Little Women And Heavy Husbands: A Brief History Relating To The Outrage Against Average-Sized Women

Remember Jennifer Livingston, the reporter who publicly denounced the asshole who wrote her an extensive, pseudo-concerned letter about how Livingston needs to be a better role model with regard to her weight?

What about how Mindy Kaling regularly faced criticism while her show was starting up, with comments often crossing over into involving her appearance? The fact that she’s on the more normal-size of things has been criticized as encouraging women to be… well, normal-sized. Which is apparently bad, or something.

Or the way Lena Dunham has had her weight insulted by several writers numerous times? Some have called her decision to show her body in all its non-size 0 glory a “bad influence” that will somehow help young females think it’s all right to not be thin, which is obviously a terrible, horrible thing, too.

In the past couple years, concern-trolling has been a national pastime among those who wish to control females’ body images.  It ranges from telling a newscaster to lose weight to insisting that photos of plus-size models are worse for women’s health than standard-size models in fashion.

What bothers me about the anger surrounding is that there have been normal and overweight people on television for ages and ages; up until now, however, they were primarily men. Men who dated small women. Men who married thin women. Men whose weights were, at most, used as the occasional joke on Family Guy or SNL but mostly just ignored.

Whether it’s animated shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, a classic like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or even a pretty shitty sitcom that’s somehow lasted for nearly a decade (I’m looking at you, King of Queens), there are dozens of examples for the “skinny wife with overweight husband” television tradition.

Where's Uncle Phil's care-trolling letter?

Young, pretty women with goofy-looking guys, often ones who are overweight, is something that we see so much on television, we don’t really question it any longer. Even Modern Family, which has plenty of non-Brad Pitt archetype actors whether it’s with regard to weight, age or simply being a ginger, the female characters are all great looking, particularly the wives who are thin, barely wrinkled and incredibly pretty.

Having a male with a large belt size is not a big deal; people will treat him the same way on the show and off. Critics don’t typically mention his appearance, nor will anybody insist that it’s a problem that needs to be changed. Dieting will usually not be mentioned by his character on a regular basis. A more normal-sized woman, on the other hand, often has her plot lines driven by her weight. Tabloid coverage will revolve around it. People will comment on it in reviews, in blog posts, in public.

And weight isn’t the only aspect of actresses where there’s not a whole lot of diversity. Another simple example is complexion. Male actors are seen as distinguished when they obtain wrinkles. Patrick Dempsey, George Clooney, Russell Crowe, Gerard Butler… all of them have wrinkles, yet they’re all still seen as incredibly attractive men. Women, on the other hand, are all but tossed out the window once they start showing signs of aging, while most of the ones who continue getting roles into their 50s and 60s are ones who barely show any noticeable features of time passing on their faces.

Also, if men faces have scars, it’s considered “character,” whereas I can only think of a single famous female with facial scars (Tina Fey). I can’t recall any women with acne scars, either, but I can recall several men with them.

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    • Nancy

      Wonderfully written post!

      • Cee

        Agree! All her posts seem to be wonderfully written

    • Somnilee

      Samantha, I’ve only recently come back to the Gloss after a bit of a break (too much of what I’m not interested in, sorry), but I’d like to say I really like your posts. Keep up the good work!

    • Lastango

      “the reason so many husbands on television shows are overweight and frequently have traits deemed undesirable… (is because) making normal, “everyday” men feel as though they can obtain the “ideal woman” drives the entertainment value up for male audiences.”


      IMO it’s because these men are intended to be foils to their oh-so-smart, pretty wives, and it’s easier to make them into ridiculous buffoons if they’re fat.

      There’s a reason men don’t watch these shows.

    • emma pete

      I will never understand why websites break up articles into multiple pages. Please stop doing this.

      • Cee

        Have we actually become THAT lazy? Now we have truly earned the lazy American titles we get.

      • Samantha Escobar

        I know what you mean; sometimes clicking between pages is a little annoying when you just wanna read straight through. But, I actually break it up for a couple reasons! :)

        1) When a reader wants to find something they read, it’s much simpler for them to pinpoint if there are a few shorter pages to find it on rather than a neverending scroll of text.

        2) If there are multiple images–especially GIFs–that are in the article, it can aggravate some people’s computers and/or phones to have to load them all at once.

        3) It’s much easier on people with bad eyes, like me, haha.

      • CCH

        That is NOT why. It’s so the ads get more views.

      • Aoki


      • Alyssa

        First world problems.

    • Sarah

      I enjoyed this post, and generally agree with the points you made. Though, when I think about it, I do know a lot of similar real-life couples; that goes both ways–a lot of stick thin husbands with fuller-figured ladies.

      My elfen dad and his siblings totally exemplify this standard: he and his brothers married voluptuous women. My aunts (each weighing less than 100 lbs & very short) all ended up with dudes over 6 feet tall and 200 lbs minimum. I have the same body type and also married a big & tall man. My curvy sisters-in-law & my lean brothers. Maybe a more physical reflection of “opposites attract,” I don’t know. (Personally, as a tiny neurotic person, I’d like to think keeping a hulking dude around will save me from being crushed to death some day.)

      Anything designed to have such a mass appeal, like sitcoms & McDonalds, is going to be bland/lame/formulaic/stereotypical. Fortunately, it is starting to change for the better. It looks like slowly, the masses are growing weary of their comfort zone. Keep supporting the Tinas and Mindys! (and not fast food chains?)

    • Larissa

      Really fantastic article! except now I’m pissed/sad at the state of society, because it’s so damn true.

    • MR

      Good for you. Maybe I could have said it clearer than I have. Any man who knows good sex has it with a woman who is at least normal weight.

    • Sophie

      When fit guys stop working out their muscle turns to fat, simple as. That combined with drinking alcohol of course & getting a beer gut.

      That is why you see quite a few average-looking middle-aged guys with guts and a beautiful lady on their arm – After a while of being in a relationship, people make less of an effort to look good & this is more common with males than it is with females because in general males care less about appearance & materialistic things than females do.

      Just take a look at some retired sports stars – Most of them are overweight after a few years of being retired because they don’t maintain their body like they used to.

      • Jess McCloskey

        Saying “simple as” doesn’t change your factually incorrect statement into one that makes sense. Muscle does not turn into fat. That is a physical impossibility; they are two completely different things in the body.

        Do athletes let themselves go at some point and become overweight? Sure, some. But it isn’t because muscle breaks the laws of physics and turns into a completely different type of matter. It’s usually because former athletes continue to eat the way they used to, but do not work out to the same levels of intensity. Often it’s just because we all tend to get softer as we get older.

    • Jenn

      Love this post. Thank you for addressing this topic.

    • Casey

      Great topic. I’d also like to point out that I’ve noticed it not being entirely a weight issue. Take the “Jay and Silent Bob” franchise, for instance. Each film features the two “stereotypical” stoner/loser guys dating conventionally very attractive women such as Shannon Elizabeth. I realize that this genre of films is marketed toward a younger, male demographic… but it sends the same unrealistic message. I can’t tell you how many guys I went to high school with who felt like they were entitled to a 10 when they themselves were barely a 4 (in the personality AND looks department). It’s because of the same message being spouted through every form of media.

    • camilla

      This is a great article and I don’t see how having healthy women (BMI between 18.5 and 25) on tv promotes obesity.. Even fat women on tv, does not promote obesity in my opinion.. Tv should, on some level, reflect real life so considering that more than 30% of Americans are obese, we should have more overweight caracters on tv, women and men..

      we should not make obesity “desirable”, but we should not pretend it doesn’t exist either…

    • Natasha

      Please stop calling women who are not thin “normal-sized.” By referring to any particular size as normal, you are making women of other sizes feel bad about themselves. I know this sounds like a first world problem, but I’ve been thin-shamed and told to “eat a sandwich” because of my naturally thin body. My size is normal for me.

    • Steph

      This is exactly why I found the show Roseanne to be so refreshing.