I am not ashamed to say that I am an out and proud Skyler-White-lover. It is not an easy thing to say to “Breaking Bad” fans. In these times, when men are looking for affirmation for their masculinity in a post-Second-Wave-feminism, recession-riddled world, Walter White was many viewers’ projected alter ego (more like, their Id).
Being the protagonist’s wife and mother of his children, Skyler was the one who had to protect the family from the egomaniac’s derailed lifestyle choices. Doing that, ironically and inevitably made her into the show’s antagonist. She became the representative ball-busting woman who was standing in the way of a man’s right to wear the pants around the house.
This drew fire to the character and, idiotic as it may be, to Anna Gunn, the actress playing her. One of the ways Skyler haters found to put her down was the age-old infantile insult of telling her she’s fat.
The actress, who indeed put on some weight as the show progressed, “defended” herself by saying that the weight gain was the result of medication side effects. Personally, I thought she looked fantastic.
Time went on, the show ended, and Gunn went on to do other things. Among those was an Off-Broadway play, “Sex With Strangers,” which I, now an Anna Gunn fan, knew I wanted to see. The show was excellent, and she was terrific in it. However, I sadly spent the entire show thinking how tragic it was that this beautiful woman now looked like a walking skeleton.
Eating disorders are not new, but the fact that they have increased tremendously since the 1940s is, in my opinion, a combination of the rise of movies and television, and the return of men from WWII to a world different from that they had known before, a world in which women were stronger and more independent.
Cutting women down to size physically is just another form of trying to put them in their place, make them weaker, shrink their self-esteem.
Some of you know that I battled Anorexia Nervosa for nine years. Growing up with an eating disorder is kind of like growing up gay. You feel very alone and isolated and oftentimes, your only reference to what is going on with you is what you see in the media. Nowadays, I can’t keep up with the gay characters on television because there are just so many.
And yet, where are those eating disorder storylines? Society will eat up reports on celebrities who have gotten way too thin and will devour tabloid covers about any actress’s weight gain. But have we come to accept eating disorders as something every woman should take for granted in her life? Something that women in the public eye, from Kim Kardashian to Hillary Clinton, need to accept as a package deal with fame, maybe even a symbol of glamour?
Where are the depictions of the ugly, painful realities of eating disorders? The fear, the physical torture, the isolation and the depression, those are nowhere to be seen.
Sure, “Red Band Society” has a young character who suffers from anorexia nervosa on the show, but she is beautiful and she dresses really well and has no physical symptoms besides her ability to fit into size 0 skinny jeans, which is almost the precondition for hiring an actress these days, anyway. Why isn’t her skin pale, her hair falling out? Why do we never see her cry or even feel the slight bit sick?
“Glee” had Marley battle an eating disorder for about a second and a half. She got better awfully fast. All it took was passing out in the middle of a song to shake her to the core and make her “snap out of it.”
I had high hopes for “The Fosters,” a show I adore and have much respect for, when it seemed like Jesus was going down the eating disorder path. As a young man and an athlete, they had such a great opportunity to tell a story rarely, if ever, told. But no, Jesus didn’t even need a quick recovery because the story just evaporated into thin air, never to be mentioned again.
I don’t watch enough teen and tween shows to tell you if there are a couple of other characters out there who tell the important story of the plague that has taken some of the best years of many of our sisters’ (and brothers’) lives, and that leaves almost no one untouched, men or women, but “Glee,” “Red Band” and “Fosters” are all targeted to young audiences mainly.
What about adults? The numbers of eating disorders patients who are in their 40s and 50s has been rapidly increasing, not to mention many of the people who were teenagers when they started out in the 90s, have been carrying their eating disorders into adulthood.
They need their stories told. The myth of eating disorders being disorders of glamour needs to be shattered by showing the true face of this mental illness.
Tracey Gold, former “Growing Pains” child star, who suffered from Anorexia Nervosa for many years after being told by the show’s producers to lose weight, is the only one who has ever done that on her show “Starving Secrets.” But that was a reality show of which I’m sure most of you have never even heard.
Instead of actresses developing eating disorders to please their (probably male) producers, I want shows to start a real conversation about a serious disease. It is the media that has exploded this thin craze out of proportions, and the media needs to take responsibility for dealing with the ramifications.
What’s Missing from this Post:
I haven’t yet watched “Gracepoint,” the new show Gunn is starring in, but I can tell you why I am not inclined to write about it. I watched “Broadchurch,” the excellent British show on which ”Gracepoint” is based. I never felt there was a need to remake it; it was shown on BBC America. So that’s strike one. Then they decide to cast the same lead actor who starred in the original version. What’s the point of that? Strike two. And if they were already having the famous British actor star in the American remake, then why make him use an American accent? Strike three; you’re out. That’s just too much wrongness.
Bone I have to pick:
You didn’t really think I’d let “Chicago Fire” get away with killing Shay, did you? So the people in charge decided it’s time to shake things up, and what better way to do that and create great emotional arcs but to kill a character. It’s been done a million times before, but there’s an art to it. The character being killed has to be central enough for his or her death to be meaningful, but not so central that it would put fans off.
Well, after much deliberation and consideration (at least, I hope!), they decided to get rid of one of the only two women on this male-centric show, the only gay character on the show, and half of the most meaningful relationships on this show (because her friendship with Dawson was the most stable, trusting and truthful of all the relationships on the show, and one of the best depictions of friendship between women on television). Not only that, but they immediately replaced Shay with a young woman who looks awfully like her.
Though credit is due, Dawson is now becoming a firefighter. But this story has been told before: the paramedic who wants to be a firefights (much like the nurse who wants to be a doctor). Why not just have a female firefighter? The last time “Chicago Fire” tried to have one of those, she killed herself because her father didn’t want a daughter firefighter. I am seeing a disconcerting pattern here.
What does it say when the creators feel they can get rid of an important female character and simply replace her with a look-alike? Does that mean that they think all we saw in Shay was a blond chick? What does it say when women can only be displayed as trying to be equal, but not quite there? And the attempt comes at a high cost. What does it say on how highly they think of their female viewers? I guess time will tell.
Your turn: what do you think about depictions of eating disorders on television? How do you feel about losing Shay on “Chicago Fire?” What bones do you have to pick with “Gracepoint?”