Dietland: A Show Worth Indulging In
I have to admit, when I first heard of Dietland, I groaned. Not another fat-phobic show ladened with sarcastic size sneers and physical comedy pratfalls, I moaned. I felt like I practically lived in “Dietland” for more than half my life, and hearing that name instantly took me back to my early twenties, when my self-loathing was at an all-time high and before I found body positivity or any decent plus size fashion. In the midst of my mental muddling, I realized I was reacting to just the name and I knew absolutely nothing about what the show was truly about. So when I was given the opportunity to watch a preview premiere of the first two episodes I jumped at it, and from that night, they gained a fan.
Dietland, for those who don’t know, is a body-acceptance story wrapped in a violent feminist revenge narrative, sprinkled with dark humorous moments and brilliant storytelling. There’s a talking tiger, a play-within-a-play, and all sorts of moments that give you that acid trip sensation.
This show makes me uncomfortable, but in a good way. I often found myself reflexively watching through my fingers, unaware I was even doing so until I could feel my fingertips gripping into my flesh. There are moments where my skin crawls or prickles with excitement, my stomach roils and drops; it feels too real, like fragments of my life and the lives of other women (especially fat women) were dissected and woven together like some miserable living tapestry. Plum’s pain is palpable; what fat woman hasn’t dreamt about weight loss surgery at some point, seeing it as the panacea for all our suffering? Every insult society has thrown on us is laid bare, sometimes magnified to a literally cartoonish level.
But then the episode ends, and I exhale all the weight I’ve held inside during the powerful episode, and I want more. It’s a balance of binge and purge, except actually cathartic when I’m done, instead of the typical physical destruction. I’ve absorbed every ounce of what Dietland offers, and I feel lighter. Seen and heard by a television show unlike any other that’s ever existed before. This is true must-see TV.
While we’re left wondering if AMC will renew Dietland for season two and rewatching all of season one, I sat down with actress Jen Ponton, who plays Rubi on Dietland, to discuss this revolutionary show further.
Why do you think Dietland is an important show?
I feel like Dietland is the rageful, hurting, feminist voice that has been clamoring, steadily louder, since mid-2016. All the trauma and catharsis that women are going through on a grand scale is being funneled into this story of one woman waking up to the injustice exacted upon her and her body. I think we're saying things that people are ready to hear and dig into, but it's still quite radical — because we're not being polite about it. And while it's specifically about a white fat woman's journey — a woefully underserved demographic — it is a voice of protest that, I believe, is meant to stand for anyone who is marginalized by society.
What makes it different than other TV shows that have a fat character?
This is the first time we're really seeing a fat character learn to love herself exactly as she is on TV — without a "thin person within" striving to get out. Her size plays a significant role in the show — but not as the villain, which is incredibly refreshing.
How would you describe the show to someone who has not seen it and is already pre-judging it based on the name or the fact that it stars a fat actress?
First off: it's literally the exact opposite of what you fear! It's a show, a cautionary tale, about NOT buying into dieting or any manner of industry based upon you loathing your body. This is the show you've wanted to see since you first saw an exuberant Tracy Turnblad mashed-potato into your living room in the '80s. Since we got to see the delightful, happy, fat Sookie on Gilmore Girls — somehow inexplicably fat, with a body that warranted no backstory! This is the story of a fierce, fabulous, fat woman who really gets to learn and know her body and herself...and learns that she absolutely loves it, exactly as is.
Even though Dietland approaches weight and body dynamics differently than other shows, there's still a lot of attention on weight. Do you think it's possible to have a TV show with a fat character where it isn't consistently referenced? Or do you think her weight being brought up is realistic?
Yes! This is my dream — and it's where I think we are heading, ultimately. I think maybe it hasn't happened yet because we really need to have a frank, societal discussion — lay it all out on the table: look, the way we treat fat people is abhorrent. Shine a big light on it. It seems to be helping, because I've seen a lot of both men and straight-sized folks being really surprised at the show, learning from it. So I think it's realistic, if only to take the mic after so many years of fatphobia reflected literally everywhere. Lay it all bare. Then — more stories with fat characters, with full lives, that have nothing to do with their bodies.