I watch a lot of television, mostly because I’m an introvert, and maybe because I’m depressed. Recently, my British boyfriend (for a weekend) got me hooked on Broadchurch which, if you haven’t yet watched, I highly recommend. From there, I moved on to Happy Valley which, while a little too violent for me, shook me for other reasons. Once I realized what that reason was, I became doubly surprised. In both of those shows, the female lead is a “normal-looking” middle-aged woman married to a man her own age, and this, I realized, was shocking to me. Why? Because it’s not something we ever see in American television. Think about it. A woman in her 40s (or older) on American TV looks like the cast of Desperate Housewives, which is to say genetically blessed and impossibly youthful. That’s what’s normal for us now in the US. That’s the unattainable standard by which we judge ourselves. Meanwhile, the women of Broadchurch and Happy Valley look like women we actually know (as opposed to celebrities we know of), and what’s more, their characters are portrayed as objects of desire despite not continuing to look 10 to 20 years younger than they are. While I consider myself a feminist, I found it hard to buy these romantic relationships—I’ve been so brainwashed by the norms of the society in which I live that I subconsciously don’t believe that a man would be interested in a woman his age who looked his age.
To be clear, I don’t have an issue with youth-extending beautification. In my mind, a woman has two choices. One is to exit the conversation entirely (and age naturally), and the other is to use the various tools at her disposal to achieve certain beauty standards (getting “work” done). It just never occurred to me, for whatever reason, that America might prioritize this more than other Western societies until my unlikely wake-up call via my addiction to television. And I’m not saying the Brits (or the French, for that matter) have it all figured out, either. Rather, this is just an observation of my own learned biases that’s making me wonder how many other ways I’m being subtly brainwashed into feeling not good enough as an ordinary human every day of my life. Hopefully, as we acquire more and more access to programming outside of the States, our definition of beauty will continue to expand. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, I’m open to all suggestions for what to watch next in the world of British television.