‘Fat Betty Francis’ caricatures a complex character

Along with many other Mad Men fans, I eagerly awaited the show’s return last month after an extended hiatus. I wasn’t home for the season’s second episode that aired on April 1st, but all it took was one quick glance at Facebook and Twitter to see what that episode’s theme supposedly was – Betty Draper Francis’ weight.

Some of the actual posts I saw included: “Wow, Betty, you’ve…changed,” and “Betty, you appear to have grown a lot since last year!” and “Now I know what Betty was doing for the past two years – eating!” These were spoilers for me, so when I eventually did see that week’s episode, I wasn’t as shocked by her changed physical appearance as other viewers were.

Betty’s character on this popular series has always largely revolved around her preoccupation with her appearance, which was built upon her experience as a fashion model and a mother who she admits controlled her food intake as a child. It was also predicated on the time period in which she was living: Although women were gaining professional experience and garnering the benefits of newly emerging feminism, their value was still very much judged by their appearance.

So is it any surprise that Betty views her weight gain with not only such disdain, but also with such vocal derision?

When she finds out that her weight gain is not the result of a thyroid condition or tumor, she says, “Nothing like being put through the ringer to find out you’re just fat.”

And it appears that although Betty Francis lives in the 1960s, people living in 2012 agree with her (shocking, I know). So I can’t say I was shocked to come across an entire Twitter account devoted to Betty’s weight gain, with the name “Fat Betty Francis”.

The background of the page is images of ice cream cones, donuts, and cupcakes. The tweets are full of quips about Betty’s supposed new obsession with food – “Ahh what-a-week, people can be cruel. I’m taking a nap on the daybed, while Carla prepares a tray of Beef Stroganoff Burritos for Linner,” and one I think sums up a lot of Betty’s real issues, “I hate this place, I hate our friends, I hate this town, but I do LOVE garlic butter dipping sauce with my cheesy breads.”

Many women gain weight in middle age, particularly after having children, particularly if – and this is at the root of Betty’s problem, I believe – they are struggling with real depression. Betty so clearly, in all her appearances on screen, is deeply unhappy – restless, bored, and obviously full of self-loathing, and spent years dealing with an alcoholic, philandering husband (in Don Draper) whom everyone else fawned all over.

This Twitter account hasn’t even been around for a month and it already has over 5,000 followers, who find these little self-medicating-with-food jabs pretty funny. One blogger claimed that if “Betty didn’t mind her weight, I wouldn’t either.” Really? If someone is distressed by their weight, it makes it OK for others to pile on the insults? But if she were totally accepting of her weight gain, people would back off? Somehow I doubt that.

Not only is this an outright slam against overweight people, offering an endless array of one-liners to shame food choices, but this has eclipsed her entire character. She is now being written about as nothing but a “fat housewife” who should be mocked for finishing her daughter’s sundaes and not wanting her husband to see her naked, but she is far more complex than most give her credit for. I really hope that her internal life is explored in more detail.


3 thoughts on “‘Fat Betty Francis’ caricatures a complex character

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  1. I think it’s amazing that Mad Men even is addressing body image in this way. I was pretty shocked, as every woman on the show seems to be thin and svelte (or curvy and bombshell-ish like Joan). Great to see a mainstream show talking about weight in a way that acknowledges depression and emotional eating as a factor. But to those making fun of Fat Betty Francis — try not to take cruel tone, will you?

  2. I don’t recall this, I’ve noticed there’s plenty of women who are rounded or slim yet not toned

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