Well, this sounds like a well-made piece of television heading our way: MTV is debuting a new reality show in October in which a small town girl moves to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams in the fashion industry. The twist? She’s fat. (Note: the linked article actually lists her weight, so if that’s triggering for you, you might not want to click through. I can only conclude that this particular detail is included because the headline says “plus-sized” and they want to be specific that it’s not “Hollywood plus-sized”.)
23-year-old Chelsea Settles is going to star in what’s being billed as a docu-drama that will “be a viewer-friendly blend of reality dramas like “The Hills” and weight loss programs like “I Used to be Fat” or “The Biggest Loser.”” The show itself will be called Chelsea Settles and chronicle topics like her long-distance relationship, social phobias, and weight loss.
Really: what could possibly go wrong in trying to address topics like mental health and weight loss in a TV show format that is infamous for chewing up its stars and spitting them back out? Set in a city and industry infamous for their complete and total preoccupation with appearances? I’m sure it will be a nuanced, thoughtful interrogation of the issues and everyone will go through a period of profound personal growth, and the horridness of the trailer is just there to set up drama.
If you watch the trailer, (trigger warning for some pretty serious fatphobia) it seems like Chelsea is a lovely young woman of color whom other people are trying to make miserable in the name of achieving her dreams. There are some truly peculiar shifts. In one clip, Chelsea is being fat-shamed by some random bypassers yelling that she’s fat, and that’s framed as cruel. But she’s also shown eating fast food and then that immediately cuts to a lecture from a physician about her need to lose weight and eat better. She’s bullied by various personal trainer types and shown crying about how much she loathes her body. Apparently, the right to pick on someone for their weight is reserved to people with letters after their name or at least six pieces of matching fitness gear.
The show’s also framed with the expectation that we should all understand why Chelsea hates her body: because she’s fat. It’s a very public struggle with body image and disordered eating (also mentioned in the trailer). I’d note that other MTV reality TV shows have also featured women who dealt with major body image issues, but here it’s pitched as a particular issue only because Chelsea’s fat. The Hills (to which Chelsea Settles has been compared) featured Heidi Montag, whose own body image issues are so well known that the top Google suggestion for her name is followed by plastic surgery.
From the very beginning, Chelsea is told that fashion is a very image conscious field and ties this to her weight. (Curiously unmentioned is the fact that she’s a woman of color, which almost certainly plays into the image consciousness.) It seems as though the only way she will ever be successful is if she loses weight, so that’s the focus of the show: getting her thin enough to be able to work in fashion. I have no doubt that people are being honest with her when they say she’s got to be thin (or at least significantly thinner than she is at the opening of the show) in order to be able to do the kind of work she wants to do in LA, but man alive, is that depressing.
I would really love it if we could have a TV show that featured fat characters without the fat being a gimmick. I would also love it if Chelsea could find her way in life and in her chosen profession without being tormented about her weight or being told that it’s completely dispositive to her success. I doubt MTV will be showing that, though: a young, happy, fat woman, makes peace with herself and finds professional success? I mean, the latest story about Jennifer Hudson is that she’s prouder of her weight loss than she is of her Oscar. That makes it sound like that even achievement is wholly secondary to being thin.