Gone are the days when the severe weight-loss show “The Biggest Loser” or the dating competition atrocity “More To Love” are the only shows on television with plus-size peeps. This past year has brought us “Huge,” a Nikki Blonsky-starring scripted show about teens at fat camp (which has since been canceled), and “Mike & Molly,” a sitcom about a plus-size couple in love (which prompted MarieClaire.com blogger Maura Kelly to pen an embarrassing post about how “fatties” repulse her). Now plus-size peeps may be making what I hope will be a more multi-faceted appearance on reality TV. Doron Ofir Casting is casting a new VH1 show that aims to be the real-life “Sex and the City” with “full-figured, fabulous big girls” in L.A.
Let’s ignore, for a moment, that MTV’s little-seen “Downtown Girls” already tried and failed to be a compelling “Sex & The City”-style reality show. We can’t ignore that a reality show with a cast of plus-size women with more to their lives than losing weight — you know, those little things like jobs, relationships and families — could actually be pretty groundbreaking if it’s done right. You know, insofar as a show that solely focuses on a woman’s body shape can actually be groundbreaking.
I won’t be getting my hopes too high, however. The premise of the show is ick-ily reminiscent of “Jersey Shore”: The casting notice trills, “It’s time to show the world that big girls have more fun! … Big girls don’t cry, they freakin’ party!” (Am I the only one who thinks the use of the word “freakin’” speaks volumes?)
Another reason I’m not getting my hopes up? All reality shows come down to casting and editing, which determines what narratives the producers choose to tell. Viewers never know if reality TV’s editors will present a “docu-series” (like MTV’s “16 & Pregnant,” for instance) or whether they will edit a narrative that simply reiterates stereotypes: women are catty, competitive bitches who are desperate to marry, men only want sex, black men are gangstas, fat people are all miserable and want to lose weight, etc. (Media critic Jennifer Pozner’s recent book, Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, goes into this in much more detail.) It remains to be seen whether these “full-figured, fabulous big girls” are plus-size in the real world sense — upwards of size 14 — or in the Hollywood sense — size 8 or 10 — and that is crucial. As commenter LucyInTheRain put it on Jezebel.com, “If I don’t see some motherf***ing stretch marks, dimples, and foopas in this ‘reality’ show, I’m going to be awfully pissed.”
I’m also suspicious of Doron Ofir Casting’s motivations. While the “Sex & The City”-style reality show may well depict plus-size women as self-confident, intelligent, warmhearted and complex individuals, elsewhere on their website I see Doron Ofir was casting back in October for a couples’ weight loss show which appears to be called “Love Handles.” LoveHandlesCasting.com is reached by a click-through on Doron Ofir’s main site and shows male and female feet standing on a scale, a couple of brownies, measuring tape, and a gingerbread man with a heart on his belly snapped in half. The network is unspecified, but the notice reads:
“An extraordinary opportunity is extended to couples that are battling their weight in a groundbreaking new television series dedicated to changing lives one couple at a time. Are you and your partner overweight and in an unhealthy relationship? Are you ready to shed the pounds as a team and strengthen not only your bodies but your relationship, too? … Did you go from “that happy couple” to “that heavy couple”? Did you gain weight together and lose the romance? Battling the bulge is difficult on your own, but with a partner, the weight on your shoulders doubles and can crush your relationship.”
The casting notice promises 16 couples will receive nutrition, fitness and medical guidance — which is great — as well as “invaluable relationship counseling.” While I won’t deny that significant weight gain or weight loss (which apparently does not make for good TV) can be indicative of an unhealthy relationship, this casting notice reads to me like weight gain caused or contributed to relationship problems. To be sure, looking less attractive to your partner is a relationship problem. But all relationships have many elements to them and undue focus on the scale seems to be to be further stigmatizing the overweight. I wouldn’t say the fairly average couple’s experience of gaining weight and “los[ing] the romance” — i.e., getting ‘fat and happy in love’ as The Frisky once put it — quite counts as being in “an unhealthy relationship” which requires counseling. And this is a “no duh” but it bears repeating: not all plus-size people are necessarily unhealthy. (The plus-size musician Beth Ditto, for instance, has this great quote about how she’s sick of being diagnosed as “unhealthy” simply because she’s fat.)
So the question is why casting directors who are stigmatizing the overweight on one show are also purporting to showcase the fabulous lives of plus-size women on another show? It seems duplicitous to me.
Only time — and what doesn’t end up on the casting director’s/editing room floors — will tell.