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Glee – Born This Way

May 12, 2011

I’m behind on my Glee-watching and sat down on Sunday to catch up. I love this show more all the time. It’s got it’s hokey parts, and it’s unbelievable moments and it’s awkward bits, but the character development is getting better and better and better. They started out with these caricatures, and, rather like the Breakfast Club did almost 30 years ago, they broke the exteriors down and made them real. For every assumption we, the viewers, are challenged to accept the story behind the facade. Just like real life.

The show tackles some big issues that I find near and dear to my heart and extremely relevant to this website. I’ve written about it before on SOAM and chances are I’ll write about it more in the future. You can watch the episode here if you haven’t seen it yet. And if you have, or aren’t worried about minor spoilers, read on!

In the episode Rachel considers a nose job. Because she’s Jewish, this act is more than just about changing one’s beauty – it’s about trying to erase your culture and ancestry and become as white as you can because society keeps telling you only blond and blue-eyed are acceptable. Seriously? Have we not gotten past that yet? Rachel struggles with wanting to emulate Barbara Streisand, her idol, and trying to face the possibility that maybe she’s never going to be that one in a million that Barbara was able to pull off. Who put such an idea into her head? Why her doctor, of course. The man looking to make big bucks off the injured self-esteem of a naive teenage girl. Woman and girls, take note: the people pushing you to feel you have to look a certain way are making shitloads of money off your insecurities. Insecurities they create just so they can make money off you.

“If you really want to be an actress you might want to consider looking and sounding the best that you can.” -Rachel’s doctor

In reality, Hollywood casting agents are sick of the plastic surgery and are looking to British and Austrailian actors for more “real” looking people. And I have to say I’ve been watching a fair amount of British TV lately and it’s refreshing to see so many real-looking people. I find their imperfections make them more beautiful to me.  And these aren’t ugly people by any means – they are gorgeous by any standards – the difference is that there is more diversity of beauty.

“When you get a nose job, when you change your eyes, when you bleach your freckles, you’re just announcing to the world, ‘I don’t like myself very much.’” – Tina

Frankly, I think it’s a lot more complicated than that, but I like the sentiment she’s going for here. (And, in all honesty, when a person begins delving into a new topic for the first time, they’re only going to hit the top layers so it makes sense she’s only seeing it as very black and white right now.) I don’t pass judgment on people who choose cosmetic surgery. How can I? I don’t live their lives for them; I don’t know all the inner workings of their minds. I know there are things I do or have done in my life that may appear simple on the outside but are actually the result of all the complexities of my life and I don’t want people to judge them – so I don’t judge others. Period. But on the whole, in very general terms, as a society together rather than on individual levels, I wish we would take a stand and choose to embrace ourselves and our so-called flaws rather than just changing them. On a global scale, it’s a really poor-quality Band-Aid on a really massive wound that is still raw and uncleaned and bleeding freely.

Later in the episode we learn that Quinn’s had a pretty big makeover in her past, and in fact her nose – the one Rachel has on order at the plastic surgeon’s office – is not the nose she was born with. Quinn’s a success story: she even says that her life is easy and people are nice to her because she’s pretty. (Now, we know this isn’t true as she had a hell of a time last year, even getting kicked out of her home because of her pregnancy. But Quinn finds it easier to push bad memories away and pretend they never existed.) The thing is that she’s not wrong. People are nicer to pretty people. They are also nicer to rich people and educated people. And that’s effed up. It needs to change. I’m not sure which needs to come first – the inner, personal change, or the outer, societal change. It’s likely they need to happen simultaneously.

The episode touches on some deeper issues, too. Miss Pillsbury’s OCD, the sexuality of several of the students who are varying degrees of accepting this about themselves. Karen’s always saying that beauty is about more than just your physical features – it’s about your entire being. As a woman who’s struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember I can really relate to trying to accept/embrace/work through this aspect of myself. I cannot embrace it until I’ve accepted it, and I cannot begin to work through it until I can see how it makes me more wholly me; until I embrace it.

In the final scene of the episode the kids (and teachers!) each wear a white shirt with a word or phrase on it in bold, black letters that names an aspect of themselves, either physical or deeper, that they are working to accept. Having to work to accept something means, of course, that it’s something you don’t initially like. The thing I love the best about this, though, is that some of them aren’t what one might expect. Lauren’s shirt doesn’t say “FAT” and Artie’s doesn’t say “WHEELCHAIR.” That’s the best part of Glee – that the kids are already one step ahead of us in accepting some of the hardest things they have to face.  Here’s what some of their shirts did say:

LIKES BOYS
NOSE
I’M WITH STUPID
OCD
BUTT CHIN
CAN’T SING
FOUR EYES

Earlier this week I asked on Facebook what your shirt would say and here are some of the responses I got:

SELF CONFIDENCE
SCREAMER
BPD
TYPE-A
CONTROL FREAK
FOOD
SAYING “NO”
WEIGHT
TRUST
BALANCE

You beautiful women, you. I love all these things about you. As Mr. Schuester said early in the episode, “I’m telling you: the thing you would most like to change about yourself is the most interesting part of you”

Indeed.

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3 Responses to “Glee – Born This Way”

  1. Mina Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    I really need to start watching this show. I’m even a singer in an a capella group myself. I figured I’d like it, but after reading this post I’m quite certain I’d love it :)

  2. Fin Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    I find it quite sad that the guy in the wheelchair gets barely a line in a programme about body image. It just feels like the disabled person only gets to speak to prove his normalcy rather than discus the issues of difference that would affect every day of his life & I found the ‘four eyes’ thing pretty trite to be honest, I’m pretty sure thAt wouldn’t be that character’s main problem with the way he’s perceived. I like glee but the way it handles physical impairment feels a little tokenistic.

  3. Brandy Graf Says:
    May 19th, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Yes, but they already touched on Artie’s disability in several episodes & at length. I’m sure that disabled people would not want is always talked about when Artie is onscreen. Then it becomes overplayed as well as just plain offensive.

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