Should I Be Offended By American Housewife‘s Fat Struggle?

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
I used to watch a lot of Nick at Nite as a kid back in the '90s. My soft spot for TV housewives can be traced directly back to those many hours spent curled up in the glow of the small screen. There was I Love Lucy, of course, and Leave It to Beaver, Bewitched, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Brady Bunch, among others. One character all these shows had in common was the lovely leading lady: maternal but never matronly, a queen of her castle. By the benchmark of a particular era, she had it all. Of course, "having it all" meant something a lot different than it does in a post-Lean In world. (I might argue that, nowadays, "having it all" often just means "doing it all," and feeling pressured to say you prefer it that way, or else.) Lucy, June, Samantha, Laura, Carol — theirs were simpler times, both for better and worse. Different archetypes of housewives and mothers have continued to emerge, each new iteration reflecting the pressures and particularities of her time. And in 2016, we have Katie Otto, the titular lead of ABC's American Housewife, a show about — well, exactly what it sounds like. And a bit more. Katie Otto (played with perfect comedic timing and neuroses by the fantastic Katy Mixon) is a wife and mom who lives in fancy-pants Westchester County. The Ottos aren't in the 1%, though — not by a long shot. They're renters in a town where everyone else owns, and they make it work because the public schools are great and their youngest kid needs special academic attention. Katie has quit her marketing job to be a stay-at-home mom, while her husband Greg (Diedrich Bader, fresh off Veep) teaches at college level.

Should I be offended by the way she feels about her own body? I wondered to myself while watching.

While Greg thinks he's shouldering his fair share of household to-dos, the truth is that he's largely ignorant of the imbalance in their domestic responsibilities. (If you can relate to this, raise your hand. Now pat yourself on the shoulder for as long as it takes to feel emotionally acknowledged.) The first two episodes bring a light touch to that dynamic, and it feels deeply relatable: These are two progressively-minded people who love and respect each other. But they don't always understand how to make one another feel seen or valued — a modern marriage if I've ever witnessed one. The Otto kids — Oliver (a young Republican in the making), Taylor (a blossoming prom queen-to-be), and Anna-Kat (the one who seems to suffer from a kind of OCD) — are, by and large, pretty average. Beyond their Lucy and Ricky Ricardo-esque dynamic, Katie and Greg are solidly likable characters who only sometimes fall into predictably ridiculous plot traps. (See: When Katie steals Greg's laptop while he's conducting class via Skype and makes a highly personal confession, only to realize she's just revealed something intimate to lecture hall full of freshman.) But maybe the most relatable facet of Katie's personality is her sometimes-crippling insecurity about her own body. The pilot episode of the series is dedicated to Katie grappling with becoming the second fattest women in town, now that her larger neighbor has moved away. She says those exact words — "I'm going to be the second fattest woman in town" — bemoaning her fate while "second breakfasting" with her thinner, wealthier girlfriends, Doris and Angela (Ali Wong and Carly Hughes, respectively). In the end, Katie lands on the idea of trying to get someone fatter than she is to buy the house next door. That goes poorly, as you might imagine. It was at this point in the series — when a heavy woman walks into an open house and the song "Take My Breath Away" starts playing — that I wondered for a moment if I was the right person to review American Housewife. I am neither a mother nor a housewife, but it was my inability to directly relate to Katie's particular body struggles that made me question if I had the authority to opine about this character.

Should I be offended by the way she feels about her own body?
I wondered to myself while watching. Who am I offended for? Is my straight-size fragility flaring up? Is it offensive to be ruffled in the first place? The fact that American Housewife stirs up any of those questions is a good thing. Whatever discomfort I initially felt — and, for the record, have since abandoned — is a reminder of how seldom we actually have earnest conversations about women's bodies in the pop culture space. And while I wouldn't go so far as to call Katie Otto an everywoman — she is, after all, a college-educated, conventionally good-looking, and comparatively privileged white woman — she is also part of a new wave of female representations of TV, in which women who wear a size 8 or up are portrayed as real, fully fleshed-out people, not as a stereotype of a fat person. That's one solid reason to tune into American Housewife, if only to see whether you can imagine yourself as its leading lady. I know I can. Frankly, all lighthearted network comedy aside, I'm better for it. You just might be, too. American Housewife airs Tuesday nights on ABC at 9:30 p.m.

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