Does 'The Bachelor' have a casting problem? Why some fans say franchise has an 'anti-fat bias'

A new campaign is calling for size inclusivity in Bachelor Nation. (Photo: Getty Images)
A new campaign is calling for size inclusivity in Bachelor Nation. (Photo: Getty Images)

Fans of The Bachelor franchise return season after to season to watch men and women fall in love. But some are getting turned off by what they see as "the absolute dismal track record the franchise has in casting people with diverse body types."

Now, these fans want to have a larger conversation about fat inclusion in the series, demanding change with an advocacy campaign called Roses for Every Body.

"In 20 years, 44 seasons, 1,100+ contestants, there have only been 2 plus-size people cast by The Bachelor franchise," Roses for Every Body posted on Instagram. "And they went home night one."

"Reality TV is one of the most accessible forms of entertainment media. The Bachelor has a huge and diverse audience, and therefore a huge impact on American culture. For the last 20 years, [its] message about bodies has been that thinness is a prerequisite to be given a chance at love. That message needs to change," the group tells Yahoo Life via email.

Roses for Every Body was inspired by the work of the Bachelor Diversity Campaign launched in the summer of 2020, which shed light on the lack of racial diversity displayed throughout the franchise. After seeing some positive change by banding together to highlight the issue, Roses for Every Body is tackling another area of concern when it comes to exclusive body standards the show appears to normalize.

Neither ABC nor Warner Bros., which produces the series, responded to Yahoo Life's requests for comment.

While some members of the new collective come from the Bachelor Diversity Campaign, others with the same inclusive mission in mind joined to work on the latest campaign, which launched on July 11. And although it isn't the first time that the lack of body inclusivity in Bachelor Nation is being addressed, the group hopes that the campaign is the most effective method to create change.

"This is not a new conversation in Bachelor Nation, not in the slightest. But often the chatter dies down after a while when everyone collectively realizes it would take something big to push the franchise towards inclusion," the group explains. "Our hope is that this multifaceted campaign will give those in the audience who want change a place to make their voices heard as a collective. We believe that when enough people come together in one spot and make a loud enough noise, change can happen."

Members of Roses for Every Body feel strongly about making their asks clear, which they've done with a specific list of five demands including casting "a minimum of 5 fat, diverse contestants each season" and choosing leads "who specify that they are attracted to fat people."

Other asks include "equitable screen time," "mental health support" and "fat inclusion training" for staff, all which they say vital to making real progress.

"We didn't want to only ask for fat contestants, and then have the show tokenize, dehumanize and possibly traumatize these fat people by putting them on TV with no consideration for how fat people are often treated in/by the media," the group says. "This is something that has to be considered when representing any marginalized group. Our hope is that the demands we've made give the franchise a solid place to start, as well as guidance on how to tackle fat representation."

While the conversation around mental health has already been gaining momentum among members of Bachelor Nation, Roses for Every Body explains that the proper resources are particularly important for contestants who are more susceptible to public scrutiny.

"When fat people put themselves out there, whether on the internet or TV, we are so often met with vitriolic anti-fat harassment. People fill our DMs with death threats, rape threats, calls to kill ourselves, simply for existing as a fat person online," the group says. "While we believe The Bachelor's audience is more than ready for body diversity, it's important for the franchise to support its contestants as they are thrust into the spotlight."

Individual voices making pleas for the same progress were previously sparked by an instance of body-shaming that played out while Matt James's Bachelor season aired in 2021. An episode in that same season showing all of the women choosing dresses off of a rack of clothing that appeared to offer limited sizes also led viewers to express that there may be a larger issue at play.

According to the Roses for Every Body campaign, there have only been two self-proclaimed plus-size contestants throughout the entirety of the franchise. "Bo Stanley, who was on Season 19 of The Bachelor, and Bryan Witzmann, who was on Season 18 of The Bachelorette," the group shares. "They were both sent home on night one, with less than a minute of screen time each."

Stanley, a professional surfer who maintains a platform as a body activist, tells Yahoo Life that she believes labeling people as "fat" or "plus-size" isn't helpful to the cause. "That further separates and identifies us as a body type," she says. "Rather I see it as a need for inclusivity as humans. Which normalizes all body types without labels. Because that's what is normal out in the real world, all shapes, sizes, colors and walks of life."

Witzmann, a former professional football player, however, proudly called himself a "thicc" boy when appearing on Michelle Young's season. He tells Yahoo Life how these body standards impacted his experience with the franchise.

"Although my weight was functional for my position in football, the only reason I was pushed through casting at my size was because of that NFL status that they love to have on the show. Being the heaviest person ever on the show by at least 60 pounds, do I think that had a correlation to my lack of opportunity to get to know the Bachelorette and the lowest screen time of any contestant? I'd 100% say yes," he explains.

While Witzmann and Stanley have different perspectives about their experiences, the group says the nearly non-existent airtime they were each given on the show makes something clear to viewers.

"The message that is being sent about which bodies are deserving of love. By excluding fat people for two decades, the franchise has made it quite clear they believe only thin bodies are deserving," they say. "While ultimately fat people bear the brunt of this message, it does harm everyone."

The conversation has been applied to other reality dating shows, including Love Island and Love Is Blind.

Love Is Blind host Vanessa Lachey recently came under fire for her response to the lack of diversity on the Netflix show. During an interview with Insider, she shared that she thinks the lack of plus-size contestants on Love Is Blind has to do with a level of insecurity on their part.

"Their whole life they've been so insecure about being themselves because of this crazy swipe generation that we are in and this catfishing world that we're in, that they're so afraid to be themselves," Lachey said, adding that Netflix gives a "fair shot" to all candidates in the casting process, although she has no involvement. "I wonder if they truly don't have enough time in those two weeks to find themselves, A, and then be themselves to then find that spouse."

In 2014, then-Bachelor host Chris Harrison was similarly asked about having a "chubby" lead on the show. "That's not attractive, and television is a very visual medium," he told New York Times magazine.

And while public consensus about fat representation has seemingly changed, the people behind Roses for Every Body acknowledge their ongoing struggle of getting public backing from past and present cast members of The Bachelor franchises.

"We are grateful for every signature on our petition, however it has been disappointing to see so many contestants not show any form of support," they say. However, the group has taken to Instagram to share the few who have signed the petition, including former Bachelorette Katie Thurston.

"Body inclusion on the show benefits everyone in Bachelor Nation," Roses for Every Body shares. "The Bachelor is still one of the most popular dating shows on TV, they have the opportunity to lead the charge in size inclusive casting."

They add, "We’re not asking for perfection, we’re asking for progress."

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