Last night I managed to sit still for an hour and watch a new show on ABC called Pan Am. This series is centered around the iconic Pan American World Airline during the 1960’s. The period drama focuses primarily on the experience of the stewardesses working on the airline, their travels, and their growth as individuals.

Here is a link to pilot episode:

After watching the first two episodes the most realistic and relateable character is Maggie Ryan who is portrayed by Christina Ricci. Maggie is grounded for not wearing her girdle in the first episode and in the second she is propositioned by a male passenger. Her response to the passenger was something along the lines of, “I do not come in the price of the ticket”.

Maggie’s character is fighting the oppression that the culture around her is saying is the normalization of beauty in the 1960’s. She does not wear the girdle and brushes off the attempts of pick up lines and other remarks about her and other stewardess’ bodies.

From the first episode the women in the show were addressed as “sweetheart” and were regarded in terms of sexist and hegemonic language. Even the system in which the women were working was in alignment with the normalization of standards for women. Women working for Pan American were “allowed to fly until married or 32” and were made to wear a specific uniform with special undergarments. This uniform is made for a certain slim body type and flight attendants were weighed in before heading out on their next flight. Because of this aspect of the television show, it fits nicely into the topic of Slender, Toned, Muscled, Controlled Bodies.

As Bordo  states, there is a certain preoccupation with slenderness as of the normalizing social imperatives of our time. Pan Am shows that the preferable body type was slim and toned and that this was an aspect of daily life (even back in the 60’s before this article was written).  The control that Bordo writes about is clearly portrayed in the women in the show Pan Am by the weigh in’s and the special uniform fittings. Women who were outside of the “norm” were grounded and put on probation until they changed the way that their bodies took up space.

The girdle that Maggie refuses to wear underneath her uniform, like many other girdles, held in the stomach area of a woman as well as smoothed out the areas of trouble around the waist and hips. This made the uniform fit nicely around the slight curves of the stewardess’ figures.

Even the men of this show are dressed in a certain fashion as to show that they are well toned and well built in stature. All of the male characters in the show are rather hansom with hair all in place and broad shoulders. This fits in nicely with the idea of “bigorexia” as McCaughy describes it; the idea that even back in the 1960’s that men were encouraged to be large and in charge of themselves and the space around them. This idea of being strong enforced the idea that men could protect themselves from victimization.

Both ideas of normalization the slenderness ideal for the women and “bigorexia” for the men are limiting in the degree to which a person can make decision about their bodies without much outside interrogation. The women of Pan Am were literally being weighed and measured to fit into the normalization of what a woman, especially a “hand picked, good looking, and well educated” should be.

My main concern raised by these articles and this look into the past as it is portrayed is the recurring idea that thin is the normal way for people to be. Even if their bodies must  be augmented by girdles and weighed in at every interval as to make sure that they are not ‘over capacity’. Women and men both were and still are pressured to fit into the normalization of what is thought to be beautiful and right when it comes to bodies. Will this process of othering and stigmatization of overweight people ever end? I suppose only time will tell…