Content warning: Body image issues
As the world becomes awash in shades of red and gold, “Gilmore Girls” seems extra bingeworthy. Protagonists Rory and Lorelei Gilmore dominate the fall months with their puffer jackets and endless coffee refills. There is no question about it — twenty-two years after its release, “Gilmore Girls” has proved itself a timeless seasonal classic.
For over two decades, this cozy, autumnal show has resonated especially with female audiences, and unsurprisingly so. The series revolves around a single working mother and her teenage prodigy daughter navigating the complexities of romance, friendship and life’s general obstacles.
Providing a comedic yet heartwarming glimpse into a life that defies the traditional nuclear family dynamic, “Gilmore Girls” presents as a feminist work in several ways. The series praises female agency and ambition through Rory and Lorelei’s triumphs. Female characters are fully fleshed out rather than flat, secondary beings. The producer herself, Amy Sherman-Palladino, is a successful, intelligent woman, and her art reflects that.
However, while “Gilmore Girls” contains empowering, feminist themes, it also succumbs to patriarchal pressure. “Gilmore Girls” relies heavily on the attractiveness of its protagonists. The show contains several superfluous scenes that serve no purpose besides demonstrating Rory and Lorelei’s appealingness to men, such as when Lorelei declines to go on a date with the father of one of Rory’s classmates. This man is never brought up again, his character left completely disregarded. He exists merely to prove that Lorelei receives abundant male attention.
Just like her mother, Rory effortlessly captures the interest of the men around her. Her first boyfriend Dean is instantly enthralled with her despite her initial inability to hold a conversation with him. The show heavily operates around presenting Rory and Lorelei as objects of male desire, often adhering to traditional gender dynamics when it comes to courting. Rory and Lorelei, despite being empowered in many ways, tend to be recipients of attention rather than active instigators in their romantic relationships.
They are also often validated due to their attractiveness; part of what makes the Gilmore girls so remarkable to viewers is the fact that they are widely coveted by men. It sets them apart (and far above) other female characters. The girls are consistently presented as models of envy. Paris resents Rory for Tristan’s interest in her, and Lane disparagingly compares herself to Rory. When Sookie offers Lorelei dating advice in the show’s first season, she callously exclaims, “When did you become a relationship expert? You haven’t been in a relationship in years.” This comment is backhanded and hurtful because it illustrates a complete disregard for Sookie’s opinion solely due to the fact she elicits less attention from men. As a result, both Rory and Lorelei perpetuate misogynistic dating dynamics where women are objectified, their value contingent on their “appealingness.”
While Rory and Lorelei are both portrayed as hard workers, evident by Rory’s academic successes and Lorelei’s entrepreneurship, they also naturally excel. This ease not only applies to their interactions with men, but with their physical appearances as well. Rory and Lorelei consume large quantities of high caloric foods (pop-tarts, pizza, ice cream, cheese burgers, etc.) while remaining in thin, conventionally-preferred bodies. In some ways, the show’s depiction of food is refreshing. “Gilmore Girls” does not glorify or encourage restriction in the slightest, and in a culture where a significant number of women suffer with disordered eating, this can possibly serve as a positive influence for female viewers.
However, the girls’ diet is unfortunately used as a way to exemplify their superiority to other women. Rory and Lorelei do not need to try to adhere to patriarchal beauty standards — they simply fit them by nature. They scoff at the prospect of working out and cooking nutritious, balanced meals, yet their bodies fit societal ideals. This characterizes the girls as down-to-earth and likable, exempt from the seemingly superficial efforts other women feel they must make.
They are beautiful, but not in an ostentatious manner. In one of the season’s earliest episodes, Dean even explicitly points this out. After Rory grabs another slice of pizza, he commends her and comments, “Most girls don’t eat.” Rory and Lorelei manage to be perceived as dainty and feminine without possessing the perceived vanity of “most girls.” To make matters even worse, Rory and Lorelei make several fatphobic comments throughout the course of the show. They put in no work to maintain their physiques, yet cast harsh judgment on bodies they deem to be too large.
“Gilmore Girls” has its strengths, such as its compelling, nuanced female characters, plots largely driven by female ambition and willingness to challenge traditional family structures. With that being said, the series depends on several patriarchal tropes. However, while “Gilmore Girls” presents as a feminist, uplifting series on the surface, it largely thrives off of oppressive, misogynistic ideology.
In many ways, “Gilmore Girls” succeeds as a comfort show because it operates as a form of escapism. But, as viewers live vicariously through Rory and Lorelei, they also experience a world that embraces the unattainable and harmful expectations established for women.