Trenchcoat Mama . . .Single and Ready for Whatever Life Throws at Her!

By Jessica Pegis

Why we’re giving reality TV a reality check!

Hate it when somebody says something way better than I could.
This time, though, I got such a kick out of Guardian writer Lucy Mangan calling 3 Fat Brides and 1 Thin Dress‘s Gillian McKeith a “platinum-blond incubus waiting to suck the joy from every living thing around her” that I couldn’t stay mad for long.
McKeith, in case you’ve missed the summer’s reality-show blitz, is the Scottish poopy lady. At least that’s what my 11-year-old calls her. A self-styled holistic nutritionist, McKeith hectors people into losing weight by telling them they’re unattractive, unhealthy, and about to die. Then she makes them defecate into a plastic container so she can shame their poop.
You know, McKeith always been something of a joke at our house and is reviled by British TV critics and many scientists. But lately, I’ve been thinking about how her brand of reality TV isn’t so different from the average reality fare.
These shows are all about shame. And that’s why I’m having second thoughts about watching them even occasionally with my kid. (You know the drill: single mom hanging out on couch with child.) Think about it: even when the message is revealing and “helpful” as in the defunct Nanny 911 or Trading Spouses (now in endless re-runs), or “bold” and “bracing” as in this summer’s The Baby Borrowers, somebody has to be humiliated and somebody has to sit in judgment.
We the viewers? We’re lucky. We always get the judgment seat. It’s only when a bully like McKeith shows up that you realize it’s not a nice place to be.
“He’s so mean,” my daughter protested once when a husband on Trading Spouses erupted over a few dishes in the sink and wouldn’t let the kids play. No surprises there–I didn’t like the uptight guy either. But what I didn’t like more was the feeling of smugness I got by watching him be himself. I mean heck, if his wife puts up with him, why should I care?
I got exactly the same feeling by watching Rocky on this summer’s I Know My Kid’s a Star. Every time she showed up in a bad outfit or said something colossally inappropriate, I turned into a tsk-tsker.

Whoah. Is that me?

You know, we spend all this time teaching our kids that bullying is not OK. We tell them not to judge other kids by their clothing, their race, their religion, or their lunch boxes. Classroom teachers strive to discipline through positive attention and reinforcement, not fear and threats.
And that’s because we claim that these values– tolerance and kindness–are important ones for our families and society.
So why are we giving any of these shows the time of day? What message does it send to our kids when we start clucking about somebody’s bad parenting, or fashion or food choices? We’re not teaching our kids anything in that moment; we’re just telling them it’s alright to mouth off about people and situations we know little about.
I was talking with marketing expert Nancy Gerber a few months back and she made an interesting observation. The only reality fare she’ll watch these days are shows in which people are challenged in a fair contest to demonstrate their expertise, like Project Runway or Shear Genius. Those shows, she commented, actually go somewhere. The contestants demonstrate their skill; the most skilled person is rewarded; and viewers–including kids–actually get to learn something.
I enjoy those shows too, and so does my daughter. The conversations we have about these shows tend to be meaningful too. I guess that should tell us something.
So shout-out to Gillian McKeith: if you ever show up at our house, we have a whole litter box of cat poop waiting for you.
Felines cannot be shamed.
Other Single Minded Women Articles You Might Enjoy:
Trench Coat Single Mama—Ready for Whatever Life Throws at Her
My So-Called Single Life . . . on TV

Trenchcoat Mama: This Makeover Gets to the Heart of the Matter

© 2008 All rights reserved. Permission to reprint this article must be obtained from 

Jessica Pegis, aka O Solo Mama.