Friday, December 24, 2010


First, I have to admit I enjoy watching the TV show Glee, which I guess make me a Gleek! For those of you who are not familiar with this high energy, quirky series, each week brings us a new story of McKinley High School's Glee club, composed of a diverse group students, most of whom are considered to be "unpopular." While the stories are often outrageous, the singing and dancing are quite entertaining. And, to the show's credit, they do a beautiful job of confronting all sorts of identity issues faced by teens including homosexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, gender and even body size.

I've been really impressed by the creative way that the writers of Glee recently dealt with a female character, known as "The Beast." She is the new coach of the high school's football team, a tall, large woman who does not fit our culture's notions of femininity. In an episode that aired earlier this fall, The Beast was the subject of humiliating fantasies by male members of the Glee club who imagined her in compromising positions to quell their own sexual urges toward their girlfriends. When Mr. Schuester, the faculty director of Glee club, known affectionately as Mr. Schu, learned of this strategy, he immediately put a stop to their disrespectful behavior.

The Beast learned of the students' shaming fantasies of her, and in a scene that was both touching and painful, The Beast opened up to Mr. Schu about how aware she is of how her appearance sets her apart, and how rejected and alone she often feels in the world. Mr Schu's response, in the form of accepting her for who she is, offered a poignant moment in the show.

But what was even more poignant was when Mr. Schu insisted that the members of Glee club apologize to her, which they did with great authenticity, ending in a group hug. What I love about this scene is that instead of leaving viewers with the idea that there is something wrong with The Beast - the typical "of course she feels bad in her body because she is fat" - the students take ownership of their unacceptable behavior and acknowledge that they are the ones who were wrong. This forgiving and healing moment leaves no doubt about the new and improved respectful relationship that will now continue between The Beast and members of Glee club.

Fast forward some episodes later, and we find the character of The Beast once again showing her strength. In this wacky Christmas episode, it turns out that Brittany, one of the Glee club members, still believes in Santa, and her peers don't want to bust her magical belief. The Beast arrives at Brittany's home dressed as Santa, and Brittany tells "Santa" that the only thing she wants for Christmas is for her disabled boyfriend, Arnie, to be able to walk again. The Beast tries to get her to come up with another gift idea, but Brittany is adamant that nothing else will do. The Beast then tells Brittany that instead Santa will bring her patience "because, believe it or not, there are some things that even he can't manage." The Beast/Santa continues:

"You know, there was a girl once, she was a little husky always asking Santa for the same thing - to make her more like the other girls. She wasn't asking to be pretty or nothing. She just didn't want to stick out so much. Santa just couldn't do it. So instead, Santa gave her patience. And later on that girl was glad that Santa didn't give her what she asked for. She put being husky to good use."

That The Beast could make peace with her body size is revolutionary for mainstream TV. What a wonderful message about the process of self-acceptance, and just in time for the holiday season. It's satisfying to know that a TV show that confronts all kinds of oppression - and unleashes the joys of singing and dancing - can also be so wildly popular among teens. Which leaves me feeling very hopeful.

Eat Well, Live Well, Be Well.