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Don’t Call Her Babe: How Miss Piggy Became the Coolest Feminist Pig in America

Single from Kermit for the first time in decades, Miss Missy has a new show—and she’s using her platform to speak about feminist issues. The iconic muppet sat down with us to discuss contouring, leaning in, and her friendship with Halle Berry.

by Mitchell Sunderland
Sep 29 2015, 2:17pm

Image courtesy ABC/John E. Barrett/The Muppets Studio

Miss Piggy is hip. After years playing Kermit the Frog's girlfriend, the opinionated pig has broken off on her own—and audiences are loving her reinvention. Her feminist manifesto for Time went viral. The Brooklyn Museum awarded her the Sackler Center First Award, a feminist prize previously given to Toni Morrison. Last week, 8.9 million people watched the premiere of The Muppets, a new sitcom starring Miss Piggy as the lead character. (You can catch the second episode tonight on ABC at 8 PM.)

The new Muppet show parodies mocumentaries like The Office, taking viewers behind the scenes of Miss Piggy's late night ABC talk show Up Late with Miss Piggy. In between takes, the characters talk in confessional asides. Although Kermit serves as the executive producer of Miss Piggy's hit program, he has left her for an ABC marketer named Denise.

Read More: This Feminist Magician Wants Women in Magic to Lean In

Miss Piggy and Kermit's relationship drama has stepped off TV and into the media. Kermit told US Weekly that Miss Piggy made his life "a bacon-wrapped hell," but with the exception of inane thinkpieces calling Miss Piggy a domestic abuser, the public has celebrated Miss Piggy's independence. The comedienne's grit goes back to way before Kermit dumped her. She was a second wave feminist in the 1970s, supporting herself and hitting Kermit in public because he dissed her, all while defying liberal feminist rules about empowered women staying away from fashion and makeup. Around same time riot grrrls protested in Washington DC, Miss Piggy played as an island government's leader, and as early as 1999, she was beating up government agents, officers of police brutality.

Denise, Miss Piggy, Janice. Image courtesy ABC/Andrea McCallin

All that's changed is Americans are—rightfully—deeming Miss Piggy's attitude cool instead of bad. Our changing views about Miss Piggy reflect America's changing social values through the rise of online feminism and the legalization of gay marriage. Like any great feminist or punk rocker, though, Miss Piggy's behavior has offended family values groups. The One Million Moms has encouraged parents to boycott The Muppets because they find the program "perverted." (Miss Piggy declined to comment on their protests.) Some critics have also taken issue with the show's tone. Buzzfeed called the new show "mean-spirited," and New York Times critic James Poniewozik said, "There are certain things I don't want to know, and where Muppet babies come from is among them."

These critiques misunderstand Miss Piggy and the Muppet's original 1970s appeal. Jim Henson created The Muppet Show as a variety show for adults, which children could also watch. Henson's skits featured visuals appealing to people on psychedelics, as well as edgy rock star Elton John singing "Bennie and the Jets." (This was long before John wrote "Circle of Life.") The Muppets sang about "The Rainbow Connection," but they made cynical jokes on their road trip along the way to the rainbow ending. Family entertainment means laughter for everyone, from horny great-grandpa to young children.

ABC's The Muppets continues to both push boundaries, especially through Miss Piggy's career and romantic plotlines. In the pilot episode, Denise makes jokes about hooking up with Kermit, and Miss Piggy also gets dumped outside a screening of the family movie Pitch Perfect 2. On tonight's episode, Miss Piggy replaces Kermit with a new man, mom song crooner Josh Groban, and terrorizes her employees like Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. After watching the hilarious new sitcom, we sat down with Miss Piggy to discuss contouring, leaning in, and fellow feminist Toni Morrison.

Broadly: You're the first female late night talk show host on network TV since the late great Joan Rivers. Are you nervous about the huge shoes you're filling?
Miss Piggy: Anything that I do is important, but walking in the Jimmy Choo-steps of my dear friend and fellow legend Joan Rivers makes this an especially major endeavor. But while I take my responsibility as a woman and as a celebrity very seriously, I never ever get nervous. I cause others to get nervous.

It must be stressful to get ready for a late show every night. Do you contour? Did you know Rivers?
Joan and I were dear friends, from our first appearance together as battling make-up counter girls in The Muppets Take Manhattan (check it out; we're hilarious!) to an appearance together just last year where we jokingly came to blows over who was the bigger star. (Joan called it "The Thrilla in Manolos") If I may be so bold, Joan and I were two of a kind... and I miss her. Can we talk? You bet! Forever and ever!

Do I contour? Sweetheart, I virtually invented contouring. You see, I've always believed in highlighting my best features by any means possible. Having as many "best" features as I do, it can be difficult to decide which to highlight, but it's well worth the effort. In fact, I've even been trying out "extreme contouring," a refined nose, higher cheekbones, a more demure chin—whatever you want you can achieve it with the right makeup, lighting, and, when all else fails, post-production special effects.

Talk to us about feminism. When did you realize you were a feminist?
All my life, I've been breaking glass ceilings. I always thought that I was doing this for myself, in pursuit of my own dreams. Then, one day, as I was stepping around the shards of broken glass, I realized: I'm doing this for all women! Soon, others noticed my selflessness! And then, this past summer, the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum awarded me their Sackler Center First Award, which has also been awarded to such icons as Toni Morrison, Julie Taymor, and Connie Chung! Anything that results in receiving major awards and accolades is worth doing; that's when I realized I was a feminist.

What inspired you to write the op-ed in Time about feminism?
My publicist, she insisted I write it. But then, once I started writing it, I realized what an important message I had to share. Young women need to know that they can achieve great things in life. Oh sure, they won't be as successful as moi, but they can be the best versions of themselves.

Read More: Ann Coulter Is a Human Being

What are your beliefs as a feminist?
Simple: I believe that any woman can have absolutely anything that she wants in life—as long as it's not something that I want, too.

What's your favorite feminist text?
I admire the writings of Gloria Steinem, a dear friend who interviewed me when I won the Sackler Center First Award. I especially love what she said about women and men: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle." How very true. And if she can give me contact information, I'd love to book that bicycle-riding fish on my show Up Late with Miss Piggy.

You have a reputation as being assertive, or even bossy. Do you think that's a result of society's innate gender biases?
A man is called forceful and demanding, but women are called "assertive" and "bossy." It is a double standard, and it has to change! Of course, no one has ever called me "assertive" and "bossy".... to my face.... and got away with it. I like to think of that as my little "hiiii-yaaa" toward gender equality.

What do you think about Lean In? Should more pigs lean in?
I love to lean in, but if my heels are higher than five inches, I tend to fall over. So, lean in, but make sure you have someone to catch you. As for pigs—or as we prefer to be called, Porcine-Americans—there is also the problem of species bias. When we lean in, we get pushed over. And cows (Bovine-Americans) have it even worse. Cow-tipping, it's got to stop now.

Do you feel like you've been defined as Kermit's girlfriend? How has that affected your identity and perception of yourself?
That was then, this is now. I am very excited about establishing my own identity (and major retail branding) as a strong, single woman, who hosts her own late night talk show on The Muppets, a new primetime TV series airing Tuesday nights at 8 PM on ABC. I appreciate the frog for who he is, what he has done, and what he can do for me in the future. But from now on, we will each be going our own way... Except when we're working together, which is pretty much all the time.

Miss Piggy and Kermit The Frog. Image courtesy ABC/Michael Desmond

Kermit is dating a marketer at ABC, the network airing your late night show. How did you handle this?
As they say at the network, that which makes for a lousy personal life usually makes for great television. So sure, this new situation is going to be challenging—but also very entertaining. Trust me, you won't want to miss an exciting, hilarious thrill-packed moment!

Do you ever run into Denise?
Oh, I know, I could say something catty like. "I'd like to run into her—with my Benz," but that would be a terrible thing to suggest—and my lawyer says it would look really bad should we ever end up in court. So, for the sake of professionalism and possible future litigation, I will just say this about Denise—or whatever her name is—no comment.

Are you dating anyone?
I am dating—a lot—but at the moment there is no "one" special someone. After being in a long-term committed relationship, it's time for me to explore the possibilities of being single. Like the US Marines, I'm looking for a few good (i.e. handsome, supportive, preferably wealthy) men.

What do you look for in a frog?
I don't just date frogs. In fact, these days I'm going out of my way to avoid that species. It will be nice to go out with a man who doesn't eat flies or drip swamp water all over the Carrera marble floor. Of course, if the right handsome, supportive, preferably wealthy frog came along, I'm open to it.

Miss Piggy. Image courtesy ABC/John E. Barrett/The Muppets Studio

Enough about men. Who are your role models as a woman?
I love the stars of Hollywood's golden age— Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, Norma Desmond. But I'm also inspired by my contemporaries. Meryl Streep, Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lawrence—we're all very close. Sometimes we all get together to polish our Oscars... Oh, right, I don't have one—yet. But most of all, I adore any woman in any walk of life who goes out and gets what she wants. In other words, anyone like moi!

Who is your icon?
Audrey Hepburn. I mean, she absolutely defined the little black dress and pearls look that has meant so much to me and so many other women. Plus, she came up with the fabulous idea of Breakfast at Tiffany's. (Without her, I would never have thought of having meals at a jewelry store. Now I do it all the time.) Naturally, over time, I've embellished and updated that look—with lots of help from designer friends like Zac Posen, Marc Jacobs, Jeremy Scott, Christian Louboutin and Jason Wu, Vivienne Westwood. Plus, I look good in anything.

What's the biggest misunderstanding about you?
That all I think about is myself. That's absurd. I also think about others—and what they think of me.

Finish this sentence: Miss Piggy is...
Fabulous, n'est ce pas!?

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