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Melody Breyer-Grell

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Mad Men and Fat Women -- Can Television Deal?

Posted: 04/ 4/2012 11:48 am

When Mad Men presented an overweight Betty Draper Sunday night, I shivered with dread. How were they going to handle this situation?

In the past some dialogue alluded to the fact that she was a chubby child, who somehow morphed into a model. Sure that happens (I guess) but the back story was muted.

Now, after all those years of marriage and three children, she is suddenly fat again out of nowhere. Perhaps it would have been an honest and interesting choice to see her struggle with her weight from the get go. In fact it would have been a nice turn off to Dan, as it was never fully explained why he was so against her.

If the weight issue was brought in earlier and more realistically, a plot line of diet pills could have bloomed. It would have made for compelling showdowns. The shooting of the birds, the anger at her daughter, all kinds of juicy, relevant situations could have co-existed with her battles. Imagine a cold Don, just telling her not to eat so much and her problems would be solved. Coulda, woulda, shoulda on that one.

We are still a society that does not know how to deal with women and weight when it comes to entertainment. Sure, drinking and smoking is getting its fair amount of attention as is recreational drug use. But TV is about being sexy and the only sexy overweight people seem to be sit com dads. Yea I would hit Kevin James, really! But other than Mike and Molly and various black sitcoms, (you go, Tyler Perry!) the onus is on the women to be perfect. The joke is that the sexiest woman on Mad Men (or on all TV) -- Joan (Christina Hendricks) -- gets called out by the press commenting on her weight because she is not fashionably anorexic. Well, the audience does not care, thank the Lord. She is the real breakout star of the series.

I am acquainted with some people who claim to have started gaining weight later in life, but know many more who have had a lifetime (from early childhood) struggle as devastating as drugs or alcohol, especially in a society that shows zero tolerance and even less good science backing up how to deal with it. From the processed foods some of us get addicted to, to genetic propensity, the subject is sadly more complicated that I think Michelle Obama and her good intentions can handle. Personally, no matter how "healthy" my school lunch would be, who could stop me from taking my money and going out to buy candy. Or stealing money or stealing candy! Pawn my wedding ring -- anything to get a fix.

In a nice touch, Betty's new husband, Henry, still loves her as he sees her as she was, as with the Johnny Sack character in The Sopranos. The most telling conversation took place with the much heavier mother-in-law, castigating her. Fat on fat hate. Now that is realistic. Been there -- seen it.

How will this play out? Will the weight be shed? Will Don's new wife fix her teeth? (That must be a lot easier than losing weight.) It would be fun to see her with braces and Don rolling his eyes in utter exasperation at the cost of capping her whole mouth. Women have gotten married to fix their teeth. I did...

There was a 1985 German movie, Sugar Baby. The picture's overweight heroine, tired of being single, made herself up, found sexy clothes and got herself a man. She managed to be sexy and keep her dignity -- a revolutionary concept. Is that possible on TV or will fat woman always be a joke or a tragedy?