Drop Dead Diva

Produced by Josh Berman for Sony Pictures Television, the TV series Drop Dead Diva aired for a healthy six seasons, from 2009 to 2014. As part of the popular “body swap” genre, its premise is: Young blonde model Deb has a fatal car accident and, due to a heavenly glitch, returns to Earth in the body of a lawyer named Jane (Brooke Elliott) who technically died, but was revived at the last minute.

Once the viewer accepts one impossible premise, all the succeeding ones are easy. A plot wrinkle is that, while Deb retains her own memories and emotions, she inherits Jane’s legal knowledge and social justice warrior instincts. So the result is a new Jane whose top-lawyer genius is hybridized with Deb’s effervescent personality.

For our purposes, however, the important point is that Jane is not only a brunette, but portly, rotund, stout — what the heck, she’s obese. Reviewer Evette Dionne writes,

According to researchers at Michigan State University, less than 5 percent of all television characters are obese and only 15 percent are overweight. Of these characters, most are inscribed with negative stereotypes, like poor self-esteem, horrible socialization skills, and dating awkwardness.

Deb’s former roommate — another gorgeous model — accepts her in the new body at once. But can her former fiance make the same leap? See, as it turns out, Jane works same law firm as the guy Deb had planned to marry. But, of course, he’s in the dark about the switch.

Rather than introduce him to the metaphysical mystery, Jane/Deb keeps quiet, curious to learn if Grayson will fall in love with her again in this plus-size body. That is the crux of the whole series. Will Jane ever be able to reveal to him her true Deb identity?

The eternal dilemma

The question is a crucial one for humans everywhere who carry too much poundage. A lot of overweight people feel like they contain a different, skinnier, secret, and more desirable person beneath the layers of body fat and concealing clothing. More importantly, “If only they could see the real me” is an emotion shared by all kinds of people who feel, for some reason, like outsiders.

Time passes and Grayson starts dating again, but shows only friendly interest in Jane. She meets a hip judge who goes to festivals like Bonnaroo and Burning Man, and who appreciates her legal mind like nobody ever has before. So the love drama continues to play in the background of all the legal challenges the lawyers face.

So here comes the coolest thing about this show. Although Jane is the main character, very few of the episodes touch on her weight issue at all, and she is certainly not shown to be agonizing over it. And although plenty of other factors conspire to keep the lovers from reconciling. Grayson apparently has no problem, conceptually, with squiring a hefty lady.

The body-image stories lines

The other coolest thing is that overall, very few of the 78 episodes center on body-image plot points. Jane isn’t mainly a fat girl, she’s mainly a competent and complex person with a lot going on. In a weight discrimination case, she is consulted about jury selection because of her sense of which potential jurors have been made to feel “other-ized” by society. For instance, a woman wearing a scarf to hide her double chin, and a man in a toupee, would both understand body issues. But that woman who says she has a good metabolism? Dismissed.

Another story line concerns a young woman who sickens from following a diet guru’s advice. Episode #48 is about an eating abnormality, but the substance is not food. In another episode, Jane defends a cocktail server who was fired after gaining 50 pounds.

In Episode #9, Jane and Stacy browse in an upscale boutique. When Jane wants to try on a dress, a clerk says, “She’s not our brand” and the manager says, “It’s intended for a different silhouette.” They are referred to an outlet store that would carry something “appropriate” and pretty much ejected from the store. When Jane was in a slim body, she couldn’t afford high fashion. Now that she can, because of her bulky figure, haute couture is unavailable.

Preparing for court, Jane’s own lawyer scoffs, “If I were on that jury I’d tell you to grow up or go on a diet.” But at least she gets the chance to ask the designer why he doesn’t design for larger women. He replies, “It’s my preference. And my right.” In America, that is indeed the case. And yet the show’s writers put a line in here saying that out of 900 women’s clothing labels, only 20 make clothes available in size 14 or larger.

Jane’s assistant, played by Margaret Cho, used to be overweight too, and she is sympathetic. Her definitive pronouncement is, “We are not the problem. They are.” In the courtroom, Jane’s lawyer puts the big boss on the stand and learns that his wife is size 16, as is the judge. The court case is a loss, but the exec tells Jane later, “You may have lost the battle but you won the war,” and thanks her for pointing out that his company is neglecting an underserved market. So, capitalism wins, and so do plus-size women, kind of.

Two things about Drop Dead Diva: It’s not for kids. Some critics feel that the show is not for adults, either. Which is another discussion.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “‘Drop Dead Diva’s Final Season Marks the End of An Era in the Fat Liberation Movement,” Bustle.com, 03/30/14
Source: “Drop Dead Diva,” EpisodeData.com
Photo credit: PARENTise on Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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