Issue #1: Fat Girl and PEN15

All good art is about middle school.

Simone Polanen

🎉Happy First Inaugural Issue of HB/LB🎉

First off, if you don’t know why you’re here, you should read the HB/LB Manifesto. Basically, each week, I write about two things I like. One is highbrow, one is lowbrow, I refuse to proof read bla bla bla bla blaaaaa.

Let’s just get on with it, shall we?


This week’s HIGHBROW selection is one of my favorite films of all time, Fat Girl. It also has one of the worst title translations in the history of cinema. The original title, “À Ma Sœur” translates more or less to “To My Sister.” But, to be fair to the distributors, sisters tend to be girls so they got it half right.

The 2001 film is directed by Catherine Breillat. Yeah, that Catherine Breillat. The one who is a vocal #MeToo DETRACTOR. The one who very publicly dragged Asia Argento in the press. Yes, that Asia Argento. The one with the heartbreaking H*rvey W**nst**n story. And the one with sexual assault allegation lodged against her.


From dark origins comes… an even darker film. Yeah, I’m not gonna mince words. It’s a fucked up movie. And this recommendation comes with every possible trigger warning. Despite all this, I find it to be one of the most generous representations of a young woman’s internal world.

Though Breillat loves to explore the more sinister corners of humanity, her lens is a loving one. She centers a chubby pre-teen girl in a twisted coming-of-age story and lets her breathe and unfold as a fully complex and tragic figure.

I knew nothing about the film going into my first viewing, so I’ll stop myself here and just say, go seek it out yourself. Just… if you’re feeling sensitive, maybe just give it a beat before you do.

You can rent it on Amazon Prime for $4. It is also in the Criterion Collection, which is an automatic HIGHBROW qualifier.


I actually hate that I’ve decided to base my whole newsletter on the fake dichotomy of HIGHBROW vs LOWBROW. Neither is an arbiter of quality or value, and it’s actually a classist, racist, and patriarchal construct.

The only reason this next recommendation — which is extremely high in quality — is categorized as lowbrow is because my own internal rubric is basically “would my old film professors and/or the art boys I tried to sleep with in college be impressed if I referenced this thing.” And my guess for this selection is, “no.” But that’s only because they have bad taste and only value stories about middle school girls if they’re approved by the Criterion Collection.

That being said, this week’s LOWBROW selection is PEN15 on Hulu. Talk about honoring the internal world of the pre-teen girl! The show is grounded in its storytelling, specific in its humor, beautiful in its portrayal of friendship and TRULY FUNNY and chock-full of jokes.

If butterfly clips, Delias fashions and calling in to your local radio station to win backstage passes to the B*Witched concert are triggers for you, then this is your warning.

PEN15 follows Maya and Anna, two seventh graders taking on middle school together. They work through crushes, school dances, mean girls, AIM, periods, horniness, always being told you’re the Scary Spice of the group because you’re the one non-white one. You know, stuff we all worked through and are still working through. Just because you’re Black doesn’t mean you can’t be Baby Spice! And that’s true now more than ever!!!!

On the show, all the 13-year-olds are played by real life 13-year-olds — except for the central characters, who are portrayed by 31-year-olds Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. And it works perfectly.

The show has been one of my greatest sources of joy. My life has actually been worse ever since I finished it. It is one of the best, most well-made first seasons in television history, and you can hold me to that.

Okay, I feel like this has been enough rambling, yeah? You got your two recs, and that is all I have to give.

You made it to the end of the first issue of HB/LB. Thank you for reading!