On Wednesday, one of my coworkers dropped the first official cast photo for the upcoming season of Bachelor in Paradise into our team Slack room. While it’s notable mostly because it contains both Corinne Olympios and DeMario Jackson, it brought to mind something I’ve been thinking about a lot during the current season of The Bachelorette: Everyone is beautiful, tanned, toned, and beyond telegenic. There’s nary a lump or bump to be found on any of the contestants, despite the fact that these slim bodies, which do exist, just don’t exist in as high a concentration as the casts of these reality shows reflect.
Now, I haven’t watched every episode of The Bachelor or Bachelorette (there are only so many romantic journeys and fairytales I can stomach as a couple barrels towards an engagement in two months), but all of the contestants on the seasons I’ve seen are lithe and lean, with wardrobes that rival any Miss America contestant and glowing, spotless skin. Where are the plus-size contestants, or, as Refinery29 has referred to the 67% of women of women in the United States are a size 14 or above, the invisible minority? They’re just that: invisible.
Before I continue with my tempered diatribe, note that there was once, apparently, a plus-size participant —a model named Bo Stanley on Chris Soules’ season in 2015. She was eliminated in the premiere. Soules didn’t say it was because of her size, but it’s not hard for a bachelor presented with a group of women who all fall within a certain BMI range to see Stanley, a badass competitive surfer, as an outlier in the bunch.
In a 2014 interview with The New York Times magazine, host Chris Harrison was asked whether there would ever be a more realistic star — “a less hunky bachelor, like maybe a chubby guy.” His answer was, in a word, disheartening.
“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.” Harrison continued with the self-deprecation, but putting himself down didn’t reduce the upsetting candor of his response. “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.” You hear that? We will never have a "Fat-chelor."
Harrison was only asked about bachelors (perish the thought of a plus-size bachelorette), but much ink has been spilled as to why fans wouldn’t want to see any plus-size contestants on the show, anyway. The common consensus is that it would simply make them stand out too much. The body type diversity would be overwhelming. Or, per Chris Harrison, the visual medium of television simply can’t handle reflecting the real world. The fantasy of the kingdom of thindom must remain intact.
There’s also the question of whether or not people with atypical television bodies would want to appear on the show. In 2012, Us Weekly reported that Courtney Robertson, who appeared on Ben Flajnik’s season, had secret nicknames for other contestants that were extremely judgmental and insensitive. “She didn’t see any competition from, in her words, Horsey, Fatty, and the Kid,” her “secret nicknames for [Lindzi] Cox, [Nicki] Sterling, and [Kacie] Boguskie,” a source told the outlet. This kind of in-house bullying would surely be a red flag for anyone wanting to participate in an experience that already makes them vulnerable to national scrutiny.
It took 13 seasons for The Bachelorette to finally feature a non-white woman searching for love. Her suitors were a more diverse bunch than ever before in the show’s history, yet their bodies were all within a slim range of physical perfection. Will the show ever opens its eyes to the size-ism at play? Neither ABC nor Warner Bros. would comment when asked.
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