Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Betty Draper's Fat Suit and Other Ageist Travesties on "Mad Men"

Full disclosure first: I am a Mad Men addict. I love the show, its period costumes and sets, its take on the social and political changes of the 50’s and 60’s, and most of all I love that sexist, chain-smoking adver-jerk Don Draper and his square cut Dick Tracy jaw.

So, I write this rant as a fan. (Warning, spoilers ahead if you’ve DVRed this past Sunday’s episode but haven’t yet seen it.)

But what I have to ask is this: What in the world was with Betty Draper’s fat suit? (er, Betty Francis’ fat suit, whatever, I refuse to recognize that boring new husband of hers.)

I get it, the show is feeling its age. This season’s opener last week was all about babies, domesticity, and motherhood in a way it’s never been before. Which, despite the strange giant close up of Joan’s son’s diaper-creme-y bottom, was a terrific change from the show’s usually male-centric, work-centric world. And now this week’s show was all about aging: Roger feels his age as Pete edges him out as top-wanker at the office; straight-laced Don gets pegged as a narc by the weed smoking 60’s youth at a Rolling Stones concert; even ingĂ©nue Peggy (*Shock! A woman gets hired as a writer in advertising!*) gets moved over by a newer, younger, weirder, ethnic-er copy writer (*Shock! An African American women named Dawn is Don’s new secretary AND a Jewish copy writer is hired for the racistly-named Mohawk Airlines account!*). And just in case you couldn’t put all the generation gap pieces together for yourself, the episode ends with the song, “I am sixteen, going on seventeen,” from The Sound of Music. 

But really, Mad Men writers? The female version of Roger’s impotence and Don’s ‘out of touch-ness’ is the fact that Betty got really heavy? I understand that you had to deal in some way with actress January Jones’ pregnancy – but instead of shooting her from the waist up or making her carry lots of shopping bags, you decided to put her in a horrible, unrealistic fat suit, under tons of weird latex and makeup in order to make the point that “middle aged” (how old is she now? 30?) women “put weight on more easily and have a harder time taking it off”? (Not to mention that atrocious tent-like pink housedress that had me running for the Visine! My eyes!) And then there were all those food-shaming shots of her eating Bugles (straight out of the bag!) and two whole helpings of ice cream. I mean, really?

Not only should the Mad Men writers, makeup and wardrobe team be seriously reprimanded for this choice, but they should perhaps be forced to watch (several times over) Gwyneth Paltrow’s fat-suit wearing cinematic splash Shallow Hal; perhaps back to back with those atrocious “investigative reports” on sizeism by the likes of Tyra Banks.  

Fat suits are nothing new in Hollywood, and for a while there it seemed that every supermodel/entertainment reporter/size zero actress was donning one in order to experience “real life” people’s pain. (At least Renee Zellwegger, when she played Bridget Jones, really put on the weight). The critique that Gwyneth Paltrow’s fat suit wearing film generated is the same as I have for Mad Men’s treatment of Betty. In an insightful 2005 MTV article on fat suits in Hollywood, Karl Heitmueller writes,

To read the rest of this essay, please visit Adios, Barbie!

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