The Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life episode "Summer" opens with Lorelai and Rory sitting poolside in Stars Hollow. Two heavier people walk by with some skin exposed, as one does in the sweltering summer. "Belly alert," Lorelai says before going back to her endless rapid-fire conversation with daughter Rory.
It was startling to hear the lead character on a show that has called itself, and been called, feminist make a crack about someone's body. We weren't alone in feeling that way. On the Gilmore Girls subreddit, a long thread asking, "Did the fat-shaming by the pool bother anyone else," has led to a pretty nuanced conversation.
One redditor wrote, "They're characters. Characters have flaws. They're fictional. They don't exist to be extensions of the writer's moral compass or a representation of your ideals."
Another offered a very thoughtful critique, writing, "Why is it so weird to want to be valued for more than what you look like? To not want to be bullied?... It was disappointing to hear all of the fat jokes in this scene — I thought they were tasteless and insulting." The crack about someone's body felt lazy and mean. While virtually nothing in the Gilmore Girls world goes unremarked on, watching Lorelai's gaze drift over the man's body before offering a cruel verdict was unpleasant and uncomfortable.
While the show has generally been seen as a positive display of body diversity — though certainly not racial — there were some striking incidents of body-shaming in the series' initial run. In season 4, Rory has an assignment for the Yale Daily News reviewing a ballet performance and is told not to hold back on her opinions at all. Her opinions included some cruel, petty words about a dancer's body. Juxtaposed with the duo's celebrated love of junk food and hatred of exercise, all the while living in very thin frames, Rory and Lorelai can seem like the living manifestation of Gone Girl's infamous "Cool Girl."
"Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size two, because Cool Girls are, above all, hot," the monologue goes. Sound familiar? The problem is "Cool Girl" is a lie. She's an impossible standard that many of us have acknowledged and moved on from. But apparently, Loralei and Rory Gilmore have not.
What's remarkable is that in this same show, we have a character like Sookie St. James, who, while plus-size, never had a storyline dedicated to her size, did not diet for her wedding, and just lived her life without size being a factor.
Here's the thing: We've been told over and over by the show and its fawning followers that Lorelai and Rory are the ultimate smart, witty, educated mother-daughter team. They're also characters on a TV show and, sometimes, characters are written to do shitty things and not always be kind to others. However, how we talk about people's bodies has evolved since the first run of the show and we were hoping Lorelai and Rory would have evolved, too. That's what smart people do.