Hustle Mindset

Netflix’s ‘Survival Of The Thickest’ Redefines Coming Of Age


Michelle Buteau is always on. And I mean that in the best way. She never runs out of jokes. She never runs out of charisma. She’s always got titties on the mind. And it just works.

And so does she. She’s everywhere and we love to see it. The “Adulting” podcast she co-hosts with Jordan Carlos is insightful and hilarious, she’s a host on the second season of “Barbecue Showdown” (where she adds levity to some intense grilling moments), and and her new Netflix series, “Survival of the Thickest,” dropped last week. On it, Buteau plays Mavis, a saucy stylist in her late 30s navigating her budding career and newly single existence after a brutal breakup. (TV and film writers and actors, including those who worked on “Survival of the Thickest,” are on strike over fair pay and working conditions in the streaming era.)

The show is sweet and funny, yes, but it also attempts something a little unorthodox: the portrayal of a grown woman having a coming-of-age moment. “For some reason, in movies and TV shows, once you turn 25 or something, you’re supposed to have it all figured out. That’s not so,” Buteau said. Our physical and emotional evolution is supposed to be a lifelong journey, truly. And the idea that we should get to a stable place (in our 20s, at that) and stop growing there feels both unrealistic and stifling.

“You could be in your 40s, 50s, 60s, whatever, and still try to figure out what you want to do. You don’t have to hang out with that friend if they don’t fulfill you,” she said. “You don’t have to be with that person if you’re not having an orgasm. You don’t have to be in that job if you don’t even like what you’re doing.”

Buteau’s Mavis evolves throughout the series to learn that she’s more in control of her own fate than she’s always been led to believe. Her character, Buteau said, reminds her of her own ability to thrive in chaos. Another parallel I found is that both her and her character intentionally and vocally instill confidence in other women and femmes.

“Repeat after me,” Mavis tells a nervous model that she’s styling, in the very first scene of the show. “‘I am worthy. I am perfect. I am enough.’”

In the brief 30 minutes we spent together, Buteau managed to gas me up too. “OK, I see you in that short dress,” she told me as we settled in for the interview. Thank you, Michelle. I dressed up for you, obviously.

“You could be in your 40s, 50s, 60s, whatever, and still try to figure out what you want to do,” Buteau said.

Justin J Wee for HuffPost

Body acceptance (the less ableist version of body positivity, some argue) is a motif on the show as well, as it is in Buteau’s life and work. Not being skinny, for women of color, often means literally and metaphorically taking up more space in a world that oftentimes wants to reduce or flatten us. Buteau loves her biscuits, she tells me. As she should.

In order to fight that battle, she added, we need to have patience with ourselves. “We want to be woke and wild and take up space and be the big-tittied Puerto Rican Rachel Maddow for ourselves and everybody else, but we’ve got to start somewhere. So just walk before you run and protect your peace,” Buteau said.

Michelle Buteau photographed at the HuffPost studios on June 28 2023
Michelle Buteau photographed at the HuffPost studios on June 28 2023

Justin J Wee for HuffPost

Feeling balanced means continuing to work on your relationship with yourself (it’s the most important relationship you’re ever going to have, Buteau said). And while becoming your own biggest supporter is a radical concept, it propels Mavis to new heights on “Survival of the Thickest,” and it’s helped Buteau come to the realization that she is well deserving of her success and happiness.

“I feel like as the plus-size actress, I’m always supposed to be so thankful someone finds me attractive. No, fuck that,” she said. “In this show, the mission statement is, it is not us that needs to catch up to the world, it’s the world that needs to catch up to us.”

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