Friday, June 10, 2011

*GASP* A Fat Person! - An Open Letter to Brenda Hampton (Spoiler Warning)

Spoiler Warning:  If you are the kind of person who will be miserable for having seen spoilers of the Season 3 Finale (S03E26) of The Secret Life of the American Teenager, stop reading now! 

On June 6th, 2011 the Season 3 finale of The Secret Life of the American Teenager aired on ABC Family.  This episode got plenty of media attention because it depicted the unimaginable; a stillborn baby being born to a recently married young high school couple.  It was this media attention that drew me back to the show, which I hadn't given so much as a thought to in over a year.  I was curious to see the episode to see how Brenda Hampton would deal with such a sensitive and taboo topic.  While I do feel the show did a good job of handling the sensitive subject of stillbirth and infant loss, there was one minor plot line in the episode that floored me and inspired me to write this open letter to Brenda Hampton.

Dear Brenda,

Thank you so much for bringing shows like "7th Heaven" and "The Secret Life of the American Teenager" to the world.  As a middle school student, I loved 7th Heaven, and I even stayed devoted to the show after it became week after week of "A Very Special Episode."  I want to especially commend your efforts of addressing modern teen issues on Secret Life.  I was pretty surprised to see you had openly gay characters, pregnant teenagers, and even interracial couples on the show.  You've come a long way since 7th Heaven, baby!  Another excellent aspect of the show is the potential for a great drinking game; you know, downing a shot every time one of the characters says the word sex.  Actually, scratch the idea of the drinking game... I couldn't actually suggest this game to anyone, because surely they'd die of alcohol poisoning if they attempted it, but I digress. 

Back to the point of this letter, first and foremost, I want to commend again on you on how well you handled the main plot in your recent season finale; Adrian and Ben losing their stillborn daughter.  I can tell you put a lot of effort into sensitively addressing that plot line.  Having said that,  I think perhaps so much effort and care was put into the main plot line that not enough attention was given to the more subtle themes of the episode.  I'm speaking specifically about the scene where Grant introduces Grace to his ex-girlfriend, Angie.  In case you can't remember the scene, I'll describe it briefly for you:
Thin blonde Grace is sitting in a restaurant with her average sized boyfriend, Grant. The two are waiting for Grant's ex-girlfriend to arrive so the three can have dinner together.  Grace and Angie have never met.  When Angie steps onto the scene, she's polite and greets them both. Upon setting eyes on Angie for the first time and seeing that Angie isn't the typical 100lb girl that normally appears on the show, Grace looks like she's just seen an alien spaceship drop through the ceiling of the restaurant.  The following conversation takes place:

Grace: So nice to meet you, I'm Grace, and you must be fat!
Grant: Grace!!!
Angie: I must be...
Grace: Oh Dear God...
Angie: It's alright, I'm fat, but I've lost a few pounds.
Grant: Yeah, you have, you look great!  You found the magic beans you were looking for?
Angie: No I actually gave into reality, you know I took my doctor's advice, started cutting down and exercising, all that boring stuff.

Angie continues to apologize to Grace for shocking her and explains that Grant loves women of all sizes and heights because he's a "ladies man."
Ok Brenda,  I totally see what you were trying to do here.  I'd maybe even give you a A for effort, but the actual execution of this scene was just embarrassing.  I don't know who I felt more embarrassed for; your writers or yourself for coming up with this script (maybe even the plot line in general) or the poor actress that had to be cast in order to fulfill this role.   Not to mention what's worse: having the fat girl apologize to the thin one for looking differently or the fact that you make it sound so simple to lose weight, as though if every fat girl in the world just "cut back and exercised" they'd all become Grace. 

I just can't honestly imagine what you were thinking writing the scene this way.  This is 2011 in America; not everyone weighs 100lbs!  It's clear from the dialogue that you understand people come in all shapes and sizes, but why create and use a scene where an abnormally thin teenager is shocked and aghast by the mere presence of an above average weight teenager as the catalyst for sending this message to your audience?  An even bigger question here is this: if your show is really an attempt at speaking to real American teenagers, why are all your female main characters some of the thinnest actresses in Hollywood?  Why is it that the one time you have an average looking character on the show, the very presence of her is perceived as a shocking?  Then to pour salt in the wound, the character apologizes for her size to the thinner character! 

I can't be certain what town (world?) you currently live in, but according to the Wikipedia you are from Georgia.  I've only been to Georgia a few times and I never did a head count or compared people's weights, but according to the CDC website "Georgia's estimated 2007 total population is over 9.5 million with roughly 7 million adults. Of those adults, approximately 36% are considered overweight and another 29% are considered obese, according to 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data."  So unless they literally mean only adults and 0% of teenagers are overweight in Georgia, Brenda, you've likely seen an 'overweight' person or two in your life.  You know very well that people don't literally drop their jaws and stumble over their words at the sight of a person who is larger than them. 

While I'd never advocate violence, I can't imagine it would have ended well for Grace if that had been her real life reaction to someone larger than her.

I could probably go on forever about this topic, but I won't. 

Sincerely, your now somewhat jaded former fan,

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  1. Okay, so I totally get where you're coming from here and you're so right that it makes zero sense and was poorly executed BUT, I have to say that this scene does not surprise in the SLIGHTEST. Secret Life's ultimate goal and sole purpose is to be a slightly more entertaining PSA to teenage America that touches on any and all issues that (supposedly) come up in teenage life. There have been hundreds of horribly written, horribly portrayed scenes like this throughout the course of this show (and yes, I've watched it since the beginning, it's that train-wreck mentality haha) so truly, this one is no more shocking or absurd that every. single. episode.

    The real drinking game is to take a shot whenever you can pick out a one-line PSA. Trust me you'd be blackout drunk after a few episodes.

    Knowing that, obviously their goal with this scene was to promote healthy diet and exercise, and to encourage overweight teens to seek out a healthy solution to their weight struggles. Was it approached inappropriately? You bet. Does it warrant being picked out as a particularly shocking and offensive moment over the course of the show? Not a bit. There's plenty more where this came from.

    Just throwing a little bit of a different perspective out there, even though we ultimately agree :)

  2. I don't watch this show but your point is well made. To have the larger girl apologize for being different seems to undercut the lesson obviously intended by the writer. Apologies seem to have been needed but not by that young lady. I think you are right on!



I've adopted the same commenting policy as seen here at Off Beat Mama ( I won't post comments if they strike me as attacking, judgmental, rude, or unproductive. In general if you are willing to put your name to something, I'll post it, but remember to keep your words sweet, because someday you may have to eat them.