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Size Matters: The Dichotomy of Mismatch

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Plenty has been written about the fat husband/hot wife dichotomy on TV sitcoms. The critique usually consists of disbelief that a fat man would be able to land a "hot" wife. Now, in these shows, like According To Jim, King of Queens and Still Standing, the behavior of the husbands is also often undesirable. But the main thing people seem to be outraged about is that the husbands and wives are not of commensurate attractiveness. These men are also often referred to as "ugly," and their "ugliness" appears to be directly tied in to their fatness. While the men on these shows are fat, I would argue that their looks are at the least average if not slightly above average. But, as has been demonstrated in the comments on this blog, people are often perceived to be less attractive if they are viewed as fat.

I mainly deal with fat women in this blog, but in this case I feel that fat men and fat women are being discriminated against with this dichotomy and I wanted to offer a different framework in which to discuss it. In the case of fat women, there are virtually no examples of shows that feature a fat wife and a "hot," thin husband, so the problem there is lack of representation. On the other side, the disgust expressed by so many writers at the idea that an attractive woman would marry a fat man speaks to the disgust so many have for fat in general. I agree that casting an attractive woman opposite an ill-behaved fat guy can be unrealistic in many ways and in most cases probably expresses the fantasy of the male sitcom writers that fat "average Joes" have a chance at a model-pretty woman. In reality, these pairings are probably few and far between. My point is that although fat men are being represented in these shows, they are still often typecast as slobby, unintelligent and undesirable to most women except their wives. Fat men face discrimination as well, but as so many fat male celebrities are also comedians and comedic writers, they are gifted with their own TV shows and are able to write characters for themselves. However, they are still expected to play off the stereotype of the fat male slob.

Of course, the few times fat female comedians have been gifted with a show, they've usually derided as being unappealing and abrasive, as in the case of Roseanne Barr. Although her show was extremely popular she as a person was less so. And shows featuring fat female comedians certainly do not allow the comedian to express any serious sexual desire, whereas fat men are at least shown lusting after women other than their wives. The similarities between how fat women's sexuality is treated and how fat men's sexuality is treated lies in how their bodies are portrayed—as comic relief. There are plenty of jokes about weight on these fat male comedians' shows.

As we well know, men have access to a hell of a lot more privilege than women do. But fatphobia still affects them as well, they just have an easier time with it. So although there are many more positive representations of fat men in pop culture, there is still a fatphobic framework in which they have to work—which is why fighting fat hatred should not only be a feminist issue but an issue of social justice across the board.

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Comments

32 comments have been made. Post a comment.

fat-skinny couples

"Even Stevens" had a skinny husband and a chubby (not fat... pretty average) wife. That's one... And that was awhile ago...

Weezie and George Jefferson.

Weezie and George Jefferson. I know that's going really old school, but that's how far I had to go in order to find an example of fat white/thin husband.

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Aww Weezie. For some reason

Aww Weezie. For some reason I remember thinking George Jefferson was fat as a kid but I think it's because he was short and I had poor depth perception or something.

That should read:

That should read: "wife"
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Days of our Lives - fat

Days of our Lives - fat (huge) red headed nurse, hot doctor husband. Nurse/wife has average personality and is shown as sexual with her husband.

Damn, and I always thought

Damn, and I always thought soap operas were full of stereotypes. Score one for the fatties.

Oddly enough, soaps are

Oddly enough, soaps are sometimes the place to find the most progressive stuff! First gay kiss on network television...first recurring trans character...and so forth.

Soap Opera Firsts

And soap operas were the first place to show that if you wanted to get a girl to love you just rape her (ala Luke and Laura) The "Take back the night" organizations on many campuses got classes cancelled so students could watch the wedding because their love was so beautiful. I still can't figure this out and it still pisses me off.

Rosanne!

One of the things I loved so much about the show Rosanne was that the character of Dan Conner was treated with a lot more dignity than most fat male characters are. He was a working class Joe but a decent and caring guy who was very engaged with his family and his marriage, and he was treated as a sexy and sexual man. Of course Rosanne wasn't the typical "fat guy, hot wife" comedy and was written more as a focus on the titular character and a narrative about a marriage, whereas most of the more recent comedies featuring fat men have been written as male narratives.

I think the problematic elements related to treating fat characters with dignity go hand in hand with the problematic elements of creating narratives that uphold the kyriarchal structure. If the characters were treated as people first, and not caricatures of masculinity, femininity, class, or race, I think it would be harder for writers and producers to dehumanize them based on their size.

It's been pointed out to me that I may have a "thing" for round men, but I sit around wondering how anyone can find most of the actors for these shows not attractive. The behavior on display isn't all that grand, but the eye candy is there! In what universe is James Belushi not hot?

See, I don't think they're

See, I don't think they're unattractive either. It's the fat, it just blinds people.

John Goodman is definitely hot and I know Snarky will back me up on that.

I was just about to agree about John Goodman...

...and I searched "John Goodman" on google image (because I thought "Oh yeah he's one of my favorite actors. Why not look at pics of his marvelous visage?") and this is what I saw: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20408079,00.html

This is the first I've heard of this. I gotta' say I'm a little sad. I like rotund Goodman...but if this has improved his personal health I suppose it's all for the good. It sounds like he has just cut out sugar and booze and gotten active.

Drew Carey

Drew Carey got skinny too. If he feels good, then good on him for doing what he feels is best. But I liked Chunky Drew better.

I saw a feature on Goodman's

I saw a feature on Goodman's weight loss. To me he looks to be at his Lebowski weight. I can't gauge health by looking at him, so I'm not touching that. His voice sounds glorious and weight has never altered his talent or charm. He looks wonderful at whatever weight he feels most comfortable. Hopefully, we'll see him in more stuff!

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He's always portrayed as kinda smart too!

Let's not forgot, John Goodman has also had the benefit of often being cast as intelligent (witty, sarcastic, wise, or in some other way smart) characters.

John Candy and Rodney Dangerfield often also had similar luck in characters.

This comes as a stark difference from guys like Kevin James, who most memorably ends up cast as dopey (King of Queens) or socially awkward (Hitch).

I don't mind a few fat jokes now and then, it's when all these TV husbands are written as complete idiots that really gets to me and makes me worried what kind of example they're setting for boys these days.

One can't deny that the average boy - who is more than likely above "average" in size - can see himself more easily in Kevin Jame's shoes than Will Smith's.

Will some of the next generation of young men actually believe stupidity is a desirable trait if you want to land a "hot" wife?

Also worried for young men

You touched on a primary concern of mine (though I am uncertain how to actively address it). I don't believe that I am stepping out too far to say that feminism should not be about the denigration of men, no matter what TV execs may believe. I think it is unfortunate that so many TV father-figures are portrayed as witless buffoons. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there is no room for Homer Simpson. Just that Ward Cleaver has gone the way of the buffalo. Besides, were the likes of Donna Reed unfeminist, they still were not misogynistic portraits. Not even the Honeymooners, with Ralph Kramden's insincere threats of domestic violence toward Alice can offset the level of man-bashing that occurs in today's typical sitcom.

What's the harm? I think it will be a minority that decides stupid is desirable. But it does rob young men of positive role-models portrayed in a family setting. I'm not that saying every family needs a husband or father, but for the men that become husbands and fathers, it would be best not to shortchange them of good examples.

Then there is the matter of esteem. What message is sent to boys when the men on TV who work hard, love their wives, and teach their children are rewarded with pratfalls and ridicule? There is an implication for women, as well. A generation of disaffected men are prone to become either shiftless and lazy, (I know more than a couple of self-described feminist women who have inexplicably lashed themselves to deadbeat men.) or domineering and abusive in attempt to gain "respect."

Simply put, there is enough in life to laugh at without having to resort to sexist humor in either direction. If only sitcom writers would notice that.

i like round guys too! i

i like round guys too! i love the crap out of kevin james! king of queens is one of my all time favorite shows and i find him ADORABLE!

if fat=bad then hot=boring?

I'll admit to using this bit before. The "nagging killjoy but hot" wife paired with "less than attractive screw up but fun" husband is a trope I particularly hate mostly because of the personality mismatch but the appearance is part of it too. In the worst offenders of this system the couples constant conflicts over money, kids, interests and lifestyle make you wonder how they ended up together in the first place. And since it's so often the wife putting a cramp on her husbands zany antics the implication is that the only reason this fun-loving guy stays with (or even married) his wife is because she is attractive; why else put up with her constant nagging and lectures? The wife motivations are often a blank. She hates her husband's crazy behavior and resents constantly having to be the one to put her foot down but she loves him because...?
Because appearance is so obvious I think we seize on "Hot wife and Fat man" as an easy shorthand for something that otherwise takes a paragraph to explain. It's not that Jim Belushi is an ugly man but his behavior in the show is pretty bad and so moral/ethical/social failings become physical ones. And it's sad because the stereotype goes on to haunt other shows that indulge in the physical combination but not the social one. "King of Queens" has an attractive wife and a fat husband but finds humor in the flaws, mistakes, and general actions of the characters independently and as a couple not just in the husband "getting caught". Better shows shouldn't get lumped in with the tripe because of their casting (and worse shows should be allowed to escape it, I'm looking at you Hope and Faith) and fat shouldn't be shorthand for crappy behavior.

Fat Hot Men

I can't begin to tell you how gratifying it is to find out I'm not the only woman who thought Dan Connor (John Goodman) was extremely sexy. I'd throw down with that man any day.

Women have always been more forgiving when it comes ot looks, whether that's biological or cultural, I don't know, but I DO concur with the above theory that a female narrative gives viewers a much diffrent perspective on exactly what's considered hot.

Even the tv show "Huge"

Even the tv show "Huge" disappoints in this case. Its larger male and female leads are still classed by thinness and attractiveness and the social ladder on that show is ordered thus. Part of this is, of course, meant to highlight the disparities that still exist in our perceptions and actions, but at the same time, it reinforces them.

And larger guys with thinner, more attractive partners continue to be obnoxious jokers rather than nice guys, with very few exceptions. Off the top of my head, the only exceptions I can think of are couples like Hurley and Libby on "Lost" (except Libby was killed on the day that was supposed to be their first date) or Cameron and Mitchell on "Modern Family" (neither of whom is female). And Wayne, the sweet, larger guy, on "Huge" who is wooing the camp counselor, Dot, is on the verge of losing out to the counselor's very obnoxious but thin and attractive ex, Jonathan. With social and cultural myths like "nice guys always finish last", it's no wonder there is still the perception of the larger, less attractive, perhaps geeky nice guy as a loser when pitted against other guys considered more classically attractive.

Well, I suppose we still have the ever-so-subversive "Hairspray" - two movies and Broadway show - where the larger female character is sexy because she believes she's sexy, and she gets the hot, thin guy even while competing against a thin, gorgeous blonde. And I think Shonda Rhimes deserves some credit for the casting and relationships on her two popular medical dramas. On both "Grey's Anatomy" and "Private Practice", characters with all sorts of body types (tall, short, large, small, able-bodied, and disabled) and sexual orientations (straight, lesbian, and bisexual), have relationships with one another, like the very short and curvy Dr. Miranda Bailey's recent go at dating the tall, dark, and handsome Dr. Ben Warren on "Grey's Anatomy", or the divorced but definitely popular Dr. Naomi Bennett, who may have the beginnings of a romance brewing with the handsome, paraplegic Dr. Gabriel Fife on "Private Practice".

Otherwise, we are, unfortunately, still living in a world where it's notable and newsworthy when a normal-sized woman turns up as a sex symbol in a tv program, like Amber Benson's Tara Maclay on "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" or Christina Hendricks's Joan Harris on "Mad Men". In this world, where normal-sized women as sex symbols are still practically unheard of when pitted against the tiny stick figures that tend to dominate the field, larger women have very few chances to be sexy and get the guy.

I agree with what you're

I agree with what you're saying but I'm unsure of how I feel regarding calling women "normal sized". I don't know what I'd personally call those women you're referring to, but I chafe at the idea that there's a "normal" size.

sex on Roseanne

For what it's worth, I can recall numerous instances on "Roseanne" that dealt with how hot and bothered Dan was for his wife. That was part of what I found so appealing about his character, that he got so randy for a bigger woman. It was never treated as, "I'm horny in general, and you're my wife, so I'll just do you despite your weight" either.

The makers of these series

The makers of these series are equating fat with laziness and as a characteristic of the (white) working class male -heteronormative, immature and nostalgic about their youth when they were athletic, meat eating, football watching. Not to mention a lowered intelligence (sometimes wonder how these characters manage to tie their shoes in the morning) and general emotional incompetence. But they are happy in their existence as working class so not only is it their 'fault' that they are working class, but they are happy to be so. I think there is a strong class element within this representation. Dan in Roseanne would be an exception I think (but arguable Roseanne is an exception as a television show to this format)

No mentioned of animated

No mentioned of animated fat/hot couples? Homer & Marge Simpson? Peter & Louis Griffin? Fred & Wilma Flintstone?

I always took away the suddle message that it's okay for a husband to "let himself go" but it wouldn't be okay for the wife (even after birthing the obligatory 2.5 kiddies).

Through the Male Lens

Your comment on animated sitcoms made me think of this, but it certainly applies to live action, as well. It's obvious to most that the "fat-husband/thin-wife" dynamic is a view of life through the male lens. But, it may not be for the reasons most think.

You took away the message that it is okay for the man to let himself go, but not for the woman. From my male perspective, I can tell you that most of us guys perceive the women in our lives as thinner (and more attractive) than they perceive themselves. Conversely, we are all-too-aware that we are not the fit figures we once were, no matter how okay with that we may be. So, with all this in mind, one could look at the sitcom scenario as the male perspective exaggerated to become apparent to female eyes. I'm just saying that's one way to look at it. In all likelihood, casting directors are just pairing funny fat-guys with eye-candy.

Anybody watch "My wife and

Anybody watch "My wife and kids"? Damon Wayans plays the husband and Tisha Campbell-Martin plays his wife. Both are attractive and nice people and you can totally see why they would be together. Probably one of my favorite tv couples.

That's true. They are both

That's true. They are both pretty attractive and they do have a believable relationship dynamic. Have you ever seen "My Wife and Kids"? While we still have the fat husband/hot wife thing going on, the wife is at least portrayed as being funny, clever, and fun. Also, she actually wears sweatpants around the house! The fact that she wasn't all primped, made-up and styled to do the dishes or watch TV amazed me. :)

Hi I am tired of the

Hi

I am tired of the experiences of consensus of the experiences of Fat Males being agreed upon in Fat Acceptance by what happens on make believe TV Shows. On Blogs I read the real life issues and problems of Fat Women as being what makes up the Fat Female experience and that is logical.

In Fat Acceptance as a Fat Man I find that what is accepted as my experiences is not based on what I have experienced, but what is written in the script of a TV Show.

We're talking about

We're talking about representations in popular culture, i.e. make believe TV shows. I have no idea what the lived experience of being a fat man feels like, so I don't attempt to discuss real live fat mens' lived experiences, only that fatphobia harms fat men. Do you disagree? Please feel free to discuss your lived experience if you'd like!

I admit to being one of

I admit to being one of those people who loved to bitch about fat-guy-with-hot-wife comedies. I always thought it was unrealistic and saw it as the under representation of fat women on TV. So Tasha's perspective is eye opening for me.

I think an interesting counterpoint that proves the theory is Jerry Seinfeld. I've been watching that show recently and been struck by the un-ending stream of incredibly attractive younger women he dates over the years. And, although Jerry is portrayed as an average-looking guy who is more or less an immature ass, there's never any question that these girls should be really interested in him. More often than not the show doesn't even make like the girls like him because he's a comedian. He's just that charming, and the ladies just plain like him. There's no device or rationale. So, it's interesting for me to see myself hating on Kevin James, but not even questioning if Seinfeld's love life is realistic.

Mike and Molly

I'm sure that Mike and Molly is on everyone's radar this fall. What struck me is in one of the promos Molly states she is going to an "Over-eaters" meeting and one of her friends states "You won't find any cuties at the chub club." Sigh. Judging by the promos, Mike is presented as "witty" along the same lines as Kevin James.

Another part of the problem

While I agree that this whole "fat husband/hot wife" thing shows society's generally negative attitude towards fatness (regardless of sex), I think the bigger issue with this is the idea that women on television typically MUST be a certain level of attractiveness. You don't generally see a chubby, average-looking guy married to a chubby, average-looking gal for this reason, I think. Society basically DEMANDS that women be hot. Not so much for men... men have other ways of being appealling to viewers, such as their humor, their relateablity and their likeable eccentricity. Nobody wants the male character's wife to be funny, eccentric, etc. They just expect her to be hot and generally disapproving of everything the male characters do. They're essentially pretty, lean, well-dressed nags and bores, to be blunt.

Also, there is this fantasy among many average-looking men of scoring the model-hot woman, as mentioned in the article. That, too, is pretty problematic. Do women not care about scoring "hot" men? Is there some other reason the character is married to this "hot" woman who is, after all, played as a boring, unfunny, one-dimensional character? Why does television feel obligated to play out the average male viewer's fantasies on screen, but not the average woman? And why are the women always portrayed having to clean up after bumbling, irresponsible husbands' messes and put up with their thoughtlessness and bad behavior? Is that how the husband/wife dynamic is actually expected to be?

I miss Roseanne. :(

Roseanne was my dream woman!

Roseanne was my dream woman! :( And the show was funny too.. but I despise the fact that they have aired pathetic shows that really have no meaning apart from being timepass fare after they put the foot down on Rosie! :(