“I didn’t mean to be a role model,” says Margaret Cho. “I just speak my truth.”
Well Margaret’s truth is blunt, brazen, and hilarious, and anyone who’s seen the comedian in action can attest to her role-model-worthiness.
From her humble beginnings in San Francisco to her current mega-success with the TV show “Drop Dead Diva” and her upcoming comedy album Cho Dependent, Margaret’s racked up a lot of life experience. While she’s had her ups and downs with body image and self-esteem, it looks like Margaret has finally emerged on top. And whether or not she considers herself a role model, we sure do.
Check out our interview with the insanely talented star:
About-Face: Are there any celebrities you admire for being strong role models, despite constant media scrutiny? You’ve said that Paula Abdul was a celebrity you admired and that watching the media tear her down about her weight was very traumatizing.
Margaret Cho: With Paula Abdul, that was actually the first celebrity that I recognized people talking about her weight incessantly.
She was the first person I think that made a real impact with her talent and then at some point, was under fire with a lot of criticism that was totally directed at her physicality, and had nothing to do with her talent or her music or anything. And so that’s when I started to see how distorted it was, and how unfair it was.
In terms of positive role models, I don’t think that there are a lot, because there aren’t a lot of images of different looking women in the media. They don’t really exist. And people get criticized when they don’t conform.
I mean, even women who are beautiful, like Jessica Simpson. People are so insane about the way that she looks, and she looks great. I don’t understand.
I think that the way that the Internet is now, and the way that people leave comments about the way that people look, you can be so nasty without ever having to be accountable for it. And I think that kind of environment is really destructive for young women and [their] body image in general.
A-F: What do you hope “Drop Dead Diva” will accomplish in terms of challenging beauty stereotypes?
MC: It’s just about providing images of different-looking people, which I think is important. And you have this dialogue about the body and a way to talk about it. And it treats women’s bodies with a lot of dignity and with a lot of respect and with a lot of heart, which I think is what our show does a lot.
A-F: As you’ve gotten older, how have you learned to build your sense of self-worth beyond your body image?
MC: Well for me it’s mostly personal. When I don’t eat, when I am anorexic, then I just turn to other things that are far more destructive.
I’m so hungry all the time that I’ll just drink alcohol or use drugs in order not to be hungry. And to me, all of the destructive elements in my life really just stem from my lack of eating and me wanting to be thin. That’s always what it’s about. I don’t have the same kinds of issues that other people have with addiction. Mine totally relate to my relationship with food and my relationship with my body.
So when I’m doing well, that means that my body image is doing well.
For me, I think it’s more about age and getting older and feeling good in my skin, which is really important.
A-F: Was there a moment you realized you were ready to move beyond focusing on your weight, or has it been a slow struggle?
MC: No, I think it was cumulative. It wasn’t really one thing. It was just, after a while, you start to make connections.
A-F: What has belly dancing done for your life?
MC: Well it’s a great art form and it’s a great way to celebrate the body for women, or for anyone.
Also, there’s a lot of bigger stars in Middle Eastern dance – they don’t want the stars to be skinny. That’s just really not the ideal look for belly dancers. The body type is usually voluptuous and bigger, which looks very comfortable. That’s a very wonderful ideal to have.
It’s a great dance form and it’s very traditional. And the aspects that I love, the kind of belly dance that I like, are sort of the more folkloric stuff, which is really beautiful.
But the ideal body is the one that’s much more voluptuous. And also older. There’s dancers that are very famous that dance well into their seventies and eighties, which is really cool.
MC: I don’t think I would get plastic surgery. … it never looks right. I just don’t think I would. I mean, I’m kind of curious also to see what it’ll look like. I’m curious about old age.
I use Latisse, which I think is a weird drug because it literally makes me grow eyelashes out of other parts of my face. That’s really weird. But I will do it. I will definitely do it for eyelashes.
A-F: Do you have any judgment on other people electing to have cosmetic procedures?
MC: No, I don’t have any issue with that. … And I have a lot of body modification with tattooing, and to me, that’s the way that I scratch that itch, so to speak. I don’t really have any issues with people who want to do that.
A-F: You participated in the making of a documentary film called Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom [not yet released].
MC: I did an interview for it a while ago that was about women and identity and all those body issues and all of that was in there too.
A-F: I read in an interview you said you spent so much of your life trying to be skinny that you don’t remember your 20s. In another you said that living in Atlanta with the “Drop Dead Diva” cast is like reliving your 20s. If you could say anything to the 20-something Margaret, what would it be?
MC: Well I would probably just tell myself to eat something. Which is really, that was kind of all I needed in my 20s, and I really missed a lot of it because I was so concerned with all this other stuff which really ultimately doesn’t matter.
Thank you, Margaret Cho, for sharing your truth.
— Michelle Konstantinovsky is a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and an avid admirer of shiny objects and preteen entertainment. It would be nice if you visited her website: www.michellekmedia.com. Also, she may learn to use Twitter more effectively if you follow her @michelley415.