You may have heard that Miranda Hart – the woman who built a wildly successful TV sitcom out of jokes about her size – is wading into the dangerous arena of exercise videos. If not, let us paint you a picture: Miranda, her on-screen best friend, on-screen mother, and on-screen love interest, some weirdly interspersed comedy sketches, and a pair of maracas. Described by the woman herself as a “riotous camp, cheesy pop disco”, the compilation of weight-shifting dance moves and humorous asides could possibly be the most fun you’ve ever had trying to obtain an identifiable level of fitness. Either that, or it could be as much fun as the time you tried boxercise at the gym and were reduced to tears by an ex-serviceman screaming in your face about cellulite.
If DVDs now must be used for fitness, rather than interesting things like facilitating sofa-centric Monty Python reruns and making into “thrifty Christmas decorations”, you could do a lot worse than Miranda teaching you how to strengthen your calf muscles with the least sophisticated instrument since the triangle. But, of course, the aim of these Christmas-time exercise-fests is not to train you for a marathon or improve your musculature so much as it is to “help” you – and by you, we mean predominantly women – lose weight. Miranda’s entire shtick is supposed to be that she is offensively large to the types of ridiculously uptight people who populate wedding dress stores and go to boarding school reunions, but cares so little that she will tuck into an entire Black Forest Gateau at opportunities as tenuous as “it’s 4pm”. Now that she’s part of the exercise video phenomenon, we can’t help but feel a sense of disappointment.
As she navigates the world of the size 20 woman who is nicknamed “Queen Kong” by supposedly well-meaning old friends in Miranda, Hart shows us a character privately happy with her size but often publicly shamed by others for it. She happily orders the three richest courses at restaurants when her weight-conscious peers torture themselves over salads and black coffees, but when confronted with a snooty shop assistant, quickly becomes flustered and tells her, “I’m a size ten. Ten-ty.” The fact that the Miranda would be quite happy the way she is if only people stopped judging her for the way she looks (or assuming, as her mother often does, that she will never achieve the ultimate female goal of marriage because of it) is made very evident. And now she’s selling weight loss tips in a stocking-filler video at Christmas. In character. With maracas.
It’s particularly cruel that this development has come at Christmas, the one time of year when we’re all supposed to be able to drink a cocktail made of whipped eggs, cream and bourbon at eight in the morning, and pass into a post-roast food coma by early afternoon. The sadistic tendency of marketers to take advantage of this one indulgent opportunity by releasing a weight-oriented exercise routine surprises us with its inventiveness every year: where Davina McCall’s Fit in 15 once promised to sweat you sexy in a quarter of an hour, Josie Gibson off Big Brother can now make you “lose up to 5 pounds a week” with 30 Second Slim. Presumably, Miranda won’t be making bold claims to rid you of bingo wings in ten second maraca stints. But, strange as it seems, her latest development is certainly part of a genre dominated by Lycra-clad twentysomethings in crop tops who show off their aggressively perfect abs and guilt trip you out of Christmas pudding. Whether or not the delightfully named Maracattack is enacted with more self-knowledge and irony than your average D-list-celebrity-turned-fitness-instructor, an exercise DVD with sketches, pug T-shirts and maracas is still an exercise DVD. Advertisements make clear that this isn’t a spoof; rather, it is – in the words of Amazon.com – an “unconventional workout regime”.
Those in support of Miranda’s latest career move may point to the fact that she espouses “normal person exercise” as a virtue, rather than your average super-punishing programme fit only for Olympic athletes and bound to batter your self-esteem in days. Perhaps the sight of her and Patricia Hodge in festive wear truly will encourage those whose weekly experiences of fitness only stretch to lifting the remote control to start dancing blithely round their living room. Maracattack could be the gateway drug to the gym for previously committed slobs everywhere, after all.
Why, then, does it feel like a bit of a betrayal? It could be because Miranda previously offered a safe place from the relentless insecurity-driven market of women’s consumer goods: a market that reaches its fever pitch at Christmas. In many ways, it is comedy at its gentlest, populated heavily by farces, puns and slapstick. It deliberately separated itself from – and made explicit fun of – the pressure to “watch your weight”, to “not be naughty with food”, to “have an exercise routine” (however fun that exercise routine may be.) And as it blends its characters and sketches with the expertise of fitness instructor Amelia Watts in 2013, something feels like it’s gone awry.
Miranda built an entire comedy out of society’s unnecessary demands on women. Did she find out that she couldn’t beat them, and so decided to join them?