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Does Glee Have a Muddled Message When It Comes to Body-Image Issues?

It may be time to accept the fact that what we see when we're watching Glee is apparently not what the creators intended. That's what hit us last night when a shirtless Finn roamed the halls of McKinley High — the Finn who was so insecure about his body that he wore a swim-shirt to the pool and was implied to be fat by his fellow glee-clubbers (he was even gently told by his girlfriend, "You have a different body type," as though he were a refugee guest star from Mike & Molly) — and though students turned away in apparent disgust, it was impossible not to notice all the visible abs produced from Cory Monteith's apparent two-hour workouts.

How else to react when Rachel says to Finn, "I don't look like Brittany or Santana, but you still think I'm hot," a sentiment that would be sweet if Lea Michele hadn't dieted herself down to Brittany-and-Santana levels over the summer, which she recently showed off for Terry Richardson and, in fact, was showing off while delivering that very line in a tight, flattering sweater? Then again, we're not sure if the Glee writers have actually ever seen the actresses who work on their show; it would at least explain this season's constant obsession with Santana's supposedly enhanced breasts, which truly don't look any different.

How else to react when Rachel says to Finn, "I don't look like Brittany or Santana, but you still think I'm hot," a sentiment that would be sweet if Lea Michele hadn't dieted herself down to Brittany-and-Santana levels over the summer, which she recently showed off for Terry Richardson and, in fact, was showing off while delivering that very line in a tight, flattering sweater? Then again, we're not sure if the Glee writers have actually ever seen the actresses who work on their show; it would at least explain this season's constant obsession with Santana's supposedly enhanced breasts, which truly don't look any different.

One thing the episode did do right was satirizing the overzealously ultrabuff Sam (even if the show had to suddenly twist him into a braggy narcissist in order to do it), but even that was undercut in so many ways. Glee has already de-shirted Chord Overstreet at every opportunity — they've practically got an abs cam for him now — so when it comes to attacking the pernicious ideal of the perfect male body, we know which side the show is really on (and it's the side where Matthew Morrison's tanned, clipped bodybuilder physique gets equal screen time). When Finn says, "I'm kinda insecure about how I look," it's not afforded the same satirical weight as Sam's body plight; we're meant to think that Finn does eat too much at lunch, but when he decides to embrace his inner Brad and show off his carefully sculpted midsection later in the episode (eschewing the character's tighty-whities, for some reason), the only conclusion that can be drawn is that he's suffering from body dysmorphia.

And the thing is, Glee really does have a wide range of body types, at least when it comes to women — Jenna Ushkowitz and Amber Riley aren't stick-thin, though every guy on the show is slender or boasting a six-pack — but it never knows how best to utilize that. Wouldn't Rachel's line have made more sense and conveyed more poignancy if it were Tina saying it to her athletic boyfriend Mike Chang? What kind of message does it send to young girls when even Rachel thinks she's not thin enough? (It's also interesting that while executive producer Ryan Murphy initially promised to add love interests for both Kurt and Mercedes this season, he seems to have dropped those plans for Mercedes entirely, and the Kurt-obsessed media hasn't called him out on it. Will the show's sole overweight character be the last one to get a boyfriend?)

As a series, Glee often likes to have its cake and eat it, too; the show makes plenty of easy gay and Jew jokes, but since it's humanizing those characters, it's intended to all even out in the end. Still, when it comes to body image, that perilous teeter-totter still seems awfully weighted to one side. The classic line from Murphy's plastic-surgery pop drama Nip/Tuck was "Tell me what you don't like about yourself," and though a high schooler would have a lot of responses to that loaded question, would Glee really understand the answers?

Photo: Fox/Hulu