'Mad Men's Fat Betty Francis: Yay or nay?

mad-men-fat-betty.jpgJanuary Jones' return to "Mad Men" as Fat Betty Francis (she even inspired a Twitter meme) divided fans of the show down the middle. Some love the new, blunt Betty, some not so much. Both camps were amply represented at Zap2it and the topic marks the maiden voyage for one of our new recurring features, RANT! RAVE!

RANT! Fat Betty Francis must go

Here's the thing: If Betty didn't mind her weight, I wouldn't either.

It makes sense that the show went there and it makes the icy January Jones a touch more likeable that she was willing to become Fat Betty. Especially considering the high Norbit-ing risk factor. She was willing to suit up in prosthetics and makeup to become the embodiment of an unhappy middle-aged woman; that's a brave thing for any actress to do. But maybe we shouldn't be surprised. We already knew Jones was brave -- after all, she eats her baby's placenta in capsule form.

But the fact that some people see Betty as somehow "liberated" since she made Bugles her new BFF and put on 60 pounds is just wrongheaded, no matter how sassy she may be when deflecting advice from her interfering mother-in-law.

I'm all for self-confidence and self-esteem -- and deflecting interfering mothers-in-law, but Betty is not unapologetically doing her own thing. She's so embarrassed by her size that she won't join her new husband at public functions, which is kind of a no-no for a politician's wife. She also doesn't want Henry looking at her nude -- she made him turn around when she stood to get out of the tub -- which is a massive red flag for body issues.

What bugged me the most was the tableau of Betty and daughter Sally ( Kiernan Shipka) -- with whom she's always had a strained relationship -- eating ice cream sundaes together. Sally asks to get up and leave and Betty asks her why she doesn't want to finish her ice cream sundae. "I'm full," says Sally, who leaves while mom finishes off her sundae, too.

Betty has already done her utmost to give Sally some serious issues in just about every major department -- her sexuality, her relationship with her dad, her interactions with other kids -- and now she's probably going to add food to the list of things that her daughter is unable to approach with a healthy outlook. Which sort of mirrors Betty's own past -- she was a fat child whose mother controlled every bite she took but blossomed into a slender model in her late teens.

Slender or not, Betty's never been happy -- so being fat is more of a symptom than the actual problem. She may have been the picture of happiness with a hot husband (Don) and three rosy-cheeked children, but now we can see her unhappiness. She's wearing it as armor.

-- Liz Kelly Nelson

RAVE! Another helping, please

Betty Draper Francis has maintained her air of mystery throughout "Mad Men's" previous four seasons -- whether that's because of the character's writing or January Jones' limited acting skills was unclear until Fat Betty came along.

The character is fat, insecure, unsure, emotional and I feel like I learned more about her in one episode than I had in any other time we've seen her on screen before (aside from maybe the shotgun/cigarette scene in Season 1). Before, Betty was icy and cold -- now she's vulnerable and even sympathetic.

As pointed out in a lovely  defense on Vulture, Betty is not dumb -- she was educated at Bryn Mawr, yet nobody expected her to do anything worthwhile with her life aside from model and then become a housewife. She hasn't had any actual options in life (privilege, sure -- but no choices have been her own), and pride in her appearance was one thing she could always count on.

Now that her conventional beauty, which she's always connected with her self-worth, is gone, she doesn't know how to function. Of course she's embarrassed to reveal herself to her husband -- she has been taught throughout her entire life that she was only lovable because of her looks. She doesn't want to be seen in public because she's afraid people will treat her differently. Which they will.

This is evident when she runs into a friend from years ago in the doctor's office -- she's shocked and embarrassed to be seen, but clearly still desperate for human contact. She leads a lonely life in that big house, and ultimately decides to catch up and socialize instead of following her instinct of running away.

I saw Betty trying to get Sally to finish her ice cream as a need for company, desperately wanting to not be alone. It wasn't as a vindictive attempt to sabotage her daughter's life. Yes, being fat is a symptom of her problems, but now I actually care. She's wearing her fat as armor, and I'll happily watch her fight.

-- Jean Bentley
Photo/Video credit: AMC
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