subscribe: Posts | Comments

New drama tramples myths about teen sexuality

1 comment

My Mad Fat DiarySexual frustration and self harm are depicted with unique realism in My Mad Fat Diary.

The much-hyped My Mad Fat Diary exploded on to our screens last night, promising to brighten our long bleak January evenings or, at the very least, shake some action into the usual E4 schedule, grown stale with too many Hollyoaks omnibuses and re-runs of Made in Chelsea.

The new drama charts the adventures of Rae Earl, a sexually frustrated Lincolnshire teenager struggling with anxiety and self harm.

The show is based on My Fat, Mad Teenage Diary, the memoir of the real-life Rae Earl growing up a lonely and confused teenager in the 1980s.

E4 bosses have seen fit to tweak the title of the memoir slightly for its TV adaptation, presumably so it doesn’t evoke too loudly shows like Embarrassing Teenage Bodies, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and others from the Channel 4 production vehicle that take a more sneering, voyeuristic look at the pain of adolescence.

Frank depictions of teenage girls suffering mental illness are few and far between in film and television. This seems a glaring oversight when you consider one in ten 16-24 year-olds have self harmed in their life-time.

And if you sit down and try to find examples from pop culture where the female protagonist is not only suffering from mental health problems but also funny, horny and over nine stone, you’ll be left scratching your head long into the night. It certainly had me stumped.

My Mad Fat Diary (MMFD) is not a po-faced, esoteric exploration of the female mind in angst. Rae Earl is not Sylvia Plath and this isn’t a PJ Harvey B-side.

MMFD is more Shameless meets Adrian Mole, if Adrian Mole had been female and had a history of self harm.

The show pitches itself exactly where it should, to teenagers and young people who now more than ever are dangerously bereft of reassuring, authentic portrayals of what it feels like to be growing up.

Rae confronts mental health problems which affect one in ten young teenagers but she also confronts the crushing social anxiety and intense feelings of inadequacy that affect, I’d hasten a guess, ten in ten young teenagers.

But it’s in the attitude to female teenage sexuality that MMFD stands out for me as truly heroic.

“Expert moistener of Lady Gardens” is how Rae describes dishy Dr Nick as she finally leaves the mental hospital where she’s been living.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about the fact that Sharon Rooney, the actor who plays Rae, is “unconventional looking” for a young female lead. I’ll leave that to the glut of writers and commentators who will doubtlessly follow in the wake of MMFD. In his review of MMFD Keith Watson in the Metro described Rae as “part big girl game for a laugh, part neurotic teenager”.

But the depiction of female teenage sexuality where the central function is not to titillate male lust is extremely rare.

MMFD has a similar coarse, audacious quality to The Inbetweeners. As much as I love The Inbetweeners, for the most part it upholds the well-oiled myth that teenage boys are basically raging libidos with body odour and girls are just the unwitting objects of those libidos.

With all too vivid memories of my own adolescence, I can vouch for this being utter crap.

Rae shatters this myth in style when she declares, of her new crush: ”I’d shag him till there was nothing left. Just a pair of glasses and a damp patch.”

I can say with some confidence that My Mad Fat Diary is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on TV before.

  1. Reminds me of being young again. Sucked in

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *