BIG, FAT DOUBLE STANDARD
In his article in Slate titled "Beauty and the Beast," writer Matt Feeney points out the trend in contemporary sitcom: fat or not conventionally attractive husband paired with hot, skinny wife. I read the article with great interest, thinking it would eventually point to the dearth of realistic women on television as a problem for the expectations it breeds in men, for their partners, and in women, who will put further pressure on themselves to conform to sitcom size standards. But that's not how the article went.
Feeney notes that the previous trend in sitcom home life, was a husband who was "comparatively plain"--but times have changed:
In the current sitcom lineup, by contrast, several shows pair extremely attractive women, who are often clad in plunging tops and tight jeans suitable for a Maxim photo spread, with TV husbands who are not only not studly but downright fat, and a couple who are not only not mensches, but are ugly on the inside, too.
He cites King of Queens, According to Jim, Grounded for Life and Still Standing, and then points out that "in addition to their girth, a signal characteristic of these men is immaturity."
In one of his final paragraphs, Feeney concludes:
It's tempting to register a feminist complaint about the message these shows convey—that they perpetuate the view that women shouldn't expect autonomy or fulfillment in romance and marriage. They do, after all, play to a certain male fantasy: living the gluttonous, irresponsible, self-absorbed life of an infant and basking in the unconditional love of a good-looking woman.
I'll take the feminist complaint issue a bit further, focusing on the message that these pairings send to both men and women viewers:
a) These pairings create an unrealistic expectation among American men of all shapes, sizes and emotional stripes, that they "deserve" a hot wife, no matter how they look or behave.
b) The absence of realistic-looking actresses on TV says that there is only one standard for attractiveness in leading women--the Maxim standard, which should be kept throughout one's life, children, career and responsibility being secondary to looking good.
c) It conveys the message that women over a size 6 (and I think I'm being generous using that size as an example) don't deserve the comedy and pathos of a functional relationship, or at least, their relationships are not fun or interesting enough to be the subject of a sitcom.
This is Hollywood's problem. Sitcoms are not Hollywood in the breaking box-office records with epic stories and gorgeous bone structure splayed across a 100-foot high screen sense. I would be very surprised to see Brad Pitt or Jude Law, or Nicole Kidman in a sitcom. They are the golden, glamorous icons of the big screen. But sitcoms are supposed to be more universal, urban, and reflective of some relatable reality. In other words that may be familiar to comedy performers the world over, "funny because they're true." Not true in the sense of a documentary, but truly human.
Mix it up, Hollywood. The reason people have switched sitcoms off and tuned into reality shows is because we're all self-centered, looking for ourselves on television.
Mandate to Hollywood: reward talent, not dress size. Casting a soap opera? How about an actress who weighs more than 95 pounds? If there's a Bridget Jones 3 in the works, at least give Marissa Janet Winakur an audition. Give Camryn Manheim a sitcom, and make her the lead, instead of the funny best friend next door. Next time George Clooney--or Jim Belushi--needs a leading lady, let Catherine Zeta-Jones and Courtney Thorne-Smith (dang hyphenates) sleep in and send Sara Rue instead.
People--men and women--of all different shapes and sizes find love, happiness, family, and fun. It's not because of what they look like outside--it's because they forge a connection. Through attraction, yes, but also presumably through personality, and a chemistry that's not just about her abs and his childlike immaturity. If the TV sitcom alters its attitude, maybe America will also embrace the change. Or maybe I'm delusional. But it doesn't hurt to hope.