The British series “My Mad Fat Diary,” set in 1996, lasted three seasons or 16 episodes. Young Rae Earl (played by Sharon Rooney) spends four months in a mental health institution, because of depression, body image problems, and self-harm. (In England, mad means crazy, not angry.) To complicate matters, her mother has a new husband and is expecting a baby. Rae thinks of herself as a “pointless blob” and utters humorous voiceover narration about her “turbulent” life.
Vulture reviewer David Renshaw wrote,
Scenes between Rae and psychiatrist Dr. Kester are something of a pressure release valve, allowing her to voice her insecurities out loud, safely, and consequence-free.
After being discharged, she returns to school where bullies call her Jabba. She finds a friend group, and manages to keep them ignorant of her spell in the psych hospital. In one episode, the gang has a pool party, and Rae gets stuck in a slide and unintentionally reveals the scars left over from cutting herself. Still, she manages to turn it into a laugh.
Against all odds, she attracts Finn, “the handsome and desired one of her group,” and they engage in a lot of amorous activity. To her surprise, Rae learns that she is not the only adolescent experiencing anxiety and dread. Renshaw also wrote that the series “refuses to let its characters be shamed or embarrassed by the things they fear.”
But negative events continue to happen. A fellow mental hospital patient and friend dies from over-exercising and refusing to eat. Meanwhile, there are still bullies in Rae’s life
The show has been called unusually honest about mental health problems, as well as uplifting and perfectly cast. Not surprisingly, the series was based on a non-fiction book (and its sequel) by the real Rae Earl. In 2015 she published an article reflecting on the surprising popularity of her story. She came of age in the 1980s,
But some things absolutely resonate with teenagers today. My awkwardness, my hatred of my body, my absolute sense that everyone “had it all sorted” and had a better life than me. Sadly those things are not going to go away. Neither will that most acute of existential adolescent problems – the feeling that somehow, in some way, you are missing out.
I know from the feedback I get that there are readers desperate to see more about ordinary young people coping with conditions like anxiety, depression, bi-polar and schizophrenia… There’s still a real need for characters who have a mental illness — but are not defined exclusively by it.
A website for parents says,
Very few shows deal with mental health and body issues as well as My Mad Fat Diary; in one poignant scene, Rae “unzips” herself and steps out to reveal a smaller body, an image that many teens dealing with the pressure to be thin can relate to.
The series was nominated for several British TV awards and won three; two for drama and one for best actress. It still has a rather cult-like following.
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Source: “It’s Time to Start Watching My Mad Fat Diary,” Vulture.com, 04/28/22
Source: “My Mad Fat Diary box set review,” TheGuardian.com, 08/27/15
Source: “Why today’s teenagers still want to take a peek inside My Mad Fat Diary,” TheGuardian.com, 07/01/15
Source: “My Mad Fat Diary,” CommonSenseMedia.org, undated
Image by Fredrik Rubensson/CC BY-SA 2.0