Watch out for the Big Girls: Some Thoughts on TLC’s Big Sexy

15 Sep

One of TLC’s latest unscripted shows, Big Sexy, has been hailed by some critics as a “plus-sized Sex and the City.” The show follows five fluffy friends who live in New York City and work in the beauty industry. Viewers get to tag along as the ladies traverse the ups-and-downs of careers, romantic life, and sisterhood in the Big Apple.

 Despite a premise that didn’t seem to completely insult my intelligence, I was pretty ambivalent about watching the show. Now, let’s not get it twisted. Like some of my fellow CFs, I’m not above watching a little reality TV to pass the time. Catch me at the gym and I might just be keeping up with the Kardashians or some similarly inane E! show.  (Most of my favorite shows are on Food Network or the Cooking Channel and the last thing you want to do while you’re sweating to the oldies is watch Ina Garten make some truffle mac and cheese). Plus, I’ll admit it: one day I got sucked into watching a marathon of Ice Loves Coco. While those are hours that I’ll never get back, I have to say that I was mightily amused. That should count for something, right?

But, I digress. Despite my questionable reality TV show choices, I was not planning on catching Big Sexy. Although the advertisements were fairly innocuous in a world hell-bent on fat shaming (they featured confident plus-sized women sashaying arm-in-arm down glittery NYC streets, proclaiming that the world better “watch out!”), I feared a fetishization of fatness, at worst, or a 60-minute PSA on how “fat people are just like us!” at best. So, while we’re myth busting, let me make some other startling revelations: black people read books, men cry, and gay folks are not out to “convert” straight people. Likewise, Bigfoot (also known as “Sasquatch”) is not real…although there was a brotha I dated for a while in ATL that sort of fits the description…but, that’s a story for another day.

 In other words, I couldn’t forget TLC’s generally shamtastic and rather dubious, exploitative, and ableist lineup of “educational” shows that display a fascination with multiples, little people, and “medical anomalies.” Suffice it to say, I was ready to dismiss the show and avoid it the way I avoid the Basketball Wives franchise.

 But, one night I was flipping through the channels, lamenting that the new season of Parks and Rec was not on yet and I stumbled into watching Big Sexy. And, after all my shit talking, the show was actually kind of decent. The women were smart, funny, and genuinely seem to like and respect one another. (In fact, they are so nice to each other that I fear this show will not last more than one season for lack of “drama”).

 I appreciated that the show’s narrative talked about their careers in fashion in a way that was not dismissive but instead emphasized the women’s creativity and ambition. One woman, who works as a plus-sized model, frankly discussed her frustrations with body image and her agent’s push for her to lose more weight in order to be more marketable. Another woman launched a bikini fashion line that catered to busty women (D cup or higher) who often struggle finding bathing suit tops that don’t look either matronly or super risqué. I especially appreciated the episode when one of the women experienced a breakup; her girls rallied around her, buoyed her spirits, and then they painted the town—as your girls should do. When one woman suggested that they all go to a Big Beautiful Woman (BBW) party, they mostly balked. One complained that only “snaggletoothed” dudes attended such events. Another woman affirmed that mostly men with “fat fetishes” frequented these parties. Remembering a fateful BBW party that Crunktastic and I attended in 2006 or so, I laughed heartily and had to concur.

 Now, I might seem to be gushing about the show, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s perfect. I mean, it’s a show on TLC, so there’s that. It’s not a show that can/will be all things to all people. Still, I did give the side eye to a few things. It’s super-heteronormative, for one. Big girls are on all parts of the sexual continuum and it would be cool to reflect that. Also, I do find it interesting that there are no African American women on the show. (The show features three white women and two Latinas). Considering all the public chatter about black women and our weight, I think it’s an interesting choice that the producers of the show have made. It would also be interesting to see some Asian and indigenous sisters too. You know, big girls do come in all shades and ethnicities.

And, speaking of race, the dating episode did have an interesting tidbit about black folk—black men, in particular. All of the women remarked that mostly black men approached them and that white men very rarely did so. Then the ladies hosted a BBW party that screened out the busted and digusted and they came up with about 20 or so generally attractive black and Latino brothas. By the end of the party, most of the women had multiple phone numbers and were calling the night a success. Now, I wasn’t sipping haterade as I watched the show (it was  margarita), but I did think, “See, all these women are beautiful, but they are all lighter than a paper bag and, despite what we might have said in the 90s, light-skin has never been out of style.” Now, I certainly don’t expect TLC to discuss issues of skin-color privilege on this light-hearted show, especially considering how volatile the issue is (let’s not forget last year’s conversation on colorism on the blog was like a feminist death match), but I did think that fact complexion is often a significant factor in dating is worth remembering.

 So far, I think Big Sexy is fun and I’ll probably add it to my arsenal of procrastination programming. I look forward to seeing a variety of shows that more accurately reflect diverse body types without simply relegating full-figured folks to shaming or punchlines. I mean, can a big girl get some love?


10 Responses to “Watch out for the Big Girls: Some Thoughts on TLC’s Big Sexy”

  1. Daniel de Culla September 15, 2011 at 12:39 AM #

    I adore Big Girls so much¡

  2. Mel September 15, 2011 at 6:22 AM #

    I like the show as well. I recently met Heather in a store here in NYC. She is super cute and nice. I do think that one of them is biracial though. They showed her parents in a picture.

  3. eeshap September 15, 2011 at 9:28 AM #

    Fab analysis!

    Also, I LOLed at the Sasquatch comment, but that’s because I know that story. 😉

  4. natasiarose September 15, 2011 at 9:28 AM #

    I’ve been hearing really great things about this show, I’m going to check it out. I also hope that they will take some of the constructive criticism out there and add more racial diversity to the cast if there is a season 2.

  5. whoucallinabtch September 15, 2011 at 1:32 PM #

    Very good breakdown.

    Like you, I engage in a Reality TV foolishness from time to time (how can you watch TV & not?), so this was a welcomed reprieve from the bitch-hurling of BBall Wives.

    I also agree that one of my major beefs with the show are the lack of brown-skinned folks. They couldn’t find ONE fierce Black/Asian/Afro-Latina woman? I know several. So it seemed like they weren’t trying all that hard to really be diverse.

    And the dating ep…yeah…I was sipping that hateration, holleration. lol

  6. Vic September 21, 2011 at 6:16 AM #

    I do not like to have to shake the sheets to look for the goodies.

  7. sheridf September 26, 2011 at 8:57 AM #

    I watched this for the first time last week and I enjoyed it, but I too was concerned about the lack of color beyond beige. I was also concerned that the dreams were all relegated to the fashion industry. It made me think of Queer Eye where it’s okay to queer if you are queer for the advancement of consumer products. On Big Sexy I felt like great we have some body diversity finally the women are at the center of the programming, but their desires are represented as being the same, to promote and sell products. But that’s just TV or reality TV period. Anyway I will be tuned via DVR to skip the commercials but tuned in nonetheless. I saw the Miami one and my favorite part was the volleyball beat down.

  8. VidaStarr October 6, 2011 at 7:40 PM #

    I’m sorry… but I”m very very happy there there are no black women on here. How many more big black women images do we need?

  9. eshowoman October 14, 2011 at 3:25 PM #

    I watched the first episode and since I am from a Caribbean back ground I can relate to West Indian Hispanics on that level. But also being from a family with mixed race and very, very light skinned elements, I have alway seen myself as darker than I am and have this habit of getting pissed at the amount of light skinned women on TV until I realize they look like me. I think that a beautiful, successful, brown skinned, fluffy woman would be a wonderful addition to the show. I am so glad I did not see the episode where black men were running after them. Would a dark skinned sister get the same attention?


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