I’m not what you would call a “Gleek.”
In fact, not at all. Sure, I’ve seen a couple of episodes of Glee, but am not by any means a regular viewer. But Tuesday night’s episode certainly made me want to watch it more. A lot more.
In the episode, titled “Born This Way” (named for the Lady Gaga finale number), Rachel Berry (Lea Michele) gets a broken nose. Her doctor suggests that this would be a good opportunity to get a nose job, telling her that rhinoplasty is a Jewish rite of passage. And furthermore, the operation may even help with her singing voice!
Rachel seriously considers the operation, but when she announces her intentions to the rest of the glee club, the idea is met with mixed reactions. Some characters insist that her nose is fine the way it is, while Santana Lopez (Naya Rivera) turns the tables on everyone, challenging them to say that there’s nothing about themselves they would change.
Teacher and glee club director Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) is horrified, and changes the week’s lesson from dancing to acceptance. He encourages the members of the glee club to find something they were born with that they have to deal with and accept.
It’s not only physical “problems” that are addressed in the episode. Mental illness, dancing skills, intelligence, sexuality are other themes of acceptance that are painted in the same brushstroke.
This issue is also about role models, as the characters often remind us. Should you be looking up to someone just like you, or someone unattainable? Rachel’s idolization of Barbara Streisand eventually helps her to make a decision about her nose job, while Tina Cohen-Chang (Jenna Ushkowitz) decides that since there isn’t an appropriate Asian role model for her to look up to, she will become one herself.
It’s not new for Glee to tackle societal pressures on teens. In fact, it’s a recurring feature and one of the reasons it’s such a popular show. But that doesn’t make it any less important that the pressure in society about self-image is highlighted in a prime time show. The fact that these issues are taken on in such an intelligent way, with the addition of music and humor, makes them much easier to digest.
The characters end up taking ownership of their perceived flaws, and in most cases, embracing them. What impact do you think that an episode like this could have on the way we perceive our “flaws”?
Glee presents us with an exciting, encouraging, and unequivocal message to take away. That, in Lady Gaga’s words, you’re on the right track ’cause you were born that way.
See a clip from Tuesday’s episode below: