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.
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.
Basically, men have been allowed to be “flawed” in ways regarding both appearance and action, whereas women can only circulate within that personality-flaw realm. Take Zooey Deschanel’s character on New Girl. She’s goofy, makes mistakes frequently and accidentally offends people sometimes, but she’s absolutely stunning. This is where we are supposed to stick around, ladies; we’re allowed to fall, but not allowed to look ugly while doing so.
We all know there’s a double standard for women versus men, of course, but that doesn’t make it all right. And to take an even further step backward in response to the step forward that is having women on television with non-size 2 bodies… well, that’s just a crying shame. Of course, some women are simply thinner and attracted to heavier men, but to consider that the only way–besides two very in-shape people as a couple, of course–relationships can be portrayed regularly on television is crazy. Having men be heavy while women are thin happily on television is just another way of controlling how we feel about ourselves in the public eye; again, we’re allowed to be by their sides at the buffet, but not allowed to eat anything except the salad.
Let’s be honest: the reason so many husbands on television shows are overweight and frequently have traits deemed undesirable while their wives still fit in the traditional beauty standard is likely the exact same reason so many porn stars are chubby, hairy and have incredibly average penises. Making normal, “everyday” men feel as though they can obtain the “ideal woman” drives the entertainment value up for male audiences. Even if that’s not why the audiences choose to watch the show, it is a natural side effect from having the same image of a heavy man with a thin woman driven into your brain over and over.
Now, however, the roles are becoming blurred, even swapped. All the men in The Mindy Project are pretty clearly in shape and stereotypically good-looking, where the women range in body types, skin tones, makeup styles, bone structures… all around, they don’t simply look like the same stamp with different colored hair. Of course, I’m not saying I want all men on television to look the same–however, I do think it’s ridiculous that people are all in a tizzy because of “bad examples” when, in fact, it’s absurd to have nearly every woman on television for the past however many years look similarly medium-tall, thin, high cheekboned, wide-eyed and potentially a model. Isn’t that a more dangerous message than simply showing body diversity?
Having a large array of body types, including ones that are overweight, is not a negative step in the progression of women on TV. Showing young girls that you can look the way you look and feel beautiful, as opposed to being bombarded with women who have very similar body types to one another, which only encourages girls to think that all body types are supposed to be homogeneous. Diversity promotes acceptance; repetition encourages duplication.
Having women on television–and men, too–with all sorts of appearances is a good thing. No, it’s a great thing. The fact that in the past couple of years, a series of non-standard beauties have popped up all over the map and are completely unabashed about showing their bodies is fucking awesome.
Do I sometimes cringe at Lena Dunham’s sex scenes? Yes, but that’s because they possess the world’s most uncomfortable dirty talk. Do I cringe because her ass looks actually sort of similarly to my own? Not at all, because there’s nothing wrong with cellulite and having a BMI over 20. We exist the way we exist, and if art is to continue imitating life, it needs to progressively imitate our existences in a truer manner than ever before.