There are so many reasons to love Donna Meagle. She’s sassy. She’s full of quick wit. She’s also lovably & relatably “temperamental, unpredictable, complex, and hard-to-read.” As April Ludgate continued to so brilliantly put it, Donna will “make people work before you let them in; but if they put the time in & prove that they care, then you open yourself up to them… right?”
Right, April. If you remember this episode of Parks & Rec, it’s at this moment that April realizes that Donna’s Dog Patronus* isn’t a dog at all. Donna’s Patronus is actually (perfectly) a cat!
But personally, as a fat woman who finally (re)watched all of Parks & Recreation from start-to-finish over the last two months (INCLUDING the final season this time), I found an even deeper profound appreciation for Donna “Treat Yo Self” Meagle… and Retta, obviously. Because without Retta bringing life to this character, Donna wouldn’t be the same.
Fair warning: If anyone is like me, putting off the finale of P&R for fear of it really, truly ending (I get it, trust me), you may want to stop reading here because there will be Donna-related spoilers.
Donna Meagle is a self-made mogul
She started as an Office Manager for the Parks & Recreation department in Pawnee. As seasons progressed, Donna revealed she was also an investor, with ownership in the Snakehole Lounge nightclub, Rent-a-Swag, and Tom’s Bistro. Are you sensing a pattern here? One of Donna’s best friends (if not THE best friend) was debatably Tom Haverford, a fellow mogul and lover of luxury. Donna & Tom would take many trips in her Benz (arguably the most important thing in Donna’s life) and spend their money on clothes, fragrances, massages, mimosas, and fine leather goods – treat yo self. She made her money and spent it – never relying on anyone else. Personal empowerment goals, whaddup?
As seasons progressed, Donna carefully continued to invest in Tom’s ventures, but also ventured outside of investments and into running her own business. In the last few seasons, Donna earned her real estate license. Enter Reagle Meagle Realty, “Find your castle!” In the last season, we see Donna enjoying her big, beautiful Seattle home that she earned with the money she made closing deals on houses left and right. Though her husband Joe contributed, there’s no way a teacher in Seattle would ever be able to afford the luxury on his salary alone.
In a world where weight discrimination in the workplace is very very real, it’s refreshing to see a badass like Donna Meagle win it all. Donna is the definition of #bossbitch, and I’m so happy that her character was written in a way to empower the #bossbitch in all of us.
Donna Meagle can get any man she wants
This is easily one of my most favorite aspects of Donna Meagle because it’s a huge middle finger to society, to misogyny, to every single person who has ever told me that I’d be prettier or hotter if I lost weight.
Even from early on, we knew Donna was a total dude magnet. She openly discussed ex-boyfriends and talked in season six about a fiancé in Denver that won’t last. She’s definitely made a man wait for her in the car, copping an attitude when he doesn’t follow her instructions (granted, this is overexaggerated cruelty, but it’s very clearly satirical, so I’ll allow it). Most of her love affairs were off screen, but occasionally we saw Donna being openly approached by, and in some cases, even turning down conventionally attractive, model-esque, muscular men. You know, the type of men that society tells fat women we could never have… but we can, and Donna does.
My favorite scenario happened when the Parks & Rec department took kids to the Indianapolis Colts stadium for Play 60. Donna openly rejected an NFL player (Robert Mathis) who approached her with “‘Sup Girl?”, telling him flatly, while texting on her phone, “keep walking 98.”
Ben is shocked, asking her “You don’t want to talk to that guy? He plays in the NFL!”
Donna retorted, still focusing on her phone, “He’s a linebacker. Skill positions only for Donna Meagle.”
HELLO?! This is brilliant because the truth is, most people believe fat women should be thankful or grateful that any man would even acknowledge her, let alone try to pick her up. And that man is in the NFL?! Fatphobics angrily foam at the mouth with the thought of a fat woman getting something that good. …But what did Donna do? She literally smashed that thought process with a hammer. It was definitely a moment that had me howling with laughter & jumping for joy.
Oh, and don’t think she didn’t clearly share her feelings when she wanted something… because she did. And when she did, it was 100% fearless & glorious – something I have never been able to be in my skin.
Donna Meagle is realistic, complete with vulnerability
Granted, Donna is strong and confident as hell, and as a fat woman, I want to embody that. I think a lot of us do. However, Donna is also real, even showing some of her vulnerabilities in a few episodes. For example, in the cat Patronus episode above, Donna gets upset and storms out when April thoughtlessly assigns Donna a “poodle” as her dog match. She feels like April truly hasn’t bothered to get to know her or understand her, and she’s visibly hurt by it, unafraid of addressing her hurt feelings.
In season 6, Ron and Donna are volunteering at the elementary school where Donna’s ex Joe (actor Keegan Michael Key) works as a music teacher. Donna tells Ron she doesn’t like who she becomes around Joe, and Ron immediately puts his guard up. After some interaction with Joe, Ron realizes Joe is actually pretty great (and a fellow woodworker to boot). When Ron prodded her for more information (a rare move from Ron Swanson), Donna reveals that she thinks Joe is too “boring” for her fast-paced, glitzy lifestyle. Ron leaves her with some sage advice, as Ron usually does – “Don’t confuse drama with happiness.”
It seemed at that moment that Donna came to a halt. She was afraid to let Joe back in, for fear of changing the lifestyle she enjoyed, but Ron’s words seemed to see right through her. Inevitably, we see her ask Joe out at the end of the episode (on her terms, of course)… and in Season 7 (SPOILER), we see that Donna’s high quality lifestyle (her love of glitz, glam, and treating herself) hasn’t changed all that much, despite being married to Joe the “boring” school teacher.
Everything boils down to this: Donna Meagle isn’t just another lazy attempt at a fat woman trope or a Black woman trope. Donna is complex, busting stereotypes wide open. She developed into the type of complex, noteworthy character that I want to see in TV shows and movies across the board. She is loveable, she is inspiring, but most importantly: she is relatable representation on our TV screens.
*Point of note: I’m using the term “Patronus” because the term “Spirit Dog” that P&R used is kin to “Spirit Animal,” which is offensive to indigenous and native communities & beliefs