Like so many others, I’ve taken a step back from The Bachelor in recent years, turned off by the show’s myriad controversies and relentless stream of identical-looking contestants. But as The Golden Bachelor approached, a new take on the franchise starring 72-year-old widower Gerry Turner, I found myself curious—excited even. I loved the idea of watching women in their 60s and 70s, notoriously overlooked in our society, flirt and blush and go on first dates, of watching them be chosen and admired week after week. I also assumed that—surely, with this season of the show—ABC couldn’t pull its usual stunt of casting only sample-size women, thinking of how our bodies change from childbirth, from menopause, from illness. Then I saw the premiere.
Don’t get me wrong. The women of The Golden Bachelor are fabulous: vivacious, beautiful, and entertaining. They deserve love (and the world, frankly). They are also all very, very thin—so thin that I instantly felt embarrassed for having expected ABC to do anything else. The franchise may be shining a light on a new demographic, but if you squint, you wouldn’t know it. The body types are, by and large, the same as the ones they’ve always shown on this franchise. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed.
In the 20+-year history of the Bachelor franchise, there have only ever been two self-identified plus-size people cast on these shows out of over 1,100 contestants, as Roses for Every Body, a campaign launched in 2022 demanding fat inclusion in the Bachelor franchise, pointed out last year. Alongside glowing reviews toasting The Golden Bachelor, there is an undercurrent of disappointment among those who, like me, hoped this show would usher in a new era of body diversity too. And while the original show may rely on the excuse that many of its contestants are running on 22-year-old metabolisms, there’s something that feels especially pointed about the casting of these ultra-thin women when the average age is more like 65.
The Bachelor franchise’s casting team has always cherry-picked for its preferred body type (the average American woman is currently a size 16, for reference). But with the reality of aging bodies being what they are, the casting team must have worked even harder than usual to keep their cast’s average dress size the same while supplanting women in their 20s and 30s with women in their 60s and 70s. Statistically speaking, there are simply fewer women over the age of 60 with flat, toned stomachs and measurements that wouldn’t be out of place on a Victoria’s Secret runway. And yet, ABC decided that only women who fit that description should go on this journey for love.
The Golden Bachelor has been hailed as “groundbreaking” and “progressive” for featuring older adults and their love stories, and in some ways, the show delivers. Watching Gerry’s contestants choke up over the experience of being seen and admired after years of feeling invisible is genuinely moving, as is Gerry’s own story of losing his wife and seeking someone with whom to share his life. But while ABC seems eager to pat itself on the back for showing the experience of aging at all on TV, with the official Golden Bachelor Instagram account even posting, “Let the golden bunch end your fear of aging,” it remains an open question what kind of aging, exactly, they’re willing to show.
At a moment when the franchise is actively, consciously pivoting to tell underrepresented stories by spotlighting an older demographic, it’s especially disappointing that they drew the line where they did—at only showing contestants with as few signs of visible aging as possible, and not a single fat woman in their midst. As Roses for Every Body’s Rachel Everley put it, The Golden Bachelor is ABC “showing us that they're willing to change—but they're unwilling to show that fat people are worthy of love and deserve to be on television too.”
Take, for example, the inclusion of Jimmy Kimmel’s Aunt Chippy in the season premiere. Chippy was used as comic relief throughout night one, and not just because of her comic talents. From her first moment on screen, it was her appearance that seemed poised to be the punchline, with Gerry even telling Decider in a post-show interview that he “didn’t know what to do” when she came out of the limo and wondered whether it was “a skit” or “legitimate.”
At a certain point, it feels both ridiculous and exhausting to continue advocating for diversity of any kind on these shows. But we petition for greater inclusion and representation anyway because we understand that shows with the reach and visibility of the Bachelor franchise have power. It was only after intense petitioning amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests that the franchise cast its first Black Bachelor lead, Matt James, in 2021. And it’s only after years of increasingly controversy-ridden Bachelor and Bachelorette seasons and an increasingly fed-up fan base that they’ve branched out with a show like The Golden Bachelor. Hopefully with enough fan pressure the franchise will come around on body diversity too. And frankly, there’s good incentive for ABC to listen.
With The Golden Bachelor, ABC has had their most successful show in years. The season premiere pulled in 7.7 million viewers, the most viewed Bachelor premiere since Matt James’s 2021 season and the most viewed Bachelor franchise telecast since 2020, when Clare Crawley starred on The Bachelorette, making waves as the oldest Bachelorette lead in the show’s history at age 39. There is a demonstrated pattern that when the diversity and authenticity of the franchise improves, so does viewership. So why has ABC been so insistent on continuing to exclude fat contestants from its midst?
With The Golden Bachelor, I had allowed myself to picture a show that would celebrate the kinds of women I know in their 60s and 70s exactly as they are: the ones whose bodies have performed miracles and survived and changed as a result. I pictured a show that would celebrate smile lines and crow’s-feet and stretch marks and cellulite, all in the loving gaze of a man who doesn’t expect anything else. Through no fault of Gerry’s own—or of any of the wonderful women we see on the Golden Bachelor—that isn’t what this show delivered. The casting choices never gave it a chance. Women of every age deserve to feel the gaze of someone who understands their body size is the least interesting thing about them, but the older women The Golden Bachelor claims to celebrate deserve that most of all. Maybe one day ABC will give them that chance.
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