It’s not as bad as the advert made it out to be. Promise.
When I first saw the advert for E4’s My Mad Fat Diary, I cringed. There were mentions of leaving “the mad house”, a caricature of an oversexed mum, a group of beautiful skinny people sneering at a grubby-looking girl in a dressing gown, mentions of wanting to “love a boy until there was nothing left”, all voice-overed by a sixteen-stone plain girl who describes herself as “a mental”. With Channel 4’s track record of being not-exactly-helpful when portraying those with mental illnesses, I thought this was going to be just another show where mentally ill people are made out to be weird and the audience is invited to gawp at them as they struggle through life in all their weirdness.
So I watched the first episode last night, fully intending to sneer and be shitty about it before taking to the internet with my keyboard of righteousness, pouring scorn upon all those involved with the show. I didn’t expect to finish it crying and reading the lovely, warm tweets of the actual, real person who wrote the diaries the show is based on.
When Rae Earl was 16, she spent four months in a mental hospital. She kept a diary about the experience and about trying to fit back into normal life after she’d left. This is what the show is based on.
And you know what? It’s really good. It’s funny, but without laughing at Rae and her mental health. It’s sad, but without inviting you to a pity-party for the poor mentally ill girl. It’s pretty, with quirky scribbles all over the screen when Rae is explaining how she thinks and feels (similar to how she would doodle in her diary). Most of all it’s completely relatable. Above all else, Rae is just a teenager who wants to fit in but feels like she can’t — hasn’t everyone felt like that at some point?
It’s also fantastically open and unbiased. About sex, about mental health, about being a teenager, about everything. At one point Rae cheerfully says that she wants to sleep with her crush 14,000 times, “shag him until there’s nothing left but a pair of glasses and a damp patch”. Rae gets depressed and binge-eats, and the shot of her eating her way through a tableful of food and then crying afterwards isn’t made to look funny or played for emotion, it’s just there. Factual. The difficult relationship with her mum isn’t shied away from or there to inject a bit of drama, it’s just there. The stigma attached to mental health isn’t part of the show’s “message”, it’s just shown as part of Rae’s life.
If you’re not interested in mental health at all, My Mad Fat Diary is still worth a watch because at its most basic level it’s a funny show about an awkward teenage girl trying to get on with life. Rae is funny and loveable, and from the very beginning you’re rooting for her to win. It’s just nice that this amusing TV show is one of the very first shows I can think of that deals with mental illness in such a healthy and refreshing way.
You can watch the first episode of My Mad Fat Diary here on 40D.
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