After hearing a ton of great stuff about that Marvel-Netflix show Jessica Jones, I finally queued it up the other day, only to turn if off less than 10 minutes later. Not even a third of the way through the very first episode, the main character made a pointless joke about a plus-size woman on an elliptical machine (“Two minutes on the treadmill, 20 on a Quarter Pounder”).
I think uncomfortable humor or dialogue is fine/great when it’s necessary to the storyline or shocks with a purpose—but a lazy fat-joke potshot? That’s just hack writing. Which makes me sad, because I love good TV. But this disappointment got me thinking about television shows that actually do some good for body positivity. There are a few, I think. Here’s my list and rationale:
All of the stars of this one-season wonder on the former ABC Family network were charismatic, watchable, and “of size” (as in, average-size or overweight). Yes, the whole plot of the show revolved around these young people being at “fat camp,” but the writers used that as a premise to tackle a million tender subjects with humor and tact. The show was funny, touching, and fun—and the characters looked like two-thirds of the population of the United States does. It was revolutionary! And cancelled. Good thing you can get the whole series (just the one season) on iTunes.
God bless Lena Dunham and her complete lack of on-screen (and Instagram) modesty. Watching her experience her normal-looking female body in a sexual way—despite not being typically “Hollywood-sex-scene hot"—is a beautiful thing. Although her frolicking on Girls will end soon, here’s hoping she inspires many imitators. I don’t watch this show regularly—mostly because I don’t have HBO and feel bad about stealing it with someone else’s HBO Go password—but even just catching the teasers gives me a boost.
3. The Mindy Project
Mindy Kaling’s character Dr. Mindy Lahiri is self-deprecating, fashion-obsessed, and will eat bear claws off of the New York City sidewalk like any desperately carb-craving woman in the midst of PMS would. Kaling would be hilarious to watch no matter what she looked like, but the fact that she’s not your average size zero white girl sitcom headliner is a bonus. Thankfully, Hulu picked up the show last year when Fox let it go.
4. Criminal Minds
One of the most-loved characters on this FBI procedural is Penelope Garcia (as played by Kirstin Vangsness), a plus-size (well, by Hollywood standards) tech expert who wears chunky glasses and wild feathered things in her hair. The best part? How much 100 percent traditionally hot Shemar Moore’s character Derek Morgan loves to flirt with her. There’s some major fan fiction around those two—and even a “couple” name: Morcia.
5. American Horror Story: Coven
The series has since moved on to freak shows and hotels, but season three (Coven) is worth watching on Netflix or Hulu simply for the diverse casting—racial, body, and otherwise. In this age of #OscarsSoWhite and #StarsSoSkinny, it’s nice to see a very large-bodied woman on TV once in awhile (Gabourey Sidibe) and for that woman to be black and have magical powers, to boot. This season also features an actress with Down syndrome (Jamie Brewer), and her shape and looks are beautifully different from most mainstream actresses as well. Oh, and her character’s got mad superpowers too, and a really hot boyfriend. (He dies, but I mean, it is a horror show.)
Sunny Sea Gold is Greatist’s body image columnist and the author of Food: The Good Girl’s Drug—How to Stop Using Food to Control Your Feelings (Berkley Books, 2011). A health journalist by trade and training and a mom of two little girls, she’s also an advocate and educator focused on reducing the rates of childhood obesity and eating disorders by building Body-Positive Families.