Today in Women Can’t Win, Ever: when did Gorgeous Thin Women Who Subsist On Junk Food become such a thing on TV?
I was noticing this when I was thinking of my favourite TV homegirls Leslie Knope, Liz Lemon and Lorelai Gilmore or, the Three Ls, as I affectionately call them (I don’t call them that). It always vaguely bothered me that Lorelai and Rory would have these junk food fests followed by jokes that went along the lines of, “What, me WORK OUT!? AHAHAHA,” while Lorelai lifts her grocery bags filled with, I don’t know, icing and jellybeans with BEAUTIFULLY SCULPTED BICEPS.
I noticed this gag pop again in Parks and Rec and 30 Rock (I’m more of a Parks girl, in case you were wondering), and I think it’s a misguided attempt to make these women relatable. A blog post from 2010 entitled Liz Lemon: Feminist Icon (Havin’ it All) posits that, Women say they can relate to Lemon because they “eat like her,” or are “dorky” like she is. Or they get nervous around men like she frequently does. We can relate to her. We see her at home, not made-up, hair a mess and lounging around in unsexy sweats eating blocks of cheese late in the night. In fact, she’s a welcome relief with her eating habits. Because unlike the Sex and the City women, you’ll never find her ordering a salad. (But instead: a meatball sub.).
While I don’t disagree that women do relate to Liz Lemon, I struggle with the whole “she’s a welcome relief with her eating habits” part. (BTW: ‘never’ is bolded in the original text, as though never ordering a salad is something to be SUPER proud of.) Part of my annoyance about this particular pop culture phenomenon is owed to good ol’ green-eyed jealousy: I’d LOVE to adopt the Leslie Knope Waffle Plan or the Liz Lemon Night Cheese Program — because WHO WOULDN’T? — but then I’d also be dead by 30. But mostly, it’s because I’m a woman who actually doesn’t relate to that facet of Liz Lemon’s character. I, like most mere mortals, have to eat something green and lift something heavy once in a while to maintain a healthy body weight — and, more importantly, a healthy body. And I’m totally cool with that. I love my step aerobics and my veggies (except mushrooms — mushrooms can suck it). I also love eating Nutella straight out of the jar, but I recognize that I can’t eat whatever I want, whenever I want, all the time.
And neither can these people. Yes, Liz Lemon DOES have it all — but she’s also NOT A REAL PERSON, so there’s that. So when it comes to the real-life body Liz Lemon inhabits, I have a hard time separating the two.
You see, Tina Fey — the real-life lady who plays Liz Lemon — probably orders salads sometimes. She also probably hits the gym. She takes care of herself because, as someone on TV, that’s part of her job. (To that end, the SATC example above doesn’t really hold much weight, either; I’m pretty sure Carrie Bradshaw also ate an improbable amount of shit in relation to how SJP’s triceps looked but WHATEV.)
All of this sends the message that we’re not supposed to care too much about how we look and what we eat — but we’re still also supposed to be thin and beautiful. The thin, gorgeous woman who regards whipping cream as a main course is easygoing, fun loving and all, “Look at all my humanizing flaws!” while the thin, gorgeous woman who, GASP!, orders a salad or, HORRORS!, sweats it out at the gym is obviously miserable, deprived, shallow and humourless. Remember: caring about diet and fitness is only for VAIN, VAPID PEOPLE, YOU GUYS.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see women on TV that aren’t constantly actively trying to lose weight or Laughing Alone With Salad — BECAUSE THAT’S ALL LADIEZ DO, AMIRITE? — but then, society doesn’t expect these particular women to lose weight. What if a heavier actress made the same jokes about food? Would people react the same way? WHAT WOULD HAPPEN THEN?
Sigh. We really can’t win, can we?
Jen Zoratti is the former music editor of Uptown Magazine and freelance pontificator. She recognizes that it’s hard to write jokes about eating everything in moderation. Follow her on Twitter @JenZoratti.