The Character of Kate: This is Us
For those of you who watch the popular, maudlin and addictive show, “This is Us”, know that you need hankies a plenty when sitting down to watch an episode. Each story arc is beautiful and relatable in its own way.
As an eating psychology coach and body image mentor though, you can imagine that the character of beautiful Kate has me in a complete tizzy.
There is a poignant scene early on in the series that felled me emotionally on a deep and visceral level. I won’t be spoiling the show by recounting this scene but will speak about it because it truly encapsulates for me what so many young girls go through. What was most heartbreaking about the scene was that we, the audience, the millions of people watching, lay witness to this character understanding for the first time that her version of herself: The confident, beautiful and self-possessed person she naturally saw in herself was different than those around her. The character, Kate, is a beautiful overweight woman, living in LA and navigating her chronic dieting world. She is trying to find herself, her career and her connections to other people including her relationship with her needy twin brother. Through flashbacks we are exposed to her journey from a happy, innocent and oblivious young (and larger) girl to a insecure, body-loathing chronic dieter. This particular arc of the show obliterates me every time because of the nuanced vulnerability we see in her body-image descent. Every time I see her storylines I want to reach into the TV screen, hug her, and tell her how beautiful she is.
In this particular scene, Kate is roughly 10 years old and takes a trip to the local public pool with her family. She happily and innocently wears a bikini to the pool, despite being larger than many of the other kids and refuses to bring a t-shirt, as her parents quietly plead her to do before leaving. Her parents are kind and care deeply about her but tacitly judge her or at the very least worry that she will be judged by others simply because of her size. Her “friends” at the pool snicker at her and ultimately send her a note saying they are embarrassed to play with her unless she covers up. Kate sulks sadly on her lounge chair and her parents find the note, leaving her loving dad give her a pep-talk and to lend her his t-shirt. But, it’s too late. The damage has been done. This was and will always be a seminal moment in her identity. She was body-shamed into covering up. We see, through these flashbacks, the very moment that defined Kate and so many of us can relate because we’ve had similar experiences too. Our understanding about how shame around our bodies starts to unfold is witnessed before our very eyes through Kate’s story.
How many of us had moments like this and can speak to defining moments in our body image? I am guessing many. That this type of body-shaming remains today, 40 years after this flash-back, in this fictional show made in 2016 tells us how far we have to go in the movement of body positivity and health at every size.
As long as unattainable body standards remain front and center in our purview in media, magazines and in our role models, it will become increasingly hard to unshackle ourselves from dieting culture and mentality. I applaud “This is Us” by giving us a personal and upfront, and unvarnished example of the very trajectory many girls face or faced growing up. That there is no easy solution that the show resolves is ok.
We just need to continue to have the conversation.
Would you be willing to share a bathing suit story you have related to your body image as a child or adult? We all seem to have them. Comment below.
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