First published in New York Newsday
For those of us who don’t exactly embrace our bodies, and frankly, I don’t know any women that do, I’d like to give a strong shout out to Melissa McCarthy.
She’s funny. She’s self-deprecating. She’s pretty. She has dimples. She’s talented. She’s overweight. Which one do you think of first? If it’s overweight, you’re like 9 out of 10 women who judge themselves as harshly as they do others. You’re like me, and my sister, and my friends, who identify this extremely talented woman by her weight. Why? Because we define ourselves that way.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had moments in time where I think I’ve looked good. I have photographs, looking back at after a few years, where I look better than I thought I did when I first saw the picture. (I even have a picture of me in a little black dress that my family is instructed to give to the police should I ever get kidnapped.) I’ve gotten whistles, men crossing the street to meet me, I’ve turned some heads. I know this because my sister tells me. I know this because my mother has said it. They wouldn’t lie. My thoughts about that? That “they” were probably looking at the run in my stocking, or the smear of mascara under my eye, or my bad haircut.
“My thoughts’ is this voice inside my head that tells the world it’s being humble or self-deprecating when it’s really the meanest, harshest judgmental bitch you will ever run across. It’s the one who sees every flaw, every non tight area of my body, every drooping breast, every laugh line, every gray hair…. It rarely takes in the whole picture. I mean, if you put the Mona Lisa under a microscope, all you’d see would be brush strokes of color. So is it fair what I do to myself? No. It’s not even sane.
And how many times have I let this judgmental bitch (let’s call her JB from now on) prevent me from doing something I wanted? How many times has JB made me wear a jacket because my butt or my stomach wasn’t a sculpted, muscle-gleaming body on the cover of an exercise DVD? Too many.
One of the women I idolized growing up (before I grew up and it became my mother) was Carol Burnett. I wanted to be her. I wanted to have a show and talk to the audience, and wear all those dresses, and do skits on movies and place bets on how soon any given skit could make Harvey Korman laugh hysterically.
Here’s the thing: I am funny. I am kind of a ham and I could have done something along those lines. I went to school for television production. I’ve performed stand-up comedy. I tell a great story. But JB hated the way I looked on television. And I went behind the scenes. The underground for performers-at-heart.
I’ve done a lot of work to shut down JB. And I’ve had a lot of validation – from men, women, my family, friends, strangers. It feels nice. But there is an inordinate amount of attention placed on being pretty. Or perfect. And people think you don’t have any problems because you look good. Not so. JB goes into full frontal assault at those times, and it’s taken repeated and consistent efforts to shut her down and go forth as a woman of grace, talent, and imperfections – and even more work to embrace all of it.
So thank you Melissa McCarthy. Brave, to-hell-with-ya smiling Melissa McCarthy. Melissa McCarthy, who does physical comedy as well as my childhood hero. Fearless Melissa McCarthy, who uses every gift in her arsenal to her advantage. Melissa McCarthy, who never plays a character too fat for a man to be interested in, or the overweight (read: lonely, single) friend in a supporting role. No, she plays strong confident, endearing, real characters. She has carried the lead in more than one movie and stolen the show in countless others. Melissa McCarthy, who is right now, inspiring young girls and young women who maybe don’t feel pretty enough or thin enough to be in front of a camera. Girls who need to borrow that bravery until they find it within themselves. Melissa McCarthy, who has shown me, more than any of those svelte, hot-yoga-ing, leaf eating actresses, what beauty and courage are all about.