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The Hollywood Body Challenge

February 1, 2011

Lately, I’ve been catching up on past episodes of The Big C, a showtime series starring Laura Linney as Cathy, a mother and wife who’s just found out she has incurable cancer (Melanoma). The show is provocative, funny, poignant, and overall, fabulous. Since Cathy has been given her fatal diagnosis, she finally gives herself permission to do all the things she wants to do, to say things that have been on her mind for years, but which she held back for the purposes of being “nice.” So she kicks her husband, Paul–played by Oliver Platt–out of the house because, among other things, he never shuts the kitchen cabinets after he retrieves his dishes. She stops coddling her kid and makes him take responsibility for his actions, like clogging up the toilet, or watching porn. (Enter awkward yet honest sex talk.) She begins an affair with the school painter, Lenny, played by British actor Idris Elba, who you may recognize as Stringer Bell from HBO’s¬†The Wire. And can I tell you something about Lenny? He’s reason enough to watch the damn show. Gawd. (Dear Husband, don’t be alarmed, you are my one and only love. Lenny is just a fiction and I’ll never put a poster of him up in my locker.)

Anyway, one thing that stands out to me about Laura Linney’s character is her body.

It’s striking because it’s healthy and full, like so many women’s bodies. And yet, it is unusual to see a body like this on a hit television drama or comedy, where a viewer tends to wonder if everyone is wearing the same body-suit. (Though it’s more likely they’re all seeing the same trainer and eating the same low-calorie yogurt. For every meal.)

Cathy Jamison’s body is dying, slowly, and yet the show is about life, about enjoying one’s body, appreciating it. In every scene, Linney’s curvy figure is accentuated. She radiates. In fact, in the sixth episode, when her college friend (Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame) comes to visit her, she looks downright sickly next to the voluptuous Linney.

It’s shocking, isn’t it, that it’s a surprise to see a woman with a little meat on her bones in a prime-time show?

I think so, too. Especially because Oliver Platt–a walking filet mignon–gets the opportunity to play beside sleek actresses all the time, and no one bats an eye.

So why am I telling you this?

No, not because I’m man-sexist.

Because our view of our bodies matters. And it doesn’t have to be negative.

Next Monday, the Maladjusted Book Club meets again to commence the week-long Symposium on Body Image. Not only will we be discussing a couple of recently published books, but there will a new post every day, including special secret guests. And popcorn. And even though I’m twitterilliterate, I’ll be hosting a “trend” (what the hell?) called #maladjustedbodyimage. Sounds like a bucket of laughs, huh?

In all seriousness, though, it is time for us women to love and appreciate our bodies for all their splendor. It’s time to respect them, care for them, send positive energy into them.

Shall I remind you of our readings?

Portia de Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness is about her struggles with anorexia and bulimia. Her experience as a young actress in Hollywood didn’t help her already crumbling self-image. This memoir is a story of how she started to love herself and her body.


Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God is about treating our bodies as sacred and spiritual. If we get in touch with our spiritual selves, we don’t have to worry about dieting. (So she says.) We’ll treat food as something enjoyable, to be cherished. According to Roth, you don’t even have to feel guilty about eating chocolate cake. That’s reason enough to read it, don’t you think?

So come one, come all, to the Maladjusted Symposium on Body Image, Monday, February 7th. Whether you have read the books, think you might read them in the future, or just want to join the discussion, let’s commiserate¬†celebrate!

Image of Laura Linney taken from filmreviewonline.
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