Guest Post: My Disappointment in Television

My friend Adrienne is precisely average-sized, but she and I have had many conversations about feminism and sizism in our culture and my own journey of self-acceptance. The other night, we were chatting about her current obsession with the USA television show White Collar and she had some particularly perceptive realizations which I invited her to share here.

White Collar is my favorite new show. It is funny, and has one of those fantastic anti-hero the media has convinced me are so sexy right now (I happen to agree). Matt Bomer is wonderful eye candy, with gorgeous blue eyes and some great suits. Female audience? Appealed to.

But Matt Bomer is 32. The actress who plays his girlfriend, Kate, is 23.

Here, we are left to do the math. Neal (Bomer’s character) spent approximately 4 years in prison prior to the start of the show. Before that, there was this whole “Catch Me if You Can” thing going with the other male lead in the show (Special Agent Peter Burke played by Tim DeKay) for about 4 years. It is strongly implied that these 4 years were spent with Neal, Kate, and Neal’s friend Mozzie (played by 45-year-old Willie Garson) working as a team in a variety of white-collar criminal acts, including counterfeiting, art forgery, and art theft. So it has been at least 8 years (likely longer) since Neal and Kate met.

But, wait. The actress playing Kate is only 23. If the character is also 23, that means she has been a very accomplished con artist since the age of 15. I suppose this is possible (certainly according to The Riches), but it is still highly unlikely. So, then, it is unlikely Kate is 23. The character is clearly much older than the actress.

These all seem like minor details, of course. But they aren’t. By using a 23-year-old actress to portray a character who is much more likely in her 30s White Collar is creating an unhealthy standard for women’s bodies. This casting choice is strongly implying that when I am in my 30s I should look the same as I look today, at 19.

This alone wouldn’t bother me much. Unfortunately for my beloved USA Network, this is a double standard. It can rather easily be believed that the character Neal is in his 30s. I’ve known people who have become established criminals and even made it through prison a couple of times by their early 30s. Which means, at the very least, that Matt Bomer is portraying a realistic body standard for males: in your early 30s, you will look like someone in their early 30s.

But USA went even more extreme. Based on a photograph from earlier in their marriage, Agent Peter Burke and his wife are at least close in age. Yet while Peter is portrayed by 46-year-old Tim DeKay, his wife, Elizabeth, is played by 35-year-old Tiffani Thiessen. This not only sets a high body standard for women (look 5-10 years younger than you are), but an extremely low one for men (don’t worry if you look 5-10 years older than you are).

These standards make women feel bad about their bodies, and encourage men to just go ahead and get old. It is an unfair double standard, and I wish I didn’t have to see it in my favorite new television series.

Television, I am not angry. I am just very disappointed.

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Adrienne is the writer over at A Hard Day’s Knit, and a perfectly average size college student who refuses to feel bad about not being TV-thin, or appearing older than her 19 years. She loves the USA Network, in spite of their occasional shortcomings, and is currently addicted to The Beatles’ Old Brown Shoe.

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