Glee’s Fat Problem

Confession: I don’t know why I still watch Glee. It causes me to roll my eyes so forcefully, I often think they will be permanently stuck looking backward in my skull. And yet, I watch. Mostly for Darren Criss and his charming ankle pants. And for the singing. I’ve been a sucker for belt-it-out, Broadway-style singing since being obsessed with the show Fame back in the mid-1980s.

But Glee. Glee has a problem with fat people. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I think show creator Ryan Murphy has a problem with fat people, although I honestly can’t decide if he’s disgusted by fat people, or just unsure of what to make of them.

Let’s break it down: First, Mercedes. A fat black girl, for awhile Mercedes was obsessed with tater tots. Then there was Lauren Zizes. She’d do pretty much anything you’d like, as long as you promised her some candy. And Coach Beiste – yes, that’s what they named the rather manly looking, fat football coach – eats entire chickens (plural) for lunch. It’s funny, right? Because fat people are insatiable pigs. Har har!

The fourth season of Glee debuted last Thursday night, and there was an entire plot line devoted to fatness. A new girl, Marley, thin and pretty, is the daughter of the very fat lunch lady. The horror! We certainly can’t have anyone know that they are related. In fact, it’s the fat mother who insists on keeping the secret, as they transferred to McKinley because Marley was so bullied because of her mother’s existence at her last school. The cheerleaders, football players, and eventually the Glee club have a good time making fun of the lunch lady, before Marley finally stands up for her mother. Great – we all learned a lovely little lesson about how we shouldn’t judge people because we never really know what their lives are like. But what I think the show really taught us is that we shouldn’t pick on a fat lady because we never know if her daughter’s sitting at the table with us. That’s a very different lesson from learning not to judge and mock and belittle someone because of their size.

A more insidiuous form of fat shaming, however, came in the form of Kate Hudson as Rachel’s new dance teacher at her fancy fictional performing arts college in NYC. At the beginning of class, Hudson is judging her students, and decides to call one thin girl Muffin Top. She then encourages the girl to eat nothing but “rice cakes and ipecac.” Yes, I know performing arts schools are vicious and competitive. Yes, I’m sure things like this actually happen in the real world. But I also know that a lot of young, very impressionable girls watch Glee. They (and we) are already told every day, in every form of media, that we can’t be thin enough. Yes, Hudson’s character is supposed to be mean and cruel, but does she have to fat shame as well (especially a girl who is not fat)?

Ryan Murphy doesn’t know what to do with fat people. He reaches a wide, impressionable audience every week. It’s a shame that he perpetuates horrible fat stereotypes, when he has the perfect platform to teach acceptance and understanding. In song, no less!