Thank You, Jane the Virgin
“Jane The VIRGIN?” I cried, scandalised, as I scrolled through Netflix. “I’m not sure that’s going to be something I want to watch.” Little did I know that would turn out to be a huge lie.
I was convinced this new show plastered all over Netlfix’s homepage would be something along the lines of The 40 Year Old Virgin and I definitely wasn’t interested in that.
Curiosity (and Netflix marketing) however got the better of me and finally, on the 23rd January 2016, I clicked on the image of a bright faced, beautiful young woman and everything changed.
The premise of the show is as follows: Jane, a young devout Catholic virgin is accidentally artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant.
Instantly, I was hooked. The show was hilarious, sweet and brilliant, with incredible characters and a gripping plot. It was funny and meaningful, uplifting and poignant.
This wasn’t a show making fun of a virgin - it was tender-hearted story of three Latina women, Jane, her mother and grandmother and it completely had my attention.
But there was something else that had my attention more than anything else in the show.
For the first time in my life I was looking at the lead in a film, who I could actually relate to.
I wasn’t watching with the usual thoughts that would subconsciously run through my head. I wish I had that figure. I wonder if I had been blonde and blue eyed would I have actually had more fun? How does she get her hair like that? Those clothes would never work on me - I don’t bend that way.
In fact I didn’t feel inferior at all. I felt - oddly - empowered.
Jane was attainable. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean in the slightest to bring Gina Rodriguez (who plays Jane) down to my level. Gina is stunning and I can’t compare, but I wasn’t looking at Jane with the same thought that usually goes through my head when I see a leading lady - I will never look, sound or be like that.
Instead, I was watching with a strange new sense bubbling up inside me that I had never, ever felt before - She reminds me of me. She was so close to who I am in so many ways.
Jane emoted like I do. She cries when she is happy and sad. She cries a LOT. She FEELS everything and says what she’s feeling, with passion. She is unashamedly romantic. She has dark brown hair and beautiful brown eyes, like mine and her body, although she is thinner and way more toned that I am, is of a similar shape to mine. The colour of her skin was similar to my skin tone, the colour all my boarding school friends use to comment on.
My world had turned upside down. It was like gulping in air when I didn’t know I was gasping for breath.
I am not Latina, like the characters in Jane, but I grew up in a similar hot-blooded culture. I am half Turkish-Cypriot. I have darker skin, brown hair, brown eyes and a medium, round curvy body. All my life, I have wished I had been born with a different body.
Until Jane The Virgin, I had never actually realised that the reason I have never felt beautiful, the reason I have never believed that I have value, has been more to do with the tainted mirror that has been held up to me all my life, then it has to do with me.
How can a woman ever feel she is beautiful, when she is always told that ‘beauty’ never looks like her?
I used to watch TV Series like Anne of Green Gables and wish I could look like Megan Follows. Her gorgeous, rich auburn hair that was so thick, not thin like mine. Winona Ryder in Little Women, oh how I longed to have her small frame and be able to move like her - so petite and tidy. I used to scrutinise the screen, staring at Jennifer Aniston, trying to analyse what I could do to my hair and clothes to make me more like her.
I had decided I was just born unattractive, when in fact I simply came from a different gene pool. It is like a mouse growing up in a family of meerkats thinking there is something wrong with the way he looks.
Gina Rodriguez had experienced this kind of subliminal, unspoken discrimination too. In an interview in the Washington Post she mentions how as a child “she would look at the TV and wonder, Why does no one look like me?...“That lack of visibility, that lack of relatability, really made me feel kind of alone in this world...It really made me feel a certain way about myself, about beauty, what I could and could not be.”
Diversity is a hot topic right now but still, sadly a largely overlooked issue in Hollywood. According to an article in Wmagazine in Digital TV “Latinos made up just 2.7 percent of film roles in 2016, while Asians accounted for 3.1 percent, Mixed Race accounted for 3 percent, and Native Americans accounted for 0.5 percent. Black Americans had 12.5 percent of lead film roles. By comparison, Whites dominated film roles at 78.1 percent.”
I’ve seen these stats take place in real time while following other filmmakers projects. And as much as my white filmmaker friends all love to talk about diversity, I have yet to see a short, curvy, brown haired, dark skinned female lead in their films. To be honest, I think filmmakers should decide for themselves who plays their lead, after all it’s their dream and their vision. But seeing the same choice being made consistently, over and over again simply reaffirms to me and to thousands of women like me, that me and my kind do not fit your idea of ‘beautiful’.
It’s not just about looks. I mentioned earlier that Jane emoted like I do. This was one of the things that I truly connected to in Jane the Virgin - the Latina culture. The way they speak loudly to each other, using wild hand gestures and expressive faces reminded me of my Turkish Cypriot background and the mainland Turkish culture I grew up in. Here in the UK I sometimes hear myself growing passionate about an issue and it’s like I have an out of body experience: I look down and see myself, talking with real emotion and energy while my British friends smile politely and chuckle nervously. I make grand, sweeping statements about people or issues or I talk about my feelings and am met with an uncomfortable wall of silence.
The drama in Jane the Virgin, over even the little things, made it feel normal. It made me feel normal.
I loved the way language was used in the show. Jane and her mother, speak a mixture of English and Spanish with her Abuela - just like some of my own family spoke a strange mix of Turkish and English when I was growing up.
Jane and her family love romance. I couldn’t believe a show on Netflix was telling me, “It’s ok. It’s ok to be this big and this romantic and this brazened about it!”
Even the fact that Jane is in her twenties and still lives at home with her mother and grandmother wasn’t at all strange or unusual to me. It was natural. It was family.
How I wish that I had had Jane at boarding school in the UK in 2001, as a broad shouldered, Northern-Cypriot-thighed-and-hipped 14 year old, trying to make myself invisible among a sea of tiny, white British school girls whose chests never bothered their shirt buttons. Where I was gently but repeatedly mocked for my love of romance, the food I ate and the way I threw my emotions about like handfuls of tiny chocolates.
The problem was I had no frame of reference to tell me that I was normal too.
If you are not a minority, you cannot understand the importance of seeing your culture, language and image represented in pop culture. Pop culture has such a massive influence on day to day life, on how people view the world around them. If you aren’t there, being represented, you become inevitably misunderstood and eventually made fun of for being ‘different.’
An article in the Atlantic put it so well, that Jane the Virgin takes the Latina culture and “makes their point of view the dominant lens of the show.” And it was a point of view so many viewers, full of years of silent underrepresentation understood.
I watched the final episode of the final season today through floods of tears and I didn’t care if anyone saw me. I’ve never cried over a TV show ending before. There must be a reason I cried over this one.
I have my own personal thank you to the show. And here it is:
Had it not been for you, I may never have had the courage to realise that someone who looks like me is beautiful too, and that all the little things that people have scorned, mocked and questioned over the years are what make the beautiful.
Thank you for that.
Love Jay x