In Germany, the show Big Diet locked contestants into a house to lose X number of pounds. In New Zealand, an official proposal to tax food based on fat content was put forward in order to ‘cure’ fatties. In England, a child was sent home from school with a “You’re too fat” note while a couple was told they are “too fat” to adopt. In America, shows such The Biggest Loser suggest if you are big (re: fat) you ARE a LOSER and The Swan surgically removed fat from the bodies of already relatively thin contestants, revealing liposuction as (female) necessity.
These examples are only a minute offering of the continued abhorrence of fat in many (most?) cultures around the world. While many societal institutions and beliefs contribute to the ‘thin-is-in’ aesthetic, the media and the multi-billion-dollar ‘diet industrial complex’ are two of the greatest perpetrators of this fat-hating vitriol. Bombarding us with the equation that thin equals beauty, will-power, and success and fat equals failure, gluttony, and ill-health, the media consistently projects negative attributes onto fat bodies. Fat hatred and its ugly sister, anorexic approval, abounds not only in reality television, but in EVERY form of media. Seen any fat news anchors? Been encouraged to admire any flabulous films? Listened to any fat-positive songs? Not likely (unless, that is, you are an active fat acceptance person and purposefully seek out fat positive media – and, even then, it ain’t that easy to find).
Judging by this widespread fat-hatred, it seems the thin-loving media would have embraced the relatively new “cure” for fatness – weight loss surgery (WLS). Yet, coverage of such surgery has been largely negative. Broadcasting surgical horror stories and framing those who opt for surgery as cop-outs, the media suggests that being thin takes hard work, sacrifice, and will-power – that surgery is ‘the easy way out’. The now thin post-surgical body may be hailed for its newly acceptable appearance, but the words used to describe WLS from ‘drastic’ to ‘draconian’, from ‘last resort’ to ‘effortless,’ from ‘quick fix’ to ‘surgically induced self-control’ all connote WLS as cheating.
Perhaps the most-outspoken celebrity mouthpiece of this media doctrine is Bill Maher. In the following, he blasts WLS, suggesting that fatties are food addicts:
No more celebrating gastric bypass. Carnie Wilson, Al Roker and now Starr Jones are all being heralded by the media for stapling their stomachs shut. They shouldn’t be. They’re not making a brave choice to change. They’re giving money to doctors to reroute their ability to turn food into crap. It’s like kicking cocaine by crazy gluing your nostrils shut.
Drawing on the widely held erroneous belief that fat people are gluttonous, Maher makes it clear that he believes if you’re fat, it’s your own damn fault. However, despite his claims to the contrary, WLS is hardly praised in the media. Rather, typical before and after shots celebrate newly attained thinness while guffawing at former fat grotesquerie. They frame the pre-WLS body as out of control and GROSS. The post body is then dissected for evidence of quick weight loss – saggy skin, chin folds, upper arm sags – with an implicit message that if these fatties had done it right – or the ‘hard way’ – they wouldn’t have to suffer the post-op baggy-body-syndrome.
Thus, while our culture wants us to be thin it wants us to suffer to do so. Moreover, it wants us to be thin at all costs – with the emphasis on cost – to buy diet pills, exercise machines, diet food, etc, etc. Apparently the cost of surgery (which was for several years covered by various health insurance companies) was not generating enough profits for the weight loss industrial complex.
Oprah Winfrey, like Maher, is in line with the media’s message that WLS is the easy way out. Her mantra seems to be, “I did it the hard way, so can you” – yes, the ‘hard’ way with a personal trainer and full-time chef. Embracing her new thin self, and famously espousing that losing weight is her greatest achievement, she still supposedly wants to teach us to love the bodies we are in. Oprah seems to have fallen victim to the idea that the female body must be disciplined into proper shape. Relentlessly shedding her former fat self, she emerged as a new and improved cultural icon of female will-power. Yet, this shedding was, as it is for the vast majority of bodies that are not born to thinness, temporary. Now Oprah is “embarrassed” about her lack of discipline, embarrassed her body is back at the 200+ mark.
Oprah’s sidekick, Dr. Phil, also characterizes weigh loss surgery as the easy option, advising members of his “Weight Loss Challenge” group “If you want a quick fix, get your stomach stapled.” This idea that surgery is easy (and that in order to count, weight loss has to be a challenge) has been widely adopted by the media. Fat people are not supposed to have a cheaters way out, damnit! They should be made to suffer for their self indulgence, laziness, and constant eating! Never mind the fact that many thin people eat as much or more than their fat counterparts, many exercise less or not at all, many have just as many or more health problems. Never mind that such surgeries are hardly ‘easy’ (nor do they work for everyone) and YET they are more successful than yo-yo dieting, pills etc. This is not an endorsement of WLS (nor is it a condemnation) – rather, I ask, WHY does the media only champion certain types of weight loss? Why pick on people who have “chosen” – either for health reasons or for aesthetic reasons – to opt for surgery while celebrating others who make the very same “choices” but do so with pills, extreme exercise regimens, or starvation diets?* Seems like a double standard… Does it perhaps come from the fact that the diet industrial complex’s main goal is for people to FAIL and that, as of yet, WLS has been one of the most successful ways in which fatties become skinnies? A drastic way – to be sure – but a way that has a much higher ‘success’ rate than obsessive colon-cleansing or chomping down acai berry pills…
While I am all for loving the bodies we are in – and loving all types and sizes of bodies – I understand we live in a world that force feeds us the message we must NOT be fat. As such, many, many people are constantly trying to lose weight. THIS is the problem – yet, too often I have seen people who have been brainwashed into believing they must be thin to be happy/healthy baring the brunt of attack from all sorts of places – including from fat positive activists. Shouldn’t we, as body lovers, be attacking the system and NOT the people who are its victims?
Up next, part 2, in which I consider the fat acceptance movement and condemnation of WLS…
*I put chosen and choices in scare quotes to indicate the idea of free choice is a bit of an oxymoron given the level of fat-hating cultural indoctrination.