"Liz Lemoning" - Complications Ensue
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feministing complains that on TV, very good looking women are treated as "ugly" when they obviously are not.
One of the running themes of GLEE is that Rachel, played by Lea Michele, is talented, but annoying, badly dressed and physically unattractive. In other words, they Liz Lemon her.
Because any 30 ROCK viewer has heard all those fat jokes directed at Tina Fey, who is a slim woman who also appears on the covers of glamour magazines. "If these women are ugly, what hope is there for the rest of us?"

Lisa defends 30 ROCK because Tina Fey supposedly used to be fat before SNL made her lose weight, but that's inside baseball.

Does it matter? Does it matter that "ugly" on TV = incredibly hot girl with glasses? Or is that just the nature of the medium?

Or, alternately, if America Ferrara can actually look dowdy on UGLY BETTY, with braces (even if offscreen she is smoking hot -- see pic above), why do we keep casting the hottest women and pretending they're not?

12 Comments:

In every example (all of them comedies), the character exists in a world (television, fashion industry, high school) where people are traditionally (or perhaps just stereotypically, but not without reason) hyper-sensitive to others' looks. In these contexts, isn't calling these obviously beautiful women "fat" or "ugly" (a) supposed to be funny/surprising (as we know it's not really true); and (b) apt characterization (of superficial characters who subscribe to more shallow representations of beauty?

The complaint is kind of lame, imho. Everyone on TV is some sort of beautiful but that doesn't mean the characters have to acknowledge it. Surely (and especially in the name of comedy) writers can have their characters cut other characters down with insults about obviously false flaws. In a way, by making us laugh at the ridiculousness of calling characters played by Tina Fey, Lea Michele and America Ferrara fat and/or ugly, the writers of these shows are reminding us how silly and flawed our cultural definition and individual perceptions of "beauty" can be.

By Blogger Andy M., at 4:25 PM  

I remember when I watched "The Truth About Cats and Dogs", I thought Janeane Garofalo was actually better looking in the film than Uma Thurman. I also remember WAY back in highschool, thinking that the girls who were supposed to be homely on TV and in the movies would be some of the better looking girls at my school.

That can't be great for a woman's ego.

By Blogger Tim W., at 4:50 PM  

Maybe there just aren't any ugly actresses. It would be hard to deal with the inherent rejection in acting unless you were smoking hot and knew it.

By Blogger Lisa, at 4:55 PM  

Also, on 30 Rock, all the regular female characters are beautiful. I'd say only a couple of the guys are even above average in the looks department.

And Andy,

I don't think the writers are trying to remind us how silly and flawed our definition of beauty is. I think the studios and networks are simply not willing to have even average looking women in starring roles. I don't think the irony is intentional.

By Blogger Tim W., at 4:56 PM  

I agree with Andy M. I've always assumed that in GLEE, 30 ROCK, and also THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, someone calling an obviously beautiful woman fat, unattractive, etc, is a joke intended to wake us up to the weird and unrealistic standards we impose on women.

By Blogger Seth, at 6:24 PM  

And can I point out that NO actress or actor is as hot in real life as their posed picture in a magazine or on television. In other words, it's all artifice.

So the idea they are 'hot or not' based on a captured image is really all relative to who the photographer, makeup artist and photo re-toucher is...

By Blogger Cunningham, at 7:29 PM  

Because everybody knows ever ugly woman just needs a teenage boy to convince her to take off her glasses and pull out her ponytail and wear a dress and she'll be beautiful. Duh.

By Blogger Emily Blake, at 11:46 AM  

I think it also has to do with real people and their feelings.

it's a lot easier for a producer or director to go up to an attractive actress and say "will you dress down for this role? we need you to look ugly for this part." The actress knows she's only playing the part, it's all make-up, people will applaud how brave she is, etc...

It wouldn't be as easy to go up to someone who is not attractive and say "Hey your really ugly! you would be perfect for this role in our movie/tv show. Because we need an ugly person to play the part."

The second way might be more honest, but is also a lot meaner and probably harder to do.

By Blogger joe, at 2:40 PM  

This was lampooned brilliantly in The Last Action Hero where the kid points out that even the woman working in the corner video store is super-model hot.

I think that the hotness of the ugly chicks depends heavily on the type of show. We've seen plenty of women who didn't fit the supermodel look on TV in popular sitcoms from 'The Facts of Life' to 'Roseanne' (just to name a few). A show like Glee, though? That's a wish fulfillment fantasy show rather than the slice-of-life sort, so it makes sense that everything is ratcheted up a notch to fit the fantasy view.

There may also be an element of appealing to viewers who self-identify with the 'ugly duckling' characters. Perhaps casting good looking people as ugly characters is a sort of visual reference for the whole 'beautiful on the inside' thing?

By Blogger Jon Molly, at 7:45 PM  

I would agree w/ Andy M. IF men were treated the same way, but there are plenty of unattractive and overweight male actors, particularly in comedy, and very few females since Roseanne went off the air.

By Blogger Little Miss Nomad, at 3:44 PM  

My understanding is that Tina Fey got the SNL gig *afer* losing weight in a deliberate career decision.

By Blogger MattDW, at 8:00 PM  

I'd also like to say about "30 Rock" that the joke is *not* that Liz Lemon is fat. The joke is that *tv people think she is fat.*

By Blogger MattDW, at 6:27 PM  

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