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.
***WARNING—THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD—DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT THIS EPISODE RUINED.***
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.