Twenty-one years ago, an important episode of television premiered. ‘The Zit’ was only five episodes in to My-So Called Life‘s one and only season. I watched it at a seminal time in my life. I think I had just started middle school and at the time, was actually underweight. I was very insecure about this. I wasn’t as developed as the other girls who were my age and I genuinely thought something was wrong with me.
I’m not really a believer in after-school special kind of television, but with the sensitivity of My So-Called Life‘s writers, they effectively told a great story that just happened to have an important message. What I love is that the episode is not one-noted. It sees body image from many different angles. Some want more, some want less. Some want to look younger, some want to look older. The overriding message is that all the characters are unhappy with something about themselves—and none of them should be.
Here’s a closer examination:
Angela’s ex-best friend, Sharon Cherski, is voted Best “Global Endowments.” While this news makes Angela feel jealous, it makes Sharon ultra self-conscious. Does her boyfriend like her for who she is or what she looks like? They break up and make up during the episode and although Kyle (her bf) is not going to win any awards for most intelligent, he does say something true. He’s happy she has what she has, so why isn’t she? Sharon’s story also intersects with Angela’s, touching on the fact that we all want what we don’t have. Sharon confesses to Angela she’d give anything to have what Angela has because of the unwanted attention.
Angela’s little sister seems almost forgotten in this episode, but her small storyline makes an important point. Even at 11, Danielle feels insecure, like she doesn’t fit. She wants to be in the mother/daughter fashion show, but her mother tells her it’s for girls who are older. While Angela resists and can’t stand the idea of it, Danielle is eager, not yet at the stage where she’s truly self-conscious. She ends up taking Angela’s place in the fashion show when Angela realizes how much it means to her.
Danielle still likes the idea of getting dressed up and she isn’t thinking about all the beauty insecurities that come with being a teenager. We could all take something from that pre-teenage mindset.
I love, love, love Patty’s journey in this episode. It mirrors Angela’s; she’s getting older, but she experiences her insecurities in the same way. Much of the episode focuses on a fashion show fundraiser that she is sewing matching dresses for. She admits to her husband that she notices lines under her eyes and the very real truth that no one really thinks they’re beautiful.
Angela asks her mom if she enjoyed being pretty. I love Patty’s response: “I don’t think I really let meyself know that I was. I was always really careful not to seem stuck up or vain or confident. I look at a picture like that and I see, my god, I was pretty. That’s all I want for you, to enjoy what you really are.” We all get so caught up in our appearances, but Patty’s lines remind us that our so-called imperfections are what make us who we are—and that’s beautiful.
Angela Chase is our heroine and her zit gives the episode its title. She, like many teenagers, doesn’t like what she sees when she looks in the mirror. When the sophomore boys decide to make a list rating the top 40 sophomore girls, Angela doesn’t get mentioned. While her other friends might not want the attention, Angela feels insecure about being left off the list. Is she not attractive enough to rate? I especially love the dichotomy between Angela and her mother, Patty. While all this is going on, Patty is sewing matching dresses for a mother/daughter fashion show. Angela doesn’t want to do it, insecure about her own appearance. Every time her mother instructs her on how to deal with her pimple or brings up getting a makeover for fun, Angela feels more like an ugly duckling. Their end fight always gets me. I had a similar relationship with my mother, growing up. I always felt like I was ugly and that my mother was always in denial about it.
But, Angela (and I) learned that, “When you look closely people are so strange & so complicated that they’re actually beautiful. Possibly even me”.