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Teenage Love, Universal Fears, and Wonderwall
By Kate Hickey
Here’s a show that’s been flying under the radar: My Mad Fat Diary. Starring Sharon Rooney and featuring Ian Hart, this show chronicles the small-town misadventures of a gang of English teenagers in the 1990s. It has everything you’d expect from a show driven by teen hormones: first love, social standing, schoolwork, fear, sex, drinking, and laughing until your sides hurt. But the dark underbelly of this show, the real thing that hooks you and keeps you watching, is the knowledge that the main character has just spent four months in a psychiatric hospital.
Frankly, I can’t quite understand why this show hasn’t become wildly popular in a similar fashion to Orange is the New Black, as these two shows unashamedly take on difficult topics and dig their teeth in the complexities of the people who live within those narratives. Both of them remain relatively upbeat and undeniably charming; both are equally difficult to categorize as a drama or a comedy based on how similar they are to real life, which (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) is never always a drama or always a comedy. And they’re both based on the real lives of real women who wrote real books: Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman and My Mad, Fat Teenage Diary by Rae Earl.
This show opens a dialogue about body image and body confidence alongside discussions about mental illness and eating disorders while still maintaining a youthful, fun, reckless feel. Rae experiences problems with boys, her best friend Chloe, and her mother at the same time she deals with binge eating, her friend’s anorexia, and the excruciating pain of facing all of her fears about herself in therapy. The integration of the two extremes of light-hearted and serious topics remind us of the feeling that all of those things seem equally important and can stop the earth turning.
Along with the hard-hitting issues of mental and physical wellness that this show discusses, My Mad Fat Diary goes into the complexities of sexuality and all that entails: questioning, coming out, homophobia, both personal and inter-personal acceptance, and pride. It touches on the topics of abortion, a parent remarrying, sexual independence, unhealthy relationships, and self-esteem. And it delves into the intricate issue of how young girls relate to each other, how gender and gender performance affect how adolescent girls interact with each other.
While My Mad Fat Diary does not address racial issues particularly eloquently, the way in which it does engage with race is one of my favorite things about this show. My Mad Fat Diary is, generally, just as prominently white as any television show. However, the most notable person of color on the show, Karim Bouchtat, is nothing but loyal, supportive, and loving. His status as a Muslim and an illegal immigrant along with his relationship with Rae’s mother could have been a trove of racist tropes and stereotypes, but this show does not choose that presentation. When Rae suspects that Karim has been double-crossing her mother in order to gain citizenship, she finds that she is completely wrong and that Karim’s love for her mother—and by extension, herself—is genuine.
In this way, Rae is painfully realistic. Sometimes, she behaves badly and as a viewer, it is difficult to love her in those moments. She makes bad choices and acts without thinking, sometimes in potentially dangerous ways. But that is the reality of life, and especially life as a teenager. Despite the empathy the viewer cannot help but have with Rae, her mistakes remind us that she’s just like us—flawed and complicated.
Not only flawed and complicated, Rae is fat. There is no sugar coating, no delicate euphemisms that can erase the truth of that. She is fat. But that does not define her worth. This show takes body positivity and makes you see the truth of it: In this society, in this world, it is hard to be body positive. It can be extremely difficult to do the things required to live a body positive life, like accept yourself, love yourself, and believe in yourself. My Mad Fat Diary goes so far to point out how difficult it is, in this body-conscious, weight-sensitive, fat-fearing world, for people who are fat to believe that they can be loved. Both Rae and her mother face these kinds of fears and insecurities throughout the series.
My Mad Fat Diary currently has two seasons and there has been no news of a third season, but fans are hopeful. I can’t recommend this show enough to you! It’s smart, funny, deeply emotional, and romantic. While opening up all of the aforementioned topics for discussion, it never fails to be an entertaining, addicting, and exhilarating watch. It never feels preachy – it always feels sincere. And it comes with a killer '90s rock soundtrack.
#Real #MyMadFatDiary #RaeEarl #TV #BodyPositivity #Feminism #Relationships #The90s #AwesomeSoundtrack #BritishTV
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