Last night on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the final four became the top three, with Darienne Lake (neé Greg Meyer) being sent packing in what many saw as a just elimination. Bobby Hankinson over on Towleroad summed up the popular sentiment toward Lake when he wrote, “I just can’t get over that acrid personality and those overstuffed jumpsuits.”
Underlying what Hankinson and many others have written about Lake is a palpable, if not always articulated, disdain for her size. To be sure, Lake has proven to be one of the shadier queens on this season—particularly when speaking about fellow contestant BenDeLaCreme—but criticisms of her behavior almost always accompany digs at her weight. For example, last week on the AV Club, Oliver Sava described Lake’s runway look as “mylar balloon realness.” And on Twitter, users regularly attack everything from Lake’s diet to her fabric choices.
Lake is not the first fat queen to compete on Drag Race, but she is easily the meanest. Only one other big girl has made it to the top four, and that was fan favorite Latrice Royale, who won her season’s Miss Congeniality award. Lake stands to win no such honors, nor should she. She did her job in the challenges—often far better than she got credit for—and in the workroom, she did her best to rattle her fellow contestants. It is, after all, a competition, and she was in it to win.
On a recent episode of her podcast, Drag Race diehard Julie Klausner said, “Darienne Lake represents the way I wish all women of size could be, which is just bitter that society is an asshole about it.” Perhaps Klausner is reading too much into Lake’s psyche, but at the end of the day, there is no denying that much of Lake’s worthiness has been discussed in relation to her weight.
Part of the problem is that Lake appeared as both a man and a woman on Drag Race, and critics held her alter egos to different standards. In drag, she was a skilled comic with a razor wit and unexpected physicality. Much of the media praise for Lake involved her ability to paint a beautiful face. But when Lake transformed into Greg Meyer, a 300-pound middle-aged white guy, that which made him a compelling queen rendered him unappealing as a man (and more to the point, a gay man). Fat people have limited options in society. We allow them to be clowns or saints, and pretty much nothing in between. Lake refused to be put into either box, and I applaud her resistance.
Without devoting too much space to last night’s episode, I must say that it depressed me to see Courtney Act make it to the top three instead of Lake. Act, a petite Aussie who bears a striking resemblance to Naomi Watts, is a competent performer—nothing more, nothing less. She sings well enough (though not as well as she or others would have you believe), and her runway looks consistently impress. She’s what Sutton Foster is to Broadway or Amy Adams is to film or Katy Perry is to music—she looks and acts the part, but what’s so special about her? What is she doing that another pixie in a wig couldn’t do?
The pretty, vapid blonde beats the fat girl with a rough-edged personality. It’s like high school all over again. It seems that Drag Race is mirroring the mainstream, and, hunty, trust that it is not a cute look.