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Image consciousness: Cathryn Michon’s new comedy film promotes positive body image

 Melissa Peterman, left, and writer-director-actor Cathryn Michon star in "Muffin Top: A Love Story." Deraney PR


Melissa Peterman, left, and writer-director-actor Cathryn Michon star in “Muffin Top: A Love Story.”
Deraney PR

Do creators have to suffer for their art? Well, in the case of writer-director-actor Cathryn Michon, the indignities of a bad breakup and the levels to which she sunk to conform to ideals of beauty turned out to be a fertile ground for comedy. First a book and now a movie, “Muffin Top” is a “body image rom com” that takes a farcical look at a serious issue. The film gets its sneak preview this Monday, with a red carpet screening at Fiesta 5, with the select members of the cast and director in attendance.

“Muffin Top: A Love Story” is about Suzanne (Michon), whose husband dumps her for a younger, skinnier model. She’s helped by her best friend Elise, played by Ms. Michon’s real-life best friend, the Tony-winning (for “Hairspray”) Marissa Jaret Winokur. And the man Suzanne goes out of her way to woo is played by David Arquette. Other funny people in the cast include Maria Bamford, Dot-Marie Jones (“Glee”) and the recently passed and sorely missed Marcia Wallace.

“I got into that self-esteem shame spiral,” Ms. Michon says of her real-life break-up, and that focused on body image. She then quotes a statistic she found while researching: 96 out of 100 women think one bad thought about their bodies every day. “I think that’s low. I think four of those women are lying or in a coma. And one bad thought? I’d love to get it down that low. That would be a victory.”

At first she made the story into a 2004 book, published by Harper Collins. (Ms. Michon, by the way, is the author behind the “Grrl Genius” series of humorous self-help guides.)

But the “book wanted to become a movie” and she made it happen.

She could have cast somebody else in the film, especially the amount of mortifying “fixes” her main character puts herself through, but Ms. Michon decided to put herself out there.

“My body fat was the only special effect we could afford,” she jokes. “The film is very close to my own experiences, and I love that about the film. It’s authentic, insecure, sweet and romantic. Because in real life, I did find the love of my life and it’s sweeter the second time around.” Her husband, W. Bruce Cameron, is a co-writer on the film and an author in his own right (“A Dog’s Purpose” and “8 Simple Rules for Marrying My Daughter”).

The film got financed for distribution through a Kickstarter campaign that raised 120 percent of its goal.

“We are living in the age of audience empowerment,” she said. “And the trailer went viral and people wanted to bring it to their town. It used to be that movie studios told you what would happen to the movie and where it would go, but now people are part of their art.”

Santa Barbara is one of ten cities that will host the film, and it is doing so with many tickets already pre-sold. But don’t worry, there are still tickets available.

Along with laughter, which is the movie’s main goal, Ms. Michon hopes the film raises awareness on body image. As she has two daughters through her husband’s previous marriage, she can see how soon young girls start to critique the way they look. So now count body image as one of those important parental talks one should have as early as possible.

“Women see an average of 200 to 400 advertising images every day and they’re all impossible images,” she says. “So you can shift your consciousness every day by saying to yourself, ‘These are fake! That’s a painting on the cover of ‘Vogue.’ ”

Ms. Michon loves that the image of herself on the movie poster is the most unflattering one, and would love to see it everywhere, on huge billboards if possible. She stopped worrying about such things and now finds it empowering. It can be a slogan, she says.

“Use my fat for good and not evil!”

“Muffin Top: A Love Story”
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Fiesta 5 Theatre, 916 State St.
Cost: $13
Information: www.muffintopmovie.com for tickets

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