If someone had told me in January of last year the following month I would discover a television show which would consume nearly my every waking thought and more than a few of my seldom occurring dreams for a year, I would not have believed them. Yet, this is exactly what happened. I discovered a show which challenges the norm by placing the spotlight on an imperfect protagonist who frequently makes mistakes, doubts herself, feels inferior, and contradictorily, at times superior to her peers, and who has mental health and self-esteem issues.
This leads me to the following series of questions: How do you talk about something which has effected you so deeply? How do you explain why you are consumed with a television show? How do you justify it? Is it possible to make someone understand your obsession with fictional characters? Short answer, probably not. However, I will attempt to explain elements of why I am completely in love with My Mad Fat Diary.
My Mad Fat Diary for me and numerous others is not just a television show. The characters are fully developed in a way which makes them instantly relatable to a contemporary audience although the action is set in 1996 and focuses primarily on the life of a sixteen year old girl attempting to recover from a bout of poor mental health. Whilst, my issues have never been as serious as those experienced by Rae, there are moments where her thoughts and feelings have bled into my own. At times she even says things I have thought myself, which is frequently an equal mixture of validating and terrifying. To see someone on screen with whom you can relate who is not a size zero, does not always have perfectly styled hair, flawlessly applied makeup, and overall is not the society imposed embodiment of physical, intellectual, and emotional perfection young girls and women in particular are told they must achieve in order to be enough, is infinitely more healthy and relatable for all of us to see.
In “Alarm” Rae says, “I don’t think many people look perfect” and while her and our rational minds must tell us this is true, the constant bombardment from advertising campaigns, celebrity magazines, and the general pervasiveness of media in our day to day lives which continues to enforce the idea we should and must look and be perfect, frequently leads us as a society to doubt the validity of this statement. One of the many reasons I believe My Mad Fat Diary has a fandom which discusses, defends, and dissects scenes and episodes so voraciously is because they feel more connected to Rae as a protagonist. She isn’t perfect and she makes mistakes. “[We] like that [she’s] a mess. That’s what makes [her] real - like us.”
I also adore her friends. The people she has surrounded herself with who love and accept her. They do not see her as inferior or broken and she, for the most part, does not have to filter herself for their benefit in order to be liked. Her friends value her for her kindness, humour, intelligence, taste in music, and through the narration of Tix in “It’s a Wonderful Rae: Part I” and Chloe in “Not I”, we are allowed to see how their admiration extends beyond mere affection. These characters admire and wish they were more like her. This achieves three things. First, it illustrates individuals who may appear more beautiful, thinner, richer, happier, and more confident still have issues and insecurities. Second, it reveals how we are often our harshest critics and our perceptions of ourselves are not necessarily the same as the perceptions of those around us. Finally, it further enforces the idea you are enough as you are. You do not owe anyone perfection. You are a human being who will make mistakes and those who care about you will recognize this and despite your failings continue to care about you.
Then, there is Finn Nelson. A character so incredible, it has made simpering fools of grown women, myself included, who by this stage in life should have cast off the oppressive tendency for all consuming fangirl behaviour. It’s not just Nico Mirallegro has the kind of face at which I could stare, and have, for hours and never get bored. Finn is one of the most beautiful characters I have ever seen. As I have said before, the fact Finn, an eleven out of ten, loves a girl whom society has decreed is not his equal, is undesirable, and unworthy of love and affection from very nearly anyone, and is “the only one that doesn’t ask if [she’s] alright all of the time” and treats her normal, challenges the unhealthy and unachievable ideal which has been imposed upon us whilst also imparting invaluable lessons. Namely, you can be who you are, who you are is enough; but also, there are people like Finn who are not at the mercy of what others think and say. There are those who do belong fully to themselves, who truly do have autonomy over whom they are attracted to, and more importantly, possess the courage to stand up and fight for it. As he says in “Radar”, whom he fancies “is [his]. [It] belongs to [him]. No one else. No one!”
Beyond the brilliant writing featured in this series, the production and acting are also first-rate. As the primary couple in My Mad Fat Diary are both music snobs, the strength of the track listings for the show are not surprising; however, when a given song is placed into the narrative context of the scene in which it is playing it becomes even more impressive. For example, the music featured in the reggae scene of “It’s A Wonderful Rae: Part I” wherein Finn prefaces his declaration of affection to Rae in the subsequent episode, “It’s a Wonderful Rae: Part II,” through the use lyrics and music, most notably the song “Is this Love?” The acting, which throughout the series demands a great deal from all members of the cast, as the characters frequently oscillate through a wide range of emotions, is particularly astounding. The fact the actors transition from one extreme to the next in such seamless fashion prevents the show from ever feeling forced or melodramatic and instead leaves it feeling raw and real.
I believe this show is in many ways revolutionary, from the graphics to the subject matter, and signals a shift in the right direction in terms of the representation of many different types of people. Rae does have issues with her mental health and is insecure about the way she looks, but these are just elements of her personality. She is a fully developed character whose emotions and thoughts run the gamut. She can be upset one moment and horny the next before rounding the corner and making her way to furious or funny. However, all of this does not make her inherently unstable or damaged. It makes her a fully realised character who has flaws and hardships, which are key elements in why Rae is an interesting and relatable character and her story is so engrossing for the show’s viewers.
Is this a comprehensive explanation of the fandom’s ardent love for this show? No, however, it is an enumeration of a few of the reasons why it has touched and resonated with me so strongly. Basically, the following appropriated quote best describes my experience of My Mad Fat Diary:
“The show so powerful you binge watch it…So all consuming you push it on your friends even if they don’t watch T.V. And so addicting you can’t shut up about it. It’s basically like drugs.”
Hello, my name is Kasady and I’m an unabashed addict.