Have you heard? "Mama June" Shannon, the woman who skyrocketed to fame on the back of her daughter, Alana, on their hit TLC show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,has lost a lot of weight. From Not to Hot, WE tv's new show about her "weight loss journey," premiered on February 24th, and so far, the press is almost universally complimentary, with entertainment publications fawning over Mama June's "revenge body" and celebrating "a brand-new her!"
But you know what's missing, by and large, from the glowing coverage? Mention that, in 2014, Mama June allegedly reunited with her ex-boyfriend Mark McDaniel, the registered sex offender who was convicted of molesting her daughter Anna in 2002. Mama June denied dating him on Dr. Phil in November 2014, claiming photos of the two together were Photoshopped.
Mama June doesn't deserve another show just because she got skinny, and the fact that her weight loss has seemingly made TV executives and the American public forget the sickening reports that she dated her daughter's assailant shows how dangerously askew our priorities are when it comes to narratives about redeeming troubled women.
Mama June first graced our television screens in 2012 on TLC's Toddlers and Tiaras as the country mouse pageant mom to Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson. Alana and June were the series's clear breakout stars: Alana became known for sassy catch phrases like "a dollar makes me holla, honey boo boo!" and "I want to make monnnnaaaay!" In 2012, TLC gave Mama June and Alana their own show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, which chronicled the life of June and her clan in rural southern Georgia. The show was a ratings powerhouse and only made the family even more famous: Mama June and Alana shared their famous "Go Go Juice" (a mixture of Redbull and Mountain Dew) with Dr. Drew on daytime television; Eater tried to recreate Mama June's "sketti" recipe; the "pigzilla" sandwich, consisting of a 1-pound bun and 4 pounds of meat went viral after Alana's sister Lauryn attempted to eat it on the show.
However, the show was canceled in October of 2014 after reports surfaced in Radar that Mama June was dating McDaniel, the same man who was convicted of aggravated child molestation of an 8-year-old in March 2004. It was later revealed that Mama June's eldest daughter, Anna, was that very child molested by McDaniel 10 years earlier. Radar tracked down the incident report from McDaniel's arrest but its allegations were so awful that the site did not print them in full.
Mama June, the woman who previously seemed to only be guilty of buying too much toilet paper in bulk, reportedly reunited with a man who, court papers obtained by Radar reveal, sodomized her 8-year-old daughter:
[Mark McDaniel] "did then and there unlawfully perform an immoral and indecent act which did involve an act of sodomy to Anna Shannon with intent to arouse and satisfy the sexual desires of said accused and said act involving the mouth of said Anna Shannon and the sex organ of the accused," district attorney Tommy K. Floyd wrote in Henry County, Georgia court papers obtained by Radar. The abuse occurred multiple times between October 2002 and March 2003.
It should be noted that TLC did not immediately cancel the show after TMZ broke the story - initially stating that they were "reassessing the reports," before deciding the next day to not air an entire new season of episodes. With that, it appeared Mama June would disappear from our consciousness, forever remembered as the fat, poor country mom who dated the man who molested her own daughter.
But, no, Mama June is back for her redemption tour, and her accomplishment of having surgery and getting some skin seared off is being celebrated with very little mention of the controversy around her disappearance in the first place. Now the ~real story~ with Mama June is whether or not she was wearing a fat suit in some of the clips, and not whether a woman, as reported, reunited with the registered sex offender who, again, abused her young daughter.
It's not like families who've experienced child abuse haven't been seen on television before - look no further than another TLC show, The Willis Family, where the father was just arrested and arraigned on four counts of child rape. Outside of reality TV, plenty of other programming has employed sexual predators; in 2014, Stephen Collins, who played the dad (and virtuous pastor) on 7th Heaven, admitted to child molestation, and Glee's Mark Salling was indicted on child porn charges (Salling pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial while free on bail).
Another reality TV family to survive an atrocious sex scandal is the Duggars. In May of 2015, news broke that Josh Duggar, the eldest brother in the 19 Kids and Counting clan, had sexually abused young girls - including his own sisters.Amid public outrage, TLC suspended the show, which felt like a victory - until TLC turned around and gave them another show, Counting On, just a few months later. Josh is on the show, but bizarrely and strategically hidden behind his baby, or a pillar, or a bush, every time he's in a scene. TLC has decided to pretend Josh doesn't exist, as they merrily cobble together a world in which they and viewers can ignore that he fondled his sisters' genitals and his parents didn't report it for a year.
Mama June, however, is allowed to be front and center because she's now a size 4, and there's nothing we Americans like better than a fallen woman's redemptive weight loss story, especially when a woman's fat was what made her so famous in the first place.
Fat has always been a part of the Mama June story. Here was a down home country mom owning her fat on Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, while viewers at home are buying organic unsalted sunflower butter for their kids, Mama June was unafraid to feed her girls Go Go Juice, sketti, and pigzilla sandwiches. This family was as unself-conscious about food and their figures as Americans came, and it was this ease with their real selves that allowed Middle Americans to relate to them while causing equal levels of fascination in East and West Coasters subsisting on $11 green juice.
Naturally, weight loss is the ultimate atonement. How could Mama June know what she was doing when she was fat? She was just a poor, dumb caterpillar waiting to unleash the skinny, smart butterfly within! And now that she has, it doesn't matter that she, at one point, dated a child molester. It's almost like her alleged misdeeds disappeared along with the fat, and now we're rushing to laud her incredible transformation.
Naturally, weight loss is the ultimate atonement. How could Mama June know what she was doing when she was fat?
Celebrity weight loss has long been a cultural obsession - breathless headlines celebrate Jennifer Hudson's "incredible weight loss journey" and Christina Aguilera's "stunning 49-pound weight loss," and Jersey Shore's Snooki never looking better after dropping 42 disgusting pounds. Hell, entire slideshows on the subject exist all around the internet. If you want to remain in the news as a woman, the best thing you can do is lose weight.
It's not hard to see why these celebrity women (and really, most women) are obsessed with it - weight loss and thinness are the hallmarks of being admirable and desirable in a female body. The pinnacle of this is Mama June on From Not to Hot, a show that proves weight loss and thinness are enough to forgive the horrific child abuse scandal around her. The message the celebrity industrial complex further disseminates with From Hot to Not is that if you can manage to achieve hallowed skinniness, then you are good by virtue of this alone. (Of course, many of those rules don't apply to men, as evidenced most glaringly by President Trump, a fat man who coasted into office while demeaning and vilifying fat women.)
Biases against fat women are ingrained in our nation's psyche. According to a Yale study, fat women standing trial are seen as less trustworthy by male jurors. Isn't that what our nation's biggest television stars do, night after night? Stand trial with American viewers? Unfortunately, where Mama June is concerned, she's getting the retrial you would think her daughter's degradation and suffering would have rendered impossible.
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