By Grace Rogers, a Highlighter staff columnist
I hear it again and again: We need real women represented in TV. I used to not understand this, as I thought it was weird to look at one character’s experience and deem it unworthy of real-ness. My thirteen-year-old self never really got why we weren’t satisfied with “Hannah Montana” narratives, ones that — sure — were super unrelatable, but definitely entertaining. I was never aware of that void, and have just recently realized it’s because I never knew what it felt like to watch a TV show and think, THIS GETS ME. Yeah, I still enjoy my “Hannah Montana”-esque narratives (thank you, “Friends,” I will never live in a New York apartment of that size) but there’s nothing like watching a series that you can tell is so real, so raw, and so from the heart of a woman who knows herself.
Few shows have won me over in that way, one being a new web series called “The Skinny,” a Refinery 29 original comedy created by and starring Jessie Kahnweiler. In 10-minute episodes, it follows a feminist wannabe YouTube star named Jessie who’s outspoken, crude and really in touch with her sexuality. At the same time, she’s dealing with a misogynistic ex-boyfriend, an overbearing mother and growing body image issues that make her years-long struggle with bulimia flare up. Though it sounds depressing, Kahnweiler manages to shine light on these complexities with a smart and vulnerable sense of humor. Here are some lessons learned after watching “The Skinny”’s six-episode series:
- Women are much more complex than TV makes us to be.
Jessie is not the typical girl we see depicted on TV: she’s unapologetically loud, she doesn’t wear a size 0 and she cares about things other than boys and clothes and gossip. She shouts things like, “There is more pussy-fear in this room than in the Republican National Convention!” and constantly strives for self-love and a successful career. But she’s flawed, too, and “The Skinny” doesn’t try to hide it — the vulnerability behind Jessie’s food binges, her fights with her ex and her body insecurities make her story all the more complex, raw and relatable.
- We’re more sexual, too.
Expressing female sexuality onscreen is somewhat of a taboo, because for some reason, we’re much more chill hearing dudes talk about sex. “The Skinny” totally ignores that. We watch Jessie practicing orgasm sounds in her bathroom, masturbating in her bed and openly talking to her mom about her vibrator. It’s bold, refreshing and — believe it or not! — accurate.
- Sexism can take many different forms.
Throughout “The Skinny,” Jessie encounters a lot of sexism. A man at an entertainment agency turns down her YouTube show after telling her “No one likes women that real,” exposing the harsh reality of who’s responsible for the lack of “real women” in media. Shortly after befriending a 19-year-old Vine star, Jessie has to remind her that she shouldn’t feel pressured to drink more, even from her close guy friends that seem to be joking around — a seemingly harmless but dangerously common scenario. Even the people closest to Jessie make sexist comments to her: Cole, her ex-boyfriend, pressures her into having sex when she just really wasn’t feeling it. Jessie combats most of these jabs well, but it’s a grim reminder that sexism takes several forms, some of which are less surprising but no less wrong.
- In the end, you really only have yourself, and that’s OK.
By the final episode, we see Jessie has grown a lot. She’s officially done with her ex, she triumphantly throws away her diet pills and she declares, “I do not need any more penises in my life anymore.” But it’s not all butterflies and rainbows — after opening up to her mom about her eating disorder, her mom is less-than-helpful and tells her she doesn’t understand how a happy, young, tan woman could have an eating disorder. Jessie carries on just fine, though, as she goes off to the Middle East to film her new brand of videos. She has herself, and as dysfunctional as she may be, she’s learning to love it.
Though series like “The Skinny” and “Broad City” resonate with my personal experience, that doesn’t mean everyone can relate. There are a lot more stories that haven’t been told on TV, especially the stories of LGBTQ people and people of color. But web series like these give me hope for a generation of Internet-based media, one that has the potential to tell stories so real and so raw, Hollywood wouldn’t even consider them. I hope one day everyone can have a movement where they put away their “Hannah Montana”-esque shows, watch an episode of something else and think, FINALLY. This gets me.