Actress Cathryn Michon displayed her fat for everyone to see. As the lead character of the film Muffin Top: A Love Story which she also wrote and directed, Michon set out to advance body image acceptance and advance women in entertainment. I talked to Michon at the WGA West’s Behind the Screen 2014 event.
Cathryn Michon: I wrote Muffin Top: A Love Story with my husband, adapted from a novel I published in 2010. It’s a body image Rom-Com. It’s about a woman who thinks she’s trying to get pregnant by her husband via IVF. And she finds out instead that he’s knocked up his younger, thinner co-worker played by Haylie Duff. And he wants a divorce. So she’s 40 and all of the sudden, single. It’s a story that most women in America know which is the insecurity about their body and all of the sudden being ‘back on the market’ and not feeling good about their body because the last time they were last on the market, they were 25. She does a lot of ill-advised things to deal with this insecurity. Ultimately she ends up finding that she is beautiful as she is and comes to become a more authentic person out of trying so hard to change herself.
Obviously there’s lot lacking in the representation of women in movies and in America. What angers you the most about how women are depicted or is there a multitude of issues involved?
There’s a multitude of problems, but I try to be ‘For’ things rather than against things. 4 percent of feature films are directed by women. 12% are written by even one woman. And only 15% of feature films have a female protagonist. I busted my ass to make an independent film that was the opposite of that. We actually have more women in front of and behind the camera than any film in the last three years. And we have the only all-female singer-songwriter soundtrack and score for a romantic comedy ever. That shocked me because I thought there was so many others but there weren’t.
Bruce (Cameron) and I formed a production company called Surprise Hit films. The goal is that we only make movies that have a speaking cast that is how the world is: 50% women and 50% men. It shouldn’t be a ‘radical agenda’ but it is. Because every time a movie that has strong female characters like Maleficent or The Fault in Our Stars is a box office success, Hollywood often proclaims it to be a surprise hit. I am not surprised. The world is round, as Cate Blanchett said, and women’s stories and point of views are as interesting as men and the movies make money.
When you choose to go ahead with a project, do you consider what they’re advancing as far as behind the scenes?
I will from now on. I spent much of my career working in television on network shows. There are many more female showrunners and executives-not as much as I would hope. But it wasn’t until I got into features that I realized the disparity. But I had a female gaffer and a female head of sound, and it wasn’t because I was trying. I just know amazing women who aren’t being employed. Claire Danes talks about having to choose from being Herbert Hoover’s secretary or the role on Homeland. Why on earth would she choose to play a secondary role? TV has amazing roles for women, and features is behind. As we’ve seen with Maleficent and The Fault in Our Stars, the marketplace does not warrant that.
Body image is such a problem with women because of all the enforced images we see. What would you like for them to learn from your movie?
This is a line from the movie so forgive me for quoting my own film, but a survey found that 96% of women said they had at least one bad thought about their body every day of their lives. I think the other 4 are lying. Or in a coma. Because we see 200-400 advertised images per day of women and most of them are size zero. We have girls at 5 saying they’re on a diet.
Melissa Peterman is in our film, and she was one of the judges at the Miss USA pageant. There was one woman who was curvy but beautiful. And it went crazy on Twitter because all of these people were like, “Oh my God. Someone who looks like a real American woman. By the way, she was 5-8 and a size 4. But she wasn’t a size zero.
Or negative. And people want this.
Do you feel that’s your mission; to approach social commentary with humor?
Yes, that’s always what I’ve cared about . I wrote a book in 2001 called The Girl Genius Guide to Life. It really was my attempt to ask women to love themselves as I am not five pounds from now, but now. If men had babies, they would brag about baby weight. They would high-five over stretch marks.
Don’t you think the images are another way to own a woman’s body?
I think the challenge is that women do it to ourselves.
That’s a very adult way of thinking.
I have never heard a man speak of a woman’s body as negatively as a woman speaks of her own body. And that’s the challenge. This character that I play-that’s my fat that you see in the movie-is so cruel to herself. It’s the internal self-hatred to most women’s experience. When people hear the title, women say they totally get that. One thing about a Muffin Top is that it’s a false construct. If you are naked, you can’t have a muffin top. You can only have that when you are squeezing yourself in someone else’s idea of what you should be. You can be a supermodel and have a muffin top because you’re wearing some pants that someone told you you should wear.
One thing I’m proud of Dot Marie Jones from Glee is in the movie. She plays a transgender person, and I’m so proud of this portrayal because her role is not about being transgender. She plays a Hollywood fashion stylist, but she’s just another women in the film who’s having a hard time finding her own. [Jones] was so excited about the role especially because she gets to be so feminine. She normally has to be butch but in the movie, she’s hot and she wears big jewelry. And she just loves doing that.
Muffin Top: A Love Story, Marcia Wallace’s last film, raised over $91,000 on Kickstarter and currently is on its Red Carpet Premiere Tour.