This week on Glee Finn dealt with feeling insecure about going topless, despite the fact that Cory Monteith has a six-pack. Is Glee delivering a mixed message when it comes to body image issues?
In the last episode, Finn confesses to Rachel that he's uncomfortable wearing his underwear onstage to play Brad in Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rachel comforts him by saying he "has a different body type," and pointing out, "I don't look like Brittany or Santana, but you still think I'm hot, right?"
New York Magazine's Kyle Buchanan writes that the show's discussion of body image in this episode was "confused at best." He explains:
Glee has already de-shirted Chord Overstreet at every opportunity - they've practically got an abs cam for him now - so when it comes to attacking the pernicious ideal of the perfect male body, we know which side the show is really on (and it's the side where Matthew Morrison's tanned, clipped bodybuilder physique gets equal screen time). When Finn says, "I'm kinda insecure about how I look," it's not afforded the same satirical weight as Sam's body plight; we're meant to think that Finn does eat too much at lunch, but when he decides to embrace his inner Brad and show off his carefully sculpted midsection later in the episode (eschewing the character's tighty-whities, for some reason), the only conclusion that can be drawn is that he's suffering from body dysmorphia.
Even though we know there are teenage girls lusting after Monteith, it was a little surprising to see Finn looking so toned after hearing his classmates tease him:
But it's clear that the point the writers were trying to make is that everyone feels their body is inadequate sometimes, even if they're the conventionally attractive captain of the football team. Can't Finn be concerned that his abs aren't as developed as his friend Sam's (or, creepily, his teacher's) without having raging "body dysmorphia"?
Buchanan writes that when Finn walks down the hall "students turned away in apparent disgust," but it seems they're actually reacting to him wearing just his undies:
The show's message on body image wasn't as clear as it could have been (was Figgins quip about kids needing therapy after seeing Finn shirtless a dig about his weight, or just an unfunny joke?), but the writing throughout the entire episode wasn't stellar. Artie's speech about why there's a sudden focus on the male physique was particularly bizarre:
I personally blame the internet. Once internet porn was invented girls could watch without having to make that embarrassing trip to the video store. Internet porn altered the female brain chemistry, making them more like men, and thus more concerned with our bodies.
So women's newfound ability to see images of sexy male porn stars like Ron Jeremy made them care more about men's bodies?
Sloppy writing aside, it is interesting to see a show take on body image from the guys' point of view. As one New York Magazine commenter suggests, it may be a good idea for Glee to do a whole storyline about Sam having an eating disorder. Particularly, because the writers haven't found a non-cliche way for the girls to discuss the issue — Quinn curing Mercedes' anorexia in under 40 minutes was a low point of season one.
As Buchanan points out:
Glee really does have a wide range of body types, at least when it comes to women - Jenna Ushkowitz and Amber Riley aren't stick-thin, though every guy on the show is slender or boasting a six-pack - but it never knows how best to utilize that. Wouldn't Rachel's line have made more sense and conveyed more poignancy if it were Tina saying it to her athletic boyfriend Mike Chang?
Mercedes is usually confident about her looks, but it's notable that the one overweight character still hasn't been given a long-term love interest. Tina isn't well-developed, and this season we've mostly seen her and Mike trading quips about being Asian. Of course, the writers didn't know that this week's episode would coincide with the controversy over the Glee GQ photoshoot, but Buchanan's right that in line may have worked better if it was delivered by Tina, especially since sexed-up images of Lea Michele are fresh in our minds.
Other teen shows do such a bad job at size-diversity that the mere presence of characters who aren't size 0 and discussion of body image seems like an achievement. But so far, the show has yet to tackle the issue in a way that's creative or actually meaningful.
Does Glee Have A Muddled Message When It Comes To Body-Image Issues? [New York Magazine]