First let me tell you that I was miffed at myself for missing the premiere episode of Big Sexy last Tuesday night, and could not for the life of me find the full episode online. Do I really have to explain why I was so interested in checking out a reality show about plus sized women in New York City? I was hoping that it was going show a slice of life that is seldom represented on television and film. I was hoping that TLC with Big Sexy would be able to free “Big Girls” from their relegated placement as funny, zany, slightly desperate side kicks, who are sex starved and most times the butt (pun so intended) of the easy joke. Oh I was so hoping…
So last Tuesday night I made a point of being in front of my flat screen at 10pm tuned into TLC. Well, all I can say is that the episode started with the ladies Tiffany Bank, Heather Roach, Leslie Medlick, Audry Lea Curry, Nikki Gomez going—wait for it—MECHANICAL BULL RIDING. Can I ask you a question? What “Regular” sized woman in New York City goes Bull Riding? (Ok the Real Housewives of Orange County went when they were in Texas but that was a hot embarrassing mess to!) It looked like they were endanger of losing me in the first five minutes. To see these women first struggle to get up on the damn thing and then to see it bucking around was one thing, but hearing their commentary one another about the reaction vibration and bucking has copious amounts of flesh was too much. Now let me make this clear, it’s not about seeing plus sized women on a bull having a ball that bothered me, it was the fact that it looked, and felt like an orchestrated spectacle, exploitation, a forced attempt to say “Fat girls have fun” and “Fat girls are sexy too”. The question is whom were they trying to convince? Or was it just me?
At that commercial break I had to switch the channel, I was upset and annoyed, it looked like this was not going to turn out well, it was like watching a car crash happen and not being able to stop it, I was deciding to look away. —After minute or two I decided to hold on to hope, and finish the assignment.
After with The Hills scandal about scripting years ago and the domination of the Kardashians we all know that these shows, while not being “scripted” are directed and produced. Topics of conversation are decided upon and when “Action” is called what resulted is like a basic, bad beginner improve class where students are given a topic, intention and a resolution, how they get there is on them. Most reality subjects aren’t actors for a reason and the Big Sexy gals need more practice and making these set up situation seem slightly believable. Where the girls from The Hills had the support of great lighting and an alternative music soundtrack that made all the shifting eyes and the tucking of hair behind ears look choreographed, these gals aren’t supported by Hollywood gloss. The camera work and editing is not working to their advantage at creating plausibility, I know TLC isn’t about the glossy effect of an E entertainment Network or MTV but a spit shine wouldn’t kill anyone. I’m not saying that they look bad; I’m saying that it just doesn’t help to enhance the quality of the show. The scene set up seem forced, like a group of people who think themselves clever sat around a table throwing out brilliant ideas like “why don’t we have them go mechanical bull riding?” In truth these ladies’ actual lives are probably more interesting, if only they were able to tell them instead of being forced into the standard reality show format the network seems to think is one size fits all.
The formulaic topics for chick reality shows embody 4 basic areas: Shopping, Partying, Dating and Drama (gossip, break-ups, health issues, and career goals) Big Sexy follows suit on all counts while never ceasing to remind you that these are *Fat women shopping, partying and dating, and their drama all surrounds the fact that they are fat. In fact they can’t stop reminding us that they are big, curvy, fleshy, the language in it’s self seems excessive and forced. Look I have never been what is considered fat but I have been black all my life, which brings with it a certain amount of discrimination, overt and barely perceptible, I have hung around groups of all black women and we don’t harp on our blackness the whole time. And in real life I doubt that these women’s conversations are dominated by their weight, but this is what the show reduces them to. * I know the show is about big girls but do we have to constantly state the obvious? They seem so preoccupied with their size that we, as viewers aren’t allowed to see past it, and isn’t that the point? To show that big women are –women. I understand that part of the message it to illustrate the size discrimination and issues that plus size people (not just women) experience, but this show seems to reduce the subjects to just that, their size and their issues.
Episode 2 continued the obligatory Shopping scene:
Heather brings comedian Erica Watson (who has a one woman she called –wait for it—Fat Bitch) to Leslie’s clothing store to pull some looks for her show. It was typical reality show gal in clothing store banter, just this time about being fat, finding clothes that fit and look good, and a bit about men. Basically it was a not so subtle set up for the girls attending Erica’s show later in the episode.
Nikki has been dating a man for seven months (both are coming out of marriages) and is ready to have the “where is this going talk”. The conversation all sounds uncomfortable and forced, and in the end he says he’s not ready, and is thinking of reconciling with his wife, leaving Nikki to pull the plug. Now all the women are single which means that there is nothing left to do but to throw a party. Men are screened prior to the party, the interview process is great fodder to show how some men have fetishes for fat girls and are just plain freaks. From the shots, it appeared that the cast members were the only females at the party. But it gives us a chance to see the gals all gussied up and flirting up a storm, and cue Drama, when Tiffany has her eye on a cutie, but Nikki (who is on a mission) scores his card but later decides to pass it off to Tiffany, who is rightly perplexed at the gesture.
*This is something to note, all the women on Big Sexy, all of the women are single, (I think to model Sex in the City but it might have been nice to have cast at least one woman who is in long term relationship, if part of the point is to show that big women are loveable too)
You get the sense that all of this pomp and circumstance has nothing at all to do with these women’s real lives; they are putting on a show and a bad one at that. Where they honestly may be authentically happy with themselves in real life (or at least as happy as any body else, we all have our problems) the strained stilted staging of inauthentic, inorganic conversations makes one doubt how “happy” they are. The Shakespearian quote “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much” echoes in my head. I do believe that what they are talking about, the perils of being treated differently because of their size, the difficulty at fitting in (clothes, space, social groups) being ostracized are all real things and should be brought to light, however the *way they are dealt with feel fake and their is little insight to their *true world or feelings, just cliché phrases and statements that make you sigh and want to change the channel.
There are some authentically beautiful moments in the show, Tiffany an aspiring plus sized model visits her agent and has to endure being measured only to discover that she is about to be too large for the largest plus size. She is told to lose 7-10 pounds, or as her very direct no nonsense agent informs her, if she doesn’t lose the weight she is “wasting everybody’s time”. It is a hard truth to swallow, one that standard and plus models face regularly. Tiffany in her interview is teary eyes as she laments the situation, and speaks in earnest of how tired her is of trying, she is tired of counting pounds, and calories and exercising only to be told it’s not good enough– does that sound familiar? Later Tiffany goes to the doctors only to discover that she has an issue with her thyroid, she is relieved to know the cause of her weight loss struggle, but the knowledge doesn’t absolve her from doing the work, later she hits the gym resolute to lose the weight needed to keep her working and reaching her goal. In these moments she became real and not a caricature of herself.
Just then it dawned on me, something that should have been clear from the onset; this is a woman’s story, not just big woman’s story. The source of my annoyance at the show, had nothing to do with the size of the women, but the idea that the subject of their size kept getting in the way of my getting to know who they were, and isn’t that the original problem? People tend to see and judge the weight and not the person. If Big Sexy trying to illustrate that full-figured women are just like everyone else (just a big bigger version) and should not be judged for their size, then it should show that they are by focusing on the commonalities that we all share. Most women regardless of size have body issues, trouble in relationships, career advancement, and pressure to be and have it all. People can relate, and when they see these women have to struggle with life issues, plus the stigma that goes along with being heavier makes it even more difficult. You really don’t have to manufacture discrimination do you? The place Big Sexy falls short is that it uses the women as props to present issues, and turned what could have been a great opportunity tell an untold story, (that is a reality for a great deal of Americans) into what looks like propaganda for being overweight. By extracting the humanity from these women I fear that they might have exacerbate the problem of discrimination. There will be those who will say that Big Sexy says it’s “Okay to be fat” when really it’s trying to say, “If you are fat, it’s okay” the rest of the statement would be “you are still relevant, valid, and worthy of respect, love and acceptance”
I might check out a few more episodes just to see if they find their footing and hit a stride, but for me sadly Big Sexy was a Big Disappointment.
Audry Lea Curry
Clips from the premier Episode
Thunder Thighs Contest
Shopping for “Booty” Jeans