'adore, Elle!