I had written off More to Love as just another step in fat-sploitation, and maybe I would have gone on that way without ever knowing for sure. But last weekend on The Soup, Joel McHale illustrated the intrinsic hypocrisy in my assumption by first criticizing the show’s producers for showcasing the women’s weight, and then commencing with the fat jokes. I was so offended that I had to see for myself. And now I’m completely hooked and will be watching every episode to the bitter end/proposal.
More to Love features 20 plus-sized women competing for the love of one man, and thus straddles two genres: Shows About Fat People (for the record, I’m using “fat” as a size descriptor, not a value judgment), and Shows About Lonely, Desperate, Crazy People (full value judgment intended). In the Fat People genre, we have The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fit Club, Dance Your Ass Off, etc., which presents weight loss as an inspirational goal while playing on the audience’s freak-show fascination with obesity. In the dating genre, we have The Bachelor and Bachelorette, VH1’s of Love series, etc. Here, the goal is love as represented by romantic clichés like roses, hot tubs, and proposals on the beach, and the entertainment lies in watching people act ridiculous in love's pursuit.
As with all dating shows, the contestants with self-esteem approach More to Love as a game they’re trying to win, and therefore seem less crazy/more relatable. Then there are the many unstable participants who can’t stop crying. These poor sad ladies already consider Luke to be the love of their life and face potential heartbreak at every elimination. Next week there’s a simulated prom, so you can just imagine all the not-so-repressed adolescent trauma that’s going to dredge up. But that kind of drama is par for the dating-competition course. The difference here is that the contestant’s issues center on weight rather than crappy ex-boyfriends, inattentive parents, or whatever other problems drive people to enter these competitions.
Another difference is Luke, the 300 pound male object, who prefers full-figured women and is revered because of it. My favorite contestant, Bonnie, summed up the premise pretty well: “It’s great to be competing for the love of a person who would love us no matter what we look like.”
Luke is two parts sweetie pie and one part lech. His attraction to large women comes off more like a fetish than a normal inclination. I can’t help but cringe at the way he ogles the contestants (to their delight) and ends EVERY conversation with a kiss on the lips. Then again, he really tries to make everyone feel comfortable and secure. And how can you resist adorable bro-isms like “Why have a 6-pack when you can have the whole keg?” Luke is a worthy love interest, but it’s sad that so many of the women already think he’s the only one in the world who could be attracted to them.
And that’s the thing. I want to see more women on TV who exceed the size standard, but I don’t want them to be regarded as freaks because of it. The opening credits almost address this: “The average woman on a dating show: Size 2. The average American woman: Size 14.” Including average and above-average sizes in the scope of TV romance is a worthwhile endeavor, and it’s refreshing to see a show featuring heavier people that isn’t about weight loss (even if we have to anticipate that Luke and his lady will shed some pounds and endorse diet products after the finale). But if this is really about expanding our concept of a normal size, then why are there so many shots of fat women crying about how much they weigh?
Of course, the topper is that while Fox bemoans the exclusion of average-sized women from dating shows, it’s excluding average-sized women from dating shows. If they really want to represent more sizes, why not just integrate the competition? Maybe reality TV is always exploitative, but if that’s the case we should all be exploited equally, not separately.