I am not in the habit of tweeting advice to celebrities about their personal or professional choices. Plus, assuming that level of familiarity with a stranger is creepy. But when your profession is your personal life, or at least the carefully-edited and allegedly real televised version of it, then it’s fair to say that I and everyone else who watches that television show does know that life.
And sometimes, when you choose to let your life be marketed in a way that’s incredibly insulting to not only you and your family but to women in general, then you can expect that people are going to feel some kind of way about it. And that kind of way is “Eww.”
Which is why last month, I directed a tweet at June Shannon, also known as Mama June, star of WE tv’s brazenly awful “Mama June: From Not to Hot,” which follows the reality show stalwart on her journey to lose hundreds of pounds. Everything about this mess is gross, from the way it misses no opportunity to mock June and her family, including her 11-year-old daughter, for their weight, to its over-the-top redneck stereotypes and the scene where an internet date flees in the middle of dinner, compelling June to hit the buffet harder than a punching bag.
But there’s nothing grosser, or more fat-shaming, or more shockingly blatant about how WE feels about the worth of overweight people, or, at least, about the worth of Mama June, than its very title.
“Oh @MamaJune_BooBoo you were never ‘not.’ Don’t let someone else define your worth no matter what you weigh,” I wrote. So far, she hasn’t tweeted back. I didn’t really expect her to.
No one involved, including June, most famously the mother of sassy former kiddie pageant contestant/professional eye-roller Alana “Honey Boo-Boo” Thompson, comes off as a fresh fawn in the woods here. She signed off on this whole embarrassing spectacle — making her life an embarrassing spectacle has become her full-time job — and I guess the check cleared.
The commercials where then-11-year-old Alana breathlessly reveals a sneak preview of her mother’s apparently stunning new body to gawking strangers is disturbing on so many levels, but mostly on the level where a sixth-grader is objectifying her mom’s bikini body.
Then there’s the fact that no one expects WE, home of various shows mostly about sassy black women and poor white people clowning, to be a vehicle for the struggle, unless it’s the struggle to maintain your dignity and pretend that these shows aren’t more scripted than your average high school theater production. However, to imply that if you are not “hot,” you are “not,” is a special kind of nasty.
The makeover movie is nothing new, of course, from “My Fair Lady” to “The Devil Wears Prada,” but those changes usually involved an eyebrow wax, new hair and a fancy accent. And the message of those movies is usually that the women involved already had some awesomeness even before the new clothes, and that their new duds and hair accented the realization of that pre-existent awesomeness, making them more assertive and self-aware.
But “From Not to Hot,” at least judging from the first few episodes, isn’t focused on Mama June’s inner growth or even her health — the impetus for having weight loss surgery is not primarily wanting to watch her kids grow up, but to look hot at the wedding of her mumbling ex, Sugar Bear, whose draw as a jealousy-worthy heartthrob remains … elusive.
There’s no mention of wanting to burp less publicly, or not curse people out in front of her kids (or, for that matter, of how she reunited with an ex that one of her own daughters accused of molesting her as a child, or why WE thought it was OK to feature a family friend with a visible swastika tattoo they didn’t bother blurring until Twitter found out.)
Her “not”ness has everything to do with what she looks like, and the show takes great joy in making fun of that, relishing in every greasy piece of chicken and artificially colored cheese snack the family consumes. Maybe there’s a moment later in the season where she pulls it together and stops letting people be mean to her, but the show is having a ball milking all the cringey moments up until then.
Again, Mama June is not a victim in this thing, because it’s obviously scripted to the point where fans have accused her of starting her transformation before shooting started and wearing a fat suit in pre-surgery scenes. But it’s still soul-crushing to see this woman and her family play the fat fools to the amusement of the viewing audience who can say, “Well at least I’m not those people.”
It never ceases to amaze me what indignities people will subject themselves and their kids to for money. And it’s just part of a larger issue that goes beyond the usual implications that we can’t be happy unless strangers think we’re sexy. It literally implies that you are nothing if you’re not hot, and that the best way to respond to losing some idiot who admits to cheating on you on national television is to make him jealous with your new hot bod, rather than therapy and some time without cameras to pull yourself together.
I won’t be watching any more “From Not to Hot,” because it makes me uncomfortable and kind of itchy. But I really do hope that Mama June and her family get healthy and happy, and that they somehow find ways to support themselves that don’t involve behaving badly for fun and profit. And that no one watches this show and buys the icky messages that your worth as a human is measured not in your charitableness or how you treat your family, but strictly by your dress size.
That, my friends, is not hot.