White Collar’s Woman Problem

[Or, Tiffani Thiessen is not fat.]

{Today I’m delighted to welcome my co-blogger from the CT women’s blog, Gina Dalfonzo, with a guest post that grew out of a Facebook discussion we had on actresses and weight. Thanks so much for joining me at Eat With Joy, Gina!}

The last thing I want to do is bash any actress because of her weight. There’s more than enough of that going on already, and even the super-skinny ones get more than their share of it. All I want to do is reflect a little on a dynamic I’ve been noticing on one of my favorite shows. The way it’s been shoved in our faces, I could hardly help noticing it.

I’m talking about the detective series White Collar, on the USA Network. It’s an excellent series that has managed to take an old formula—con man helps FBI agent catch criminals—and make it fresh and entertaining. That is, when it comes to the two main male characters, Neal the con man (Matt Bomer) and Peter the FBI agent (Tim DeKay).

But lately, when it comes to the female characters, things are feeling a little clichéd.  

With one or two rare exceptions, the women of White Collar are either (1) involved with Neal the con man, and scary skinny, or (2) married to Peter the FBI agent, and allowed to have a few curves. Other fans of the show seem to be noticing this trend too, from what I hear.

Neal’s main love interest this season, Sara Ellis (Hilarie Burton), looked as if she could easily be broken in pieces. No sooner did Neal and Sara end things than along came a gorgeous female Egyptologist (is there any other kind of female Egyptologist?), played by Eliza Dushku, with long thin legs that the camera lovingly traveled up and down at every opportunity. And before this season, there was skinny Kate, and skinny Alex, and . . . you get the idea.

All these women were made to play super-smart, super-sexy, super-skinny superwomen, to an unbelievable degree. Literally unbelievable. Here’s a tip for future reference: If a show’s creator keeps earnestly assuring interviewers that his female characters are strong, smart, independent women, it’s a good sign that they’re not coming across that way on the screen. In the case of Sara and of Raquel the Egyptologist this season, what we’ve seen on the show is lots of attention to their looks, with a little token lip service paid to their supposed smarts. Sara, in particular, seemed to lose her brain every time Neal looked at her—and even though Matt Bomer is handsome enough to make any girl go a little tongue-tied (this version of New York is populated almost completely by beautiful people), it got annoying in short order.

In many ways, Elizabeth (Tiffani Thiessen), Peter’s wife, is a welcome corrective to all this. She’s attractive in a healthy-looking way, and she actually has a personality, not to mention one of the best marriages in a TV landscape largely devoid of good marriages right now. I give the show’s creators credit for coming up with a woman who’s a normal human being instead of a sex kitten, putting her in a great relationship, and casting an actress who doesn’t vanish when she turns sideways.

So it’s truly disheartening that Thiessen catches flak sometimes for her weight. The other day, researching this article, I was Googling “Tiffani Thiessen White Collar.” I’ll leave you to guess the first “f” word that the autofill function gave me. It wasn’t flattering. And it wasn’t fair. Thiessen is a normal, healthy weight, especially for a woman who recently had a baby in real life. (Hilarie Burton also recently had a baby in real life, but as Erma Bombeck used to say, she must have carried it in a shopping bag.) But any normal, healthy woman would suffer by comparison with the parade of skeletons that’s been marched past Thiessen on the show.

{Rachel's reaction: "wait, this is the one people are calling fat?!"}

The long and the short of it is that White Collar is showing an unhealthy obsession with the current Hollywood ideal of the skin-and-bones woman. And it’s especially saddening because White Collar is so strong a show in other ways—my friend Kim Moreland writes here about how well it handles themes like justice, order, and goodness —that slick Hollywood trappings, such as anorexic-looking women, stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

And in spite of the show’s best efforts, they’re not looking so good.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint and Dickensblog and author of ‘Bring Her Down’: How the American Media Tried to Destroy Sarah Palin.

{Thanks again, Gina! I’ll be back tomorrow with a post on the best pizza in the world–right here in NY!)

3 thoughts on “White Collar’s Woman Problem

  1. Before casting, I wish they’d refer to Peter Paul Reubens painting to see what healthy women look like.

    Great post!

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