I’m apparently in the minority of people who aren’t mad about Mad Men. A brief synopsis of the Emmy-winning AMC drama, courtesy of Wikipedia: “Mad Men depicts parts of American society and culture of the early 1960s, highlighting cigarette smoking, drinking, sexism, adultery, homophobia, antisemitism, and racism as examples of how that era was so much different than the present.” And now, it appears, show producers are also unwittingly highlighting the cultural differences in our ever-changing perceptions of beauty and the ideal woman.
January Jones, who plays homemaker and mom-of-two Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Draper on the show, has been told by producers that she’s too thin to fill out the Jessica Rabbit hourglass figure of her character. According to OK! magazine:
“I got told a couple of days ago that I look too skinny, and I was in trouble,” January sheepishly told reporters at the July 28 party for the AMC network. “I’m naturally pretty thin, so I’m trying,” the beautiful blonde actress said, showing reporters she was drinking an Amstel Light beer at the party.
Also, January says, “I eat whatever is at craft services. I’m a big eater. I’m from South Dakota, so meat, potatoes, carbs.” The star notes that to maintain Mad Men’s early ‘60s look, in which women definitely had more meat on their bones, she and the other actresses are “encouraged NOT to work out. We want soft; we don’t want any muscle definition.”
“They tell us to gain weight, gain weight, gain weight, because they want a soft, voluptuous woman which they were [back then] which is beautiful, as it should be.”
Jones’ character, a former model, is supposed to be pregnant this season, so I wonder if if she would have been given the same weight-gain mandate if her character’s condition didn’t “allow” her to be fat Nonetheless, cultural perceptions of beauty were very different in the pre-second-wave-feminist-movement decades of the 1950s and 1960s than the size-zero culture oppressing women today. To give you an idea of the standards then and now, January Jones, left, epitomizes contemporary cultural standards of beauty, while Marilyn Monroe, right, was considered the reigning sex symbol of the age. Monroe is erroneously reported to have worn a size 14 or 16, which would make her plus-size today, but this is only because American clothing sizes have changed since then. Times Online writer Sara Buys tried on some of Monroe’s clothes and she estimates them to be between a U.S. size 8 – 10 –still hefty by today’s standards when you consider that a size 8 is now the starting size for plus-size models.
I’ve known really thin women who can eat and eat and eat and never gain weight and I know they can struggle with body image just as much as those of us on the opposite end of the weight spectrum. And just as fat women are assumed to be binge eaters, some of the very naturally thin women I’ve known have been assumed to be anorexic. The fact that no woman can ever reach the beauty bar just goes to show how impossibly high and out of reach it really is.