This article is part of VocaLady Magazine’s ongoing series on mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month which takes place in May.
Anxiety can manifest itself in innumerable ways. Everyone has their own methods of overcoming their specific problems. I try to use positive reinforcement, optimism, and the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” mentality to get by, but there are some things that help me more than others, like TV shows with protagonists I can relate to. I know it sounds weird, but hear me out. Diversified female protagonists have actually helped anxiety.
One form of my anxiety is “body dysmorphia“, something that I’ve struggled with often. In simplest terms, it distorts your view of yourself and twists your imperfections into fatal flaws that you cannot ignore. As a plus-size young woman who is constantly being bombarded with skinnier images and expectations, my experiences are more common than you’d think. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to do something as simple as get dressed in the morning, and every piece of clothing that you love just looks wrong. Everything is frumpy or baggy, you look nothing like the plus-size models you try to emulate, and what you see always discourages you from trying harder. This leads me to have a lot of anxiety centered on how I look to others. It’s infuriating to constantly be focused on how you appear in public, because you often don’t want to care. You have things to do that are more important than always fixing your jacket.
But then I watched a show all about Jessica Jones, the heroine clothed only in frumpy or baggy clothing; the skinny girl who wears a stunning lack of skinny jeans, bodycon skirts, or even camisoles. In every episode, she wears the same baggy light-wash jeans, wrinkled gray tank-top, plain scarf, and combat-style jacket. She never does her hair and only ever wears it down. Never accessorizes, never tries too hard, and never acts like her appearance is effortless. The show took special care to emphasize how hard it was for Jessica to get up and get dressed every morning, but she always does. She has things to do, which are much more important than fixing her jacket.
I finished Jessica Jones in one glorious binge-watching session. And when I got dressed in the morning, I started to look at myself and my wardrobe differently. I appreciated my baggy jeans more. I liked my jacket that wasn’t necessarily cute, but was useful, had big pockets, and did everything I needed it to. I liked my hair — which looks a lot like Jessica’s did in the first season — and I wasn’t embarrassed to wear it down all the time. I dressed to be useful, not to be pretty. I don’t need to look good to justify being in the public space. That’s what Jessica Jones taught me. All I need is to be happy in myself and what I’m doing. I know it sounds cliche, but that show is really helping me overcome this facet of my anxiety.
Then there’s Drop Dead Diva, a show that I was obsessed with as it aired from 2009 to 2014. It follows the story of Deb, a picture-perfect fashion model who dies quickly in the first episode of the show and gets herself sent back to Earth through several huge mistakes. However, she doesn’t get her body back; she gets the body of Jane Bingum, a plus-size attorney who had been shot by an angry client at her law firm. The show follows Deb/Jane as she adjusts to life in a different body, career, and life, as well as the crazy adventures of her clients and coworkers at the firm.
Jane is a larger-than-life lawyer who served as an important role model for me. Jane defies the common stereotypes around the professional world that skinny blonde girls in suits make the best lawyers. She is always empowered by her differences; she has a thriving love life, many friends, and adoring clients who praise and reward her with no regard to her size. After five years of watching Jane win case after case — and hook up with man after man — with nothing but praise for herself and her body, it made me more confident in my size. As a plus-size pre-law student, all I wanted was to be more like Jane. I bought new black dresses for mock trial tournaments that looked a lot like the ones Jane wore. I walked taller in my smaller heels. I spoke more confidently in trial and class. I loved myself more, because Jane loved herself more. She helped me combat my anxiety and body dysmorphia before Jessica Jones ever came on the scene.
Even more recently, I’ve started watching Jane the Virgin with my roommate Delaney Ratzky. The show follows Jane Villanueva, a religious Latina woman who is artificially inseminated by a questionable OB/GYN. (Yes, it’s a ridiculous premise. But Drop Dead Diva involves angels and redo buttons, so it’s not the worst thing in here.)
The largest conflict that Jane faces is having a child out of wedlock — something that she is so abhorrent to, she had been refusing sex until she was married. As someone who holds the same views as Jane and has received a lot of negative criticisms for it, I relate to Jane. She faces so much condemnation for her views on sex, but never pushes those views on anyone but herself. She holds strong to her conviction, even in the face of an unwanted pregnancy and the dreaded love triangle the show features. Jane reminds me that my sex is my choice. My views don’t matter to anyone but myself. And there is nothing wrong with making these choices for myself.
These diverse women face a myriad of issues that I can, to some extent, relate to.But they always face these problems with poise, doing their best against hardships. They hold to their own principles, regardless of how unpopular; they love themselves and they remind me that I exist for myself, not to please everyone around me. That is why this is my open letter to every TV-show producer and executive that can read this. Give us more diverse female protagonists who face incredible issues that teach us to be more like them. Trust me, more amazing role models can change more than just my own anxiety.