Wednesday, 25 April 2012

'What Are You At Getting Terribly Fat?'

In the past few years there appears to have been an influx of television shows centred entirely around weight, or more precisely those who are overweight.  ITV's Fat Families and the British version of The Biggest Loser alongside MTV's I Used To Be Fat and Channel 4's Supersize vs Superskinny all seem to be saturating our TV listings. But do these shows actually promote health, or are they just fuelling the fire of our body obsessed society?

All of these shows present fat as being THE WORST THING A HUMAN BEING CAN BE. EVER. Forget being horrible, selfish, spiteful or manipulative, having a BMI over 30 trumps everything. The 'contestants', or those who take part in the various programs, are made to strip down to their underwear so that we can see for ourselves what a disgusting horrible mess they are. Their bodies are offered up for us to dissect, imperfection by imperfection. In Supersize vs Superskinny the participants are even encouraged to compare their bodies with their 'body-opposites' and comment on how different they are. It's all purely focused on appearance.

So how do they encourage people to change? By shaming them. Seemingly taking tactics from a playground bully - "Look at you, you're a big fat lazy waste of space and you're costing the NHS millions." If this kind of approach worked, then surely those who have already endured such taunts would now be at a healthy weight? Of course not. All it encourages is self-hate. It's hard to change yourself if you're constantly being told you're lazy piece of s**t, let alone if you start believing it on your own. While those who participate in such shows may achieve success in their weight loss goals, those who are on the other side of the TV screen may not share in their success and become disheartened as a result. Shows like The Biggest Loser have contestants shedding 10 pounds a week whereas 2-3 is the recommended healthy amount for weightloss.

All of these shows present the idea that fat immediately equals unhealthy. Apparently just by looking at someone you can tell (a) how much they eat (b) how much exercise they do, and (c) their entire medical history. Funny that. I'm sure everybody knows someone who never works out, eats lots of junk food but remains a 'normal' weight, or someone who does a lot of exercise but carries a bit more weight? You cannot tell just by looking at someone how healthy they are. All you can tell is what they look like. And by presenting people who are over-weight in such a way, people begin to think that they're allowed to comment on other people's bodies. In fact, it makes them damn right mad that other people do not conform to certain body ideals.

And if you're a fashion blogger, god help you if you don't fit these unattainable ideals. Victoria at VIPXO recently wrote a post about all the hate she's received as a result. Why do we feel the overwhelming need to impart our opinions on other people's bodies? Especially if they're ~shock horror~ happy with their body.

And if you think that Supersize vs Superskinny is doing some good by highlighting the dangers of eating disorders you'd be wrong. In fact many of the terms they use are still founded in old misconceptions. The narrator even stated that those suffering from an eating disorder could be 'snapped out of this behaviour' like it was something that could be fixed with one click of the fingers. The way they present such things is also potentially triggering to those who are already fighting an eating disorder, by completely ignoring media guidelines set out by the eating disorder charity Beat. The guidelines state that listing specific weights is unhelpful, listing amounts eaten may act as an encouragement to binge and purge, and showing images of emaciated bodies and body parts are also triggering. Check, check, check. Oh dear...

Whilst I do agree that some people who are overweight may suffer from weight-related illnesses, I do not believe that just by looking at someone you can tell how healthy they are. If it's not your body it's not your business.

If it's just a case of eating less and exercising more then why doesn't this work? The answer is it's just not as simple as that. Whilst some people may need to make some lifestyle changes I do not believe that body shaming is the way to go about this, what we need is body acceptance. And these shows are just not helping.

What are your opinions on such shows? Do you think that they are actually beneficial to those watching?


  1. Without looking far, T.V. could find itself something worthwhile to broadcast, sure. It's just more satisfying for it to pick at scabs that produce schadenfreude because those sorts of shows generate the most ratings – especially in a society that loves to ruminate. There is no way that these shows could be considered 'Useful' beyond the point where they state that obesity is linked to health problems.

    I file such shows in with Jeremy Kyle, The News etc. But I think channel 4 have long been guilty of producing things that fill the schadenfreude quota, and also inspire blog posts such as yours to fill the "Reasoned Debate" quota. They watch the ratings roll in as debate is sparked, manage to sit on the fence purely because they've inspired debate and are therefore "serving a purpose." They win either way. They exist in the same kind of moral vacuum as lawyers who defend people they know to be guilty of violent crime do.

    1. I guess I'm always naive in thinking that broadcasters have a responsibility to educate as well as entertain without having an ulterior motive. As you said, they just cash in on the types of shows which generate the highest ratings, but with these 'health' programs not being your average 'reality' show I thought that they would provide the public with correct information, rather than cementing body hatred.

      I think what unnerved me the most is how people react to it as the above tweets demonstrate.


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