Both The Simpsons and Family Guy feature a very fat husband married to a wife with a model-perfect body. So did The Critic. Hank Hill isn’t very fat, but he’s got a spare tire, whereas Peggy Hill is pretty thin (their son Bobby is fat). Fred, Barney: fat. Wilma, Betty: thin.
This same pattern is found in non-animated family sit-coms, too, but I think the explanation for that is pretty obvious: most of those sit-coms are built around well-known male stand-up comedians or actors who are fat. This is just plain old sexism at work; it’s easier for fat men to become celebrities than it is for fat women. Very few fat women become famous enough to get their own family sit-com built around them, and even if they do, the network may order them to lose weight (which is what happened to Margaret Cho). Roseanne Barr got away with it, but then again – if the quality of her sit-com is anything to judge by – she also had ten times as much talent as nearly any other sit-com comedian.
But animated shows don’t face these problems. They can make any character buff, or any character fat. So why not a fat woman on these shows?
I think it’s one of two things. Or maybe both of two things.
First, there’s the cruelty factor. There are a lot of fat jokes made about the fat characters on The Simpsons and Family Guy. In our culture, being fat is considered a pretty bad thing for a man, but a mortal sin for a woman. Constantly making fun of fat women might just seem cruel, rather than funny.
Secondly, for both Homer and Peter, being fat is a physical manifestation of their main character trait: unrestrained Id. Neither character ever has a desire that he doesn’t immediately act on; they run entirely on impulse and want. All that unruly flesh is just a reflection of their unruly personalities.
So why couldn’t we have a female character who was a creature of pure Id, whose unruly mounds of fat, like Homer’s, is always threatening to crush the furnature, leak over the sides of all restraints, and just generally refuse to fit in?
Well, I think there could be such a character. If she was well-written, I’d find her funny. But to have a woman be that character… well, it somehow wouldn’t be very status quo, would it? I think a lot of America might find a female version of Homer Simpson or Peter Griffen – that is, an unashamed fat woman whose fat gets everywhere and who unabashedly goes after every passing want – more than a bit threatening. Not exactly the comforting material that successful sit-coms are made of.