TV is notorious for presenting viewers with an idealized, glossy version of reality. The perfect world represented on-screen can feel like a gratifying escape. (After all, it’s only entertainment.) But there’s one area where we can’t always afford to buy into television’s slant on life: our health. Though we may know we can’t believe everything we see on TV, it’s easy to subconsciously absorb health information from our screens. It’s time to set the record straight. Here are some of the most common fictionalized presentations of health on television — and the real-world truth about them. 

Woman watching TV

1. Bouncing back from childbirth takes no time at all. Judging from television standards, women need approximately three days to get back to looking trim and fabulous after childbirth. By the time maternity leave is over, TV moms are sporting their pre-pregnancy clothes, with nary a dark circle under their eyes from lack of sleep. (Not to mention how easy it apparently is to hide a pregnancy, à la Peggy on Mad Men.) Any woman who has had a baby in real life knows better. While recovery from childbirth looks different for everyone, the body generally needs around four to eight weeks for its internal organs to return to their original place, let alone start to lose baby weight. After all, if it took nine months to put on, why shouldn’t it take that long to get off?

2. Your water always breaks when you go into labor. While we’re on the subject of giving birth, let’s talk water breakage. A standard TV labor and delivery typically starts when, without warning, a pregnant woman’s water breaks in a Niagara Falls gush and voilà! Now she knows it’s time to go to the hospital! (We cracked up at Pam’s hilarious efforts to fake this on The Office.) In reality, only about 15 percent of women experience their water breaking prior to active labor. So if you’re expecting, don’t worry too much about making a public scene by soaking your chair.

3. Only teenagers have acne. As far back as The Wonder Years, we’ve been operating under the delusion that acne is a teen-only problem. Pimples ruining the school dance or keeping teens from getting a date are just some of the recurring tropes you see on television. But what about those who continue to struggle with blemishes into adulthood? Experts say over half of women age 25 and older suffer from at least mild acne, and a 2015 British study revealed a 200 percent increase in cases of adult acne in the last several years. Thankfully, skin care products exist to combat pimples *and* wrinkles at the same time.

4. The only reason people are overweight is that they overeat. Remember the Friends flashbacks to “fat Monica,” stuffing her face at Thanksgiving and ordering entire pizzas for herself? Sadly, the presentation of plus-size TV characters often perpetuates the belief that being overweight can only be the result of gluttonous eating habits. The truth, however, is that many factors influence weight, from genetics to environment to the bacteria in your digestive tract. Making assumptions about others’ weight is never helpful.

 5. No one is ever on her period during sex. Well, this is pretty much every television show ever. It seems the only time ladies in TV-land admit to being on their period is to get out of sex (or other obligations). Do the simple math, however, and you’ll conclude that women are on their period around one quarter of every month — a statistic that’s apparently not prime time-friendly. How to handle this issue in the bedroom is a personal decision real-life women have to make every month, not once every few years.

6. Having a heart attack always looks the same. A character suddenly clutches his chest, cries out “I think I’m having a heart attack!” and collapses. True for TV heart disease, perhaps, but not always the case in real life. Chest pain is just one of many symptoms that can occur during a heart attack. Additional signs include nausea and vomiting; pain in the arms, neck, or back; light-headedness; sweating; and swelling.

7. Bathroom problems are hilarious! We’re definitely not above a laugh at a good bathroom joke, but all too often TV shows present digestive issues solely as a humorous situation. In reality, however, conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome can seriously affect quality of life, not to mention cause major embarrassment for sufferers. Before you let television reality convince you that all “number two” problems are worth a chuckle, ask yourself if it was funny the last time you had to run to the bathroom. 

Do you have a crazy TV health myth to add to the list? Tweet us at @BritandCo!

(Photo via Getty)