In case you’ve never seen The Bachelor, it’s an amazing, beautiful, incredible reality dating show, in which one very eligible single man goes on an amazing, beautiful, incredible journey with a group of amazing, beautiful, incredible women. At season’s end, he chooses his soulmate and (usually) proposes to her. Then, they date for a few months before acrimoniously breaking up, as soulmates are wont to do. The same goes for The Bachelorette, with the genders reversed.
Chris Harrison is the veteran host of ABC’s reality dating institutions, with a combined 27 seasons under his belt. The New York Times Magazine recently asked Harrison if The Bachelor would consider featuring a “less hunky” or even “chubby” man, and his answer was an unequivocal no:
You know why? Because that’s not attractive, and television is a very visual medium, and I know that sounds horrible to say, but I know that at 42, in the eyes of television, I’m old and unattractive. Sure, I can put a suit and tie on, but I have hair on my chest and I don’t have a 12-pack. I live a healthy life, but I don’t do eight hours in the gym, nor do I want to. And I don’t eat 50,000 egg whites.
Actually, I agree with him, but for entirely different reasons.
As someone who’s watched and enjoyed multiple seasons of the show, I can tell you that The Bachelor is an emotional cesspool. What makes its particular brand of reality bullshit more insidious than the relatively self-aware kind peddled on, say, any given coven of Real Housewives is the implicit suggestion that it isn’t bullshit. This is the fairytale, you see. This is true love! This is what you want, but will never have!
You and I do not look like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, or any of their spray-tanned suitors. The CDC estimates nearly 70 percent of American adults are overweight. Though Harrison only addresses the show’s male hardbodies, I’d argue that the sizeist casting is even more of an issue with the franchise’s women: as it is, the show’s bevy of would-be models have been slapped with nicknames like “Horsey” and “Fatty.”
Throwing a token “chubby” man or woman into the mix would amount to nothing less than brutal humiliation. Considering the shallow, inauthentic dog and pony show that The Bachelor and The Bachelorette reduce “dating” to, there’s no way anyone who isn’t virtually perfect-looking would survive the first few rose ceremonies. (Plus, the nauseatingly self-congratulatory tone the show would adopt about its half-hearted nod toward equality is more than I can bear.)
This is not a new conversation. In 2009, the Fox series More to Love (created in the Bachelor mold) specifically recruited plus-sized singles — unsurprisingly, the cast ended up looking like, well, normal people.
More to Love wasn’t exactly a breakthrough in reality TV civil rights. As Kate Harding wrote in Salon, the so-called “Fatchelor” unabashedly exploited stereotypes about obesity (and publicly flaunted each contestant’s exact height and weight), but nevertheless had value in that it offered an all-too-rare mainstream representation of Lane Bryant-wearing women as sexually desirable beings. Though there’s certainly something unseemly about segregating overweight people to their own program, it’s still preferable to the alternative.
Everyone deserves the chance to see themselves represented on television — but, I implore you, don’t let this be the forum. The Bachelor is what it is, and what it is is kind of gross. Rather than reform the series from within, it would better for us to burn it to the ground and dance, belly fat jiggling freely in the wind, on its still-smoldering ashes.
[h/t Us Weekly]