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Breaking Glass

Business, like society, has a weight issue when it comes to women

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Last week, FX's Louie received an Emmy for “Outstanding Writing in a Comedy.”

The winning episode — “So Did the Fat Lady” — centers on Louie as he is courted by Vanessa (played by Sarah Baker) after he strikes out with every other waitress at a comedy club.

Vanessa is clearly charming and bright, with an incredible sense of humor — but Louie is reluctant to romantically pursue her due to the fact that she isn’t as thin as the other women.

Tension builds until Louie explicitly insists that Vanessa is “not fat,” to which she replies with this powerful monologue:

She denounces Louie’s empathy as “disappointing,” confirming that if Louie did indeed find her beautiful, he would have said yes to a date with her right off the bat.

“Can people just let me say it?” she asks.

“What is it about the basics of human happiness — feeling attractive, feeling loved — that’s just not in the cards for us? How is that fair? And why am I just supposed to accept it?”

As a male viewer, I found this episode to be refreshingly honest regarding the perception of weight in our culture — but Slate writer Willa Paskin saw Vanessa’s characterization as a lost opportunity. 

She writes: “Vanessa’s teachable moment, and the episode more largely, is as scathing to Louie as possible. But it’s also condescending to Vanessa: I mean, if all Vanessa wanted in life was to hold hands with a nice guy, a girl as cool as she is could do just that. Wonder if we’ll ever see a fat girl on TV who demands more.”

Paskin’s subsequent interview with Baker, however, has the actress herself turning the issue on its heels:

“I think for (Vanessa) it’s the defining thing about her through the eyes of other people,” Baker said.

“I think that’s why she can say these things to him, because she knows he’s a decent guy and that he’s better than that. But even he can’t quite get over it.”

Louie’s preconception is one that has even pervaded the business world in a serious way:

A 2011 study at the University of Florida found that women who weighed 25 pounds less than average earned $15,572 more than women of an average weight, while women who weighed 25 pounds more than average earned $13,847 less.

The real kicker of these studies — a perception echoed by Vanessa’s monologue in Louie — is a double-standard for men.

Heavier men often make more than their average counterpart, while men who weigh less make up to $9,000 less.

That’s why Baker’s response to Paskin’s question is completely spot-on. The point of Vanessa’s monologue isn’t about how she identifies herself, but rather how society identifies her.

It may be difficult to quantify that in such a general way based on a fictional character’s love life, but one look at the discrepancies in the business world and it becomes clear such preconceptions are there.

For whatever it’s worth, the episode certainly handles the issue with more sincerity and honesty than most of us are used to from cable television. For that, I think it deserves watching and consideration, especially for men who might not have thought anything of it before.

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Andrew Sheldon

Andrew Sheldon

Andrew Sheldon covers technology and education. His email is andrews@njbiz.com and he is @AndrewsNJBIZ on Twitter.

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