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Glee: Does the Fat Girl Have to Want it?

May 9th, 2011     by Shaunta Grimes     Comments

I recently read an article on Xhibit P by Laura Frater, someone whose opinion I value, that stated that she believes that one of the characters in Glee is getting the short end of the stick.

That would be Mercedes Jones. She’s a fat black girl with a huge voice, who loves her friends (she’s always the one they can count on) and sometimes feels jealous because she doesn’t get to sing lead often enough.

The problem that some critics have is that while the rest of the cast are all embroiled with at least one romantic partner, Mercedes hasn’t had a significant story arc written about her love life.

I get it. The fat girl isn’t getting any. And maybe its because she’s fat. Maybe. But, there is a much fatter girl on the cast who has attracted the attention of a boy for whom she is the fourth conquest since the show started. He fathered a child with the head cheerleader, is the regular booty call for another Cheerio and the some time fallback boy for a girl whose biggest draw for him is that they are both Jewish.

He even went on a date with Mercedes.

It took me a while to understand why I wasn’t feeling the uproar about Mercedes not having a sexual interest in this show. Does she deserve one? Well, yeah. If she were a real girl. And if she wanted one. But, saying that the character is being dissed by the writers for not having a boyfriend or girlfriend assumes something that hasn’t been written into the show. That she wants one.

And then I figured it out. Mercedes reminds me of my daughter. My girl is extremely talented and has big dreams. I mean real big ones. When she was in the ninth grade, one of her friends had a baby (just like one of Mercedes’ friends had a baby last season). It shifted her perspective.

Around that time her best guy friend was a gay boy (just like Mercedes’ best guy friend). He gave her the chance to flirt and explore without any pressure to start a sexual relationship.

As she got older, my daughter realized that getting involved with a partner in our very small and remote town that is dominated by a religion she doesn’t belong to would be a life decision. If she fell in love, she might have to choose between university and a boy. She didn’t want to make that decision. So she focused her attention on her music, her grades and her friends.

Just like Mercedes, the choice not to have a boyfriend in high school hasn’t always been easy or comfortable for my daughter. But it’s the one she made.

I’m glad that there is a girl on TV that my daughter can look to as someone who is like her. One who is maybe a slower bloomer than her friends or maybe just has different priorities. Teenage sexuality is a fact of life and something that I was prepared to support my daughter through. In fact, it is something I have supported my daughter through. But going through puberty isn’t a blueprint to how she has to feel or how she has to behave.

Being a teenager doesn’t always mean that your raging hormones make you ready to hook up with the first boy or girl or person who pays attention to you. Not only is that idea not fair to kids like my daughter, it’s not fair to anyone. Choosing to have a sexual relationship in high school doesn’t make you a hormonal basket case and choosing not too doesn’t mean that you’re a prude or unloved. Or unloveable.

It’s true that all of the other major characters on Glee have had romantic or sexual relationships with each other and occasionally with someone outside their group. Is portraying one girl out of seven as not sexually active really discrimination? Would it be easier to take if she were thin? Or white?

I think the real problem is that there are so few fat people (and people of colour, and queer people, and poor people, and …) on TV and in the movies, that when one pops up, we feel the need to analyze every scene, looking for any sign that character is being shown as “less than.” In many cases, they are.

But saying that Mercedes is being treated as “less than” because she is both bigger than the cheerleaders and less focused on sex than the rest of the cast strikes me as not fair. And maybe not right. In her article at Xhibit P, Laura Frater points out that Mercedes is a representative of the “non-sexual fat woman.”

But the fact is, she isn’t shown as non-sexual. She’s shown as choosing not to have sex. She crushes on Kurt. She goes out on a date with playboy. She has her off-screen possible-date with an athlete. She often expresses exasperation at the sexual exploits of her peers. But she’s not shown as pursuing sex and being thwarted.

Rather than see an episode where she finally gets a lover, I’d love to see one where it is made clear that Mercedes is making the not always easy choice to be single in high school. Not because no one wants her, but because it’s how she wants it.

Tags: body politics, media savvy

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