I admit it: anytime someone asks me if I watch The Bachelor – and it happens a lot more often than you think – I cringe.
You might wonder why, as a dietitian, I have so much to say about a TV show like The Bachelor. It’s because what we eat, and how we feel about weight and our bodies, is inextricably tied to matters of privilege, media bias, and the normalization of gender stereotypes.
Sure, I know it’s a popular series, and I’m as guilty as anyone else for watching garbage TV sometimes. It’s nice to have the TV equivalent of Twinkies to just chill out in front of, and not have to think.
But I have some very real problems with The Bachelor, and the concept of a TV show in which women compete for the attention of a man is only the tip of the iceberg.
Some of you will hate this piece, and tell me that The Bachelor is all fantasy, which is why it’s fun to watch. Then watch it, and enjoy it! I’m not going to tell you what to do.
But just know that which it’s definitely not real at all, this sort of TV show does inform and reinforce real-life behavior and norms that may not be healthy.
The Bachelor is not diverse.There have recently been some real kerfuffles, well deserved, in my opinion, about lack of racial diversity on the show. That has been discussed on other platforms, so I’m not going to address it here.
The entire other piece that I want to talk about is around women and bodies and gender stereotypes. In fact, the entire premise of The Bachelor makes me sick.
The problem with media in general, is that women are too often featured because they’re thin, white, and conventionally attractive.
Men have some of the same issues, but it’s just not at the same level. ‘Dad bods’ are actually a thing, and they’re accepted, joked about, and perceived as being not all that undesirable.
But have you ever heard anyone on TV joking about or being proud of their ‘mom bod’?
No. You haven’t. Because mom bods – what I would define as having stretch marks, poochy stomach, un-perky breasts – aren’t what the mainstream culture leads us to believe are ‘desirable.’
This is the crux of the problem, with The Bachelor and of society in general.
The Bachelor might be super popular fantasy TV, but I don’t care.
Here’s why I can’t stand this show:
First of all, there is no size and gender diversity in the contestants.
On The Bachelor, woman contestants are as thin and as gender-normative as possible in order to be able to compete with other women to attract a man aka ‘the prize.’
Not a surprise for a show that asks would-be contestants for their weight on the application.
There’s a big ‘find love’ angle on The Bachelor that’s total garbage, since rarely do the winners stay together and most of us know, or at least suspect, that most people are on the show just for their 5 minutes of fame.
But that doesn’t diminish the rather sickening portrayal of women that happens on there.
Pretty much every female contestant on The Bachelor is a walking gender stereotype. No bisexual, pansexual, or gender fluid women on there at all.
Women are expected to be straight, feminine, and model-perfect, with long hair, big white teeth, and young. There are a lot of cross necklace close-ups, perhaps to emphasize the ‘good girl’ aspect of some of the contestants, and a big emphasis on the ones who are virgins. As if our sexual experience, or lack thereof, is BIG NEWS that everyone in the world is entitled to hear about.
When a woman brings a sex toy to the show, she never lives it down. It’s archaic and insulting. Like, do a bunch of old white men sit around a table and make up these storylines?
The pearl-clutching reaches its zenith when the young, pure women end up spending the night with the bachelor in the Fantasy Suite. It’s like the epitome of a frat-boy dream.
Size diversity on The Bachelor is non-existent. I’m not bashing smaller women. But since most of the population doesn’t look at all like Bachelor contestants, shouldn’t women who are larger sizes, or who look in any way different, also be included?
It also works both ways – the men are total ‘bros.’ Conventionally attractive, and buff. If not that, at least not fat.
Thin women get The Bachelor. Fat women get ‘More To Love’ and ‘Hot and Heavy.’ (and The Biggest Loser – read what I think about that show, here)
The danger of showing only one type of woman in the show is that it suggests that only smaller, feminine women deserve love. That as women, our value is all in our appearance.
Just as young, thin women tend to be both infantilized and sexualized in our society, fat and/or older women are deemed to be ‘unsexy.’ Shows like The Bachelor are stark reminders of this fact.
I can assure you that women who are over size 2, or who don’t look like they just stepped out of a magazine, or who are older than 30, love and are loved just like their smaller or different counterparts, and are no less deserving than someone who is thinner or more conventionally ‘beautiful’ than they are.
This whole lack of size diversity is harmful, but the diet industry loves it. The more we fall prey to the thinking that we’ll never get a man unless we look a certain way, or that we’re worth more if we’re thin, the more we’ll spend trying to get there.
It’s also a pernicious message. We watch for ‘entertainment,’ but we end up being affected in ways we never even thought. And it’s not just adults – this 2020 study suggests what we already suspect: what adolescents see in the media can have a profound influence on their body image and eating disorder risk.
These adolescents grow up into adults who may continue to pursue that ‘thin ideal’ well into their later years. It’s not so far fetched; the Bachelor debuted in 2002, so a 15 year old who watched it then, is now 34.
Older, single women are made to look like sad sack losers.
God forbid a woman is in her 30s and single on The Bachelor. She then gets an arc on the show that’s particularly demeaning, portraying her as ‘desperate,’ ‘crazy,’ or a ‘cougar.’
If an older woman is on the show because she put her career first instead of marrying young, she’s ‘selfish’ or ‘bossy.’
Older contestants are often called ‘old,’ in an attempt to disparage them.
‘Old’ is apparently a derogatory word. Ladies, we’ve got an expiration date, so beware!
Not only is this portrayal disgustingly patriarchal, it also plays into the $3.3 billion dollar wellness industry’s desire to feed off of our fear of aging. Stay young, and you won’t be nuts and pathetic. You’ll be beautiful and desirable, deserving of a night in the Fantasy Suite.
The pursuit of ever-lasting youth is what wellness culture is based on.
It’s also deeply tied to diet culture and how we feel about our bodies, which then affects how we eat and what we eat.
Women on the show are rarely if ever, shown eating.
In fact, I came across a piece that said that the producers feed contestants before the actual dates, because ‘nobody wants to see someone stuff food into their face.’
Alright then. As I recall, the people on My 600lb Life are often shown eating. Because fat people eat piles of burgers and pizza, and thin people don’t eat at all? Disgusting.
Not showing the contestants eating just further reinforces the fact that being thin is prized over everything else.
Women should be ready to fight for their man, even if it means being horrible to other women. Crying, fighting, scheming – it makes women look BAD.
My final gripe about The Bachelor doesn’t have anything to do with nutrition, but I have to get it out there anyhow.
I completely understand that some of the women on The Bachelor are cast not only for how they look, but also for how much drama they can stir up. Because apparently, women acting like b*tches and fighting like cats over a man is really scandalous.
This makes for compelling TV, which I get. But it’s also an outdated trope that ends up making women collectively look like a hot mess.
Also: I can assure you that finding actual love doesn’t involve any of that stuff.
Again, patriarchal AF – the Bachelor ‘tries out’ a bunch of women by sleeping with them, then chooses one of them to be his wife. Women are seen as property, as disposable, and as fruit, ready to be picked and then discarded after one bite.
Why in the world would a woman want to be a part of that? And before someone messages me and tells me that The Bachelorette is also a thing where women get to do the same things to men, I don’t agree.
Men haven’t been objectified for years like women have. We’re still struggling as women, in many cases, to be taken seriously. Shows like The Bachelor aren’t helping our cause.