*CONTENT WARNING: depression, anxiety and fear of weight gain*
There are many ways to discuss the legacy of BoJack Horseman. One could talk about how it introduced a whole new era of adult-orientated animation, or how its shift to a darker tone after the first six episodes utilised the new form of binge watching created by the rise of Netflix original content. There are many metrics and viewing figures to explain the impact of BoJack Horseman, but what can’t be directly measured is the impact the stories it has told have had on people’s lives.
For context, when the first half of BoJack’s final season was released, I was in (excuse the cliché), a very dark place. My depression (at that point undiagnosed and untreated) had become the overriding force controlling my life. I struggled with the most basic tasks, like showering or even leaving my bed, and became fixated on gaining weight. Due to living in a student house, I didn’t have any scales, and thus became obsessed with examining my own reflection, trying to gauge whether I had lost or gained weight. I knew something was wrong with me, knew people didn’t tend to spend the whole week in their pajamas, but I was scared to seek treatment. One of my main fears was about weight gain, as I worried if I went for help I would be placed on medication, which I had heard could carry the side effect of increased weight gain. My other, opposing anxiety was that I would discover there was nothing wrong with me at all, that everybody felt like this, and I just couldn’t handle it as well as everyone else around me. This was my state, when the sixth season of BoJack Horseman was released.
The character from BoJack Horseman I have always related too most is Diane Nguyen. She likes to write, she’s ambitious but often lazy, she’s not a bad person, but she’s definitely not often good. Throughout the show, Diane keeps chasing new, grand experiences, thinking that they’ll be the solution she’s looking for, and yet she still ends up feeling empty. For two of her most major life decisions, BoJack Horseman decided to redesign Diane. Cartoon characters, by way of form, are always going to look the same. That way, when something about their appearance changes, no matter how small, you know it’s always been done with deliberate intention. In season five, Diane has just divorced her husband, and as part of her rebound experiments with a new haircut. The haircut is a symbol for how, throughout the show, Diane keeps trying new and dramatic ways to feel better about herself, yet never comes close to actually fixing herself. Inner change does not come from the outer world, it comes from making small, often mundane steps to working on yourself. In season 6, Diane is clearly still in a rut. She is working on her book of essays, and yet can only write “I am terrible” over and over again. She has left LA, and yet finds that she is still depressed in Chicago. Her boyfriend Guy encourages her to go on antidepressants, which she is opposed to, citing her fear of weight gain as one of the reasons why she is reluctant to try medication.
However, later in the episode, Diane and Guy reunite after months apart, and Diane has once again been redesigned, to look noticeably heavier. The fear of weight gain coming with recovery was a barrier I could relate too, and this airport reunion between Guy and Diane is the only scene in BoJack that has ever made me cry. Without saying anything, a whole narrative is understood. The implication is clear – her weight gain symbolises that she has begun seeking treatment. In the same way her haircut is a symbol for her refusing to address her issues, her weight gain is a symbol for her recovery. It’s an unequivocal victory, and represented as such by the response from her boyfriend being one of joyful surprise. For someone who has always associated weight with failure, seeing it being presented not as a side effect of medication, but as a positive association with recovery, touched me very personally. Our brains are always going to build barriers to try and prevent us from seeking help, and although it definitely sounds ridiculous, I can credit a Netflix cartoon with helping me to overcome one.
Throughout its six-season run, BoJack Horseman has consistently focused on the moral that recovery is always going to be your responsibility. Your friends will love you, and will help you, but ultimately, it’s a choice you have to make every day to try and get better. Some days it’s harder than others, but it’s a choice you have to keep choosing. As said in the final lines of season 2: “Everyday it gets a little easier […] but you’ve got to do it every day. That’s the hard part. But it does get easier”. Wise words from a talking animated baboon, but it’s true. BoJack Horseman has been with me now for six years, and much as I am reluctant to say goodbye, I know my story with how the show has impacted me is just one of many, and if a show about a talking horse can genuinely help at least one other person out there, then I’d say that’s a very good legacy to leave behind.
– Emma Ingledew