Why We Need to Represent Obesity in the Media
There’s just something wrong with people being fat and happy. Or so the tabloid headlines that scream ‘Obesity shouldn’t be promoted!’, or the ‘experts’ who run weight loss clinics (and have absolutely no vested interest), are telling us. When clothes companies do the bare minimum to include models of different shapes and sizes, they are immediately “glorifying obesity” and being “bad role models” to young people. There are a few major problems with this.
Firstly, the idea that showing women of different sizes to the world is in some way a danger to public health is laughable. People rant about how obesity is a killer, and by showing people on Instagram pages, or in pictures in a magazine, who do not fit the nice little mould of an acceptable body type that society puts out, we are essentially giving children diabetes and heart disease. They recite reams of statistics on the obesity epidemic, as though it is something you can ‘catch’ and we should be afraid of. They mention nothing however of the 30 million people suffering with an eating disorder in the USA because of pressures to look a certain way. They attribute deaths from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes to being overweight, often disregarding other risk factors, and yet say little to nothing about the individuals who die as a direct result of the stigma and shame they experience because of their looks. In America, someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder every 62 minutes. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order, and none more so than those who feel they are supportive of the body positivity movement, but just think that being a certain weight is ‘unhealthy’. One particularly contradictory article states, and I quote, “ “healthy” looks different on every single body, and it’s important to know this. However, looking in the mirror at an unhealthy body and calling it perfect is not an act of rebellious self-confidence, nor does it promote self-love.” In one sentence, the author has completely contradicted herself, and immediately jumped into the same bracket as the lovely people on the internet who say “I’m a feminist… BUT”, or “I’m not racist… BUT”. For some reason, it’s perfectly acceptable to say that being fat amounts to hating yourself, that you could not possibly love yourself in a body like that, because you are “treating” it badly. This again puts locus of control on the person whose body it is – they must not be looking after themselves to look like that. Surely no one could be happy and fat.
Secondly – so what if we are glorifying obesity? Glorifying does not equate to proselytising. One particularly well-put explanation for the importance of glorifying obesity is that it is “treating something as more splendid than it would normally be”. Glorifying obesity is not about forcing everyone to become fat, but about celebrating how no matter what body you are in, you are beautiful, and deserve to feel that way. Just because someone doesn’t look the way they are “supposed” to, doesn’t mean they can’t feel wonderful about themselves, or wear a bikini, or eat an entire pizza or salad to themselves. Being considered “fat” is too often seen as an inherently negative thing. I used dread the Christmases when I would meet the extended family and they would tell me I was after getting “strong”. Until I realised a) it’s not an insult, and b) the little old Irish ladies never meant it as one because they probably see it as an evolutionary advantage that would have helped me survive the famine (or maybe survive whatever agricultural Armageddon there is after Brexit?).
So, screw those people who see a picture of a fat person and immediately jump to criticise and demonize the way they look. Screw those people who talk about how much they care about someone’s health and yet say things which will contribute to a poor self-image. Screw them, and then go do whatever the hell you want with your body, because it’s amazing.