by Contributor Marianne Schnall, originally posted on Feminist.com
Editor’s Note: We’ve pulled from the vault this 2009 interview with Margaret Cho where she candidly talks about weight, beauty, body image and show business.
Margaret Cho is currently starring in the new, critically acclaimed series Drop Dead Diva which premiered on July 12th on Lifetime. Drop Dead Diva tells the story of a shallow model-in-training who dies in a sudden accident only to find her soul resurfacing in the body of a brilliant, plus-size and recently deceased attorney. Actress Brooke Elliott stars as lawyer Jane Bingum, and Margaret plays her supportive friend and assistant, Terri.
The show is not only well written, funny and entertaining but also touches on body image issues which are close to Cho’s comedy and her heart. I checked in with the outspoken actress, on a break from filming in Peachtree City, Georgia, to talk about her new show, the politics of feeling beautiful, homophobia, the Internet, playing the banjo and her outlook on life.
Margaret Cho is on the Advisory Board of Feminist.com.
INTERVIEW WITH MARIANNE SCHNALL (7/13/09)
Marianne Schnall: I watched Drop Dead Diva this past weekend and loved it. For anybody who has not yet seen the show, how would you describe the concept behind the show and what appealed to you about doing the show?
Margaret Cho: Well, the show is about a shallow, thin, blonde, model girl who dies and gets sort of reinserted in the body of lawyer who is very brilliant, but pretty insecure – she doesn’t really think about her looks much, she doesn’t live the life of the body in the way that the model was used to getting by on her looks and that kind of thing. So it’s really a show about how society values certain kinds of beauty over another kind of beauty and what it’s like to live on the other side – whatever side of the beauty continuum you’re on – sort of all the different aspects of it.
So when I first read it, I was really impressed at the way that it dealt with these issues with such grace and humor. And I was the first person cast in the show. And when I did the pilot I just really thought that they did such a great job casting Brooke Elliott in the lead because she just really is perfect – she’s the only actress I could ever see playing that role. She plays both roles really – Jane and Deb, you know. And it’s funny how a show that’s so based in fantasy, sort of a fantastical premise, is closer to real life than so many of the shows out on TV [laughs]. It shows real women, real body types, real people. I think it’s a beautifully-written show, it’s very funny – that’s what appealed to me is the humor, and also the heart.
MS: I was thinking about your own personal history in television and the struggles that you’ve had in terms of body issues, when on your first show “All-American Girl” the network executives asked you to lose weight to play yourself – and you wound up dieting yourself into the hospital – there’s this sort of beautiful irony to coming back into a show that’s actually dealing with these issues head on – it feels like maybe there’s a little progress there, or some hope, to have a show like this, and that you’re on it.
MC: I love it, yeah, and I love that I get to be on it. And to me it’s a wonderful thing because the images of women are so limited in television, you know. And then if you see somebody who is different than the girls that are like super-thin – then it’s like we’re treated like a visual joke. It’s like weight, just like race, becomes part of the issue. It’s like you can’t just have a person that has a different body size than the norm what is considered hot and not have to have that be the story – it’s like a weird thing. Why can’t all different types of women be considered beautiful? Why can’t we can’t we all be considered possible love interests? It’s very – I don’t know. I think things are getting better – just with the sign of a show like this is that things are getting better. I think maybe a show like this makes things get better.
MS: That’s what I hope. Talking about beauty – your last tour and concert film which I saw on Showtime and loved is called Beautiful, and you’ve said it was your official “coming out” as beautiful. I also saw you on “The View” last week and you said, “We have the power as women to call ourselves beautiful.” Can you talk about that?
MC: Well, it’s more like – I always thought that people told you that you’re beautiful, that this was a title that was bestowed upon you – that it was other people’s responsibility to give you this title. And I’m sick of waiting, people! [laughs] Waiting around for people to tell me that I was! I’m tired of waiting. And I think that the world is pretty cruel to women, in what it considers beautiful and what it celebrates as beauty. And I think that it’s time to take into our own hands this power and to say, “You know what – I’m beautiful – I just am. And that’s my light – I’m just a beautiful woman.” And I am just going to start talking about how beautiful I am, and people will start talking about it after I start talking it. And I’ve noticed – and I’ve done this now for a couple of years – and it’s changed the way that I carry myself, it’s changed the way that people respond to me, and it’s changed the way that I feel , and I think this is an important experiment and an important thing for people to do. To start telling people that you’re beautiful, or just feel beautiful, just start acting like you are the most beautiful woman in the world. And it really improves everything! Because your sort of psyche responds to it – like this is truthful! I think self-deprecation is such a disease, and I want to cure everybody of it and so that’s my contribution.
MS: And I’ve heard you say, which I thought was interesting, that even being able to call yourself beautiful is almost like a political act – where it’s not just something you do for yourself, for feeling good and self-esteem – but it’s also that the more women feel beautiful, they are more inclined to use their voice.
MC: Right. And express their opinion and feel powerful. Like when you feel beauty – and beauty for women is definitely power. When you feel powerful, you are willing to stand up for your rights, you are willing to stand up for what you believe in, you’re more willing to stand up and be counted. I think it goes deeper than just something that’s about looks or something that’s about any kind of sexual power or whatever – it really has to do with pride. And pride and a sense of self, and a sense of worth.
Read More of this Interview: Feminist.com