Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

Shame on the editors. Shame on the producers. Shame on the photographers and camera people who enable it. Shame, shame, shame.

Well, you know I’m not big on shame as a motivator. I don’t happen to think shame motivates anybody to change anything for the better. But I’m trying a little eye for eye justice here. It’s a coward’s strategy, but I’m feeling a bit desperate, and am scraping the bottom of my intellectual barrel.

Because if I see one more image of a headless fat person meant to illustrate how overweight the nation is becoming, I’m going lose control.

Note to my colleagues in the media: While a third of us are obese, few of us are actually headless. I don’t buy the argument that you’re trying to protect anyone’s identity by showing the middle sections of overweight humans. Our extra fat doesn’t provide any information whatsoever. You like the image because it feeds national disgust. National shame. But it doesn’t do any good or provide any real information.

Try this idea on: It might be easier for the world to care about the fate of obese people if you didn’t portray us in a way that strips us of our humanity and individuality, our souls, our histories and our futures. It might help things, you might learn things if you actually spoke with us. You might be able to tell the whole truth.

Our thinner brethren have a hard enough time looking us in the eyes as it is. Why make it even easier to see us as mounds of expensive and inert flesh? We have faces. We have voices. We have stories to tell and ideas to share and thoughts to contribute. We actually have many interesting ideas about the obesity epidemic itself.

My obesity is currently in remission. It has been for a couple of years. Because I write about the experience of obesity nearly every day, I get a lot of my understanding and material from people who are dealing with extra weight right now. Through interviews. Remember interviews?

I learned more about the experience obesity while traveling to and from the TIME/ABC News obesity summit than at the event itself. Long cab rides from the Richmond airport to the conference site each way put me in the audience of two obese men. Hard working owners of cabs, these guys led interesting lives, talking with many people, listening to the news on the radio, thinking, working, providing for their families, and getting bigger every year. Sedentary jobs will do that to you.

These guys wanted very much to talk to me about their own experience with obesity, how they worked against it, worked at taking the weight off. They each had been given reasons to fear for their lives, each under doctors’ orders to lose weight, each with families to support. For one man, the issue is largely time. They go out to restaurants to eat, and hit the “all you can eat” buffets. He talked about moving to this country as a kid, and the first time he had been to one of these restaurants. He couldn’t believe it. He was sure he must have been breaking some law. That was decades ago, but he’s never really gotten over the feeling learning he never had to be hungry again. His affection for these buffets is killing him now, he says. “It’s ironic, isn’t it?” he asks.

The other man was an athletic and hyperactive kid. “Now they medicate kids with my personality type,” he said. “They want my son on medication, but I’m fighting it.” His story is the story of many adults, moving from a childhood of intense activity to an adulthood of no activity at all. He’s lost 30 lbs in the past year (“With another 150 to go.”), but a couple of slipped discs make it hard for him to get ahead where exercise is concerned. Sciatica numbs one leg, walking is uncomfortable, he feels too big for a bike. He knows his health scares his young kids. “I hear them whispering,” he says. “I can see it in their eyes.”

These are the stories obese people will share with us if we take the slightest interest in the human beings behind this epidemic. Look into their eyes, read their faces, listen to their stories if you want to understand what’s happening, how it happens, to tell the real story.

That is, if helping is what you want to do. If all you want to do is upset people, shame the obese, create further division, strife, tribalism, finger-pointing sensationalism. If all you want to do is create a new enemy, because enemies sell air time and newsstand copies and subscriptions, and make for sticky eyeballs, then by all means, make headless monsters out of us.

And if you do, then shame on you.

Learn more about stigma and obesity at Yale’s Rudd Institute

10 thoughts on “Media Shaming

  1. cpcats says:

    You tell ’em!

  2. gayle says:

    Thank you for putting into words what I have felt when I see the news snippets with the headless people. The sad thing is that I always have to look twice just to make sure its not me they had the camera on!!

  3. Lenore says:

    Just a short note about the terrific quality of your writing and the truly informative approach you take with your topics. Today’s essay on media coverage was great for me as I have been thinking along those very lines for some time. But the link to The Rudd Institute was a real kicker. What a fantastic information source. There is just so much more going on out there in the world than even this informed suburbanite ever knew. Sure, I know about the advertising and media tactics and the sensationalism, but every day I recognize at least one more layer or pain or one more tie between my fat cells and the world that I live in. It never ceases to surprise me. And with the understanding of the ties and layers I come closer to understanding the fat cells and their purpose in my life. I am still working out the details on whether they are needed any longer or if I can finally let them go. I find this sort of important insight every time I open my Skinny Daily email. Its nice to receive a candid decimation of topics that we encounter everyday.

    Earlier this week you gave us a talk about Geneen Roth and her contribution to the cause so I looked up her books in the online catalogue for my university library, very anonymous. The next day, I bit the bullet, walked over at lunch and actually checked one of them out (Feeding the Hungry Heart). It was a big step for me to pick up that book as I do not feel comfortable attaching myself to my weight in public. I’m working on that as well.

    So thanks for rocking my world with all of your information and motivation, girl! You’re a great thinker with a truly unique writing voice. Your insights are actually a bit of personal therapy every day that is helping me to find my place in the world of people, skinny or fat. Part of this search is finding the inspiration to seek the real answers that are not always easy to find. So thanks for the inspiration, too.

  4. AprilN says:

    The pictures of headless obese people in the media have always incensed me (especially because they are ALWAYS used), but your column points out so many more reasons to justify my outrage. I can’t be silent about this anymore – the next time I see such an image, I’m going to complain. Loudly.

    Rock on, sista.

  5. AusChick says:

    In Australia, right now we are being inundated with pictures of headless obese children. It’s horrible – your entry today is spot on.

  6. Rachel says:

    Thank you this article was outstanding. I went out and checked the link as well that was very interesting too. I plan to keep myself on the lookout for ads and articles to make sure the they are not shaming and if they are I will be contacting them.

  7. Lauren Yaffe says:

    Dear JuJu,
    This post was revolutionary. Bravo! All week I have walked around making eye contact–and not just with obese people. I realize I WAS avoiding their eyes. Your post reminded me of how easy it is to NOT SEE people, whether because they’re obese or homeless or a drug addict. Or African-American or women or too angry or too whatever. I thought also of my cousin with Cerebral Palsy, and how people exclude him from conversations as if he’s invisible. Thank you! This idea is big.

    Lauren Yaffe

  8. Lauren Yaffe says:

    Dear JuJu,
    This post was revolutionary. Bravo! All week I have walked around making eye contact–and not just with obese people. I realize I WAS avoiding their eyes. Your post reminded me of how easy it is to NOT SEE people, whether because they’re obese or homeless or a drug addict. Or African-American or women or too angry or too whatever. I thought also of my cousin with Cerebral Palsy, and how people exclude him from conversations as if he’s invisible. Thank you! This idea is big.

    Lauren Yaffe

  9. Mary says:

    BRAVO!!! Oh yes!!!
    Every time I see the headless fat people on tv, I get so riled up. Its like they are specifically designed to disgust and dehumanize those of us that have trouble with weight. No matter how hard we might be trying or what the rest of our lives may be like. And of course, there is also that nagging fear that one day one of them will be me, and I’ll find my own overly wide rear side on tv!

    You know, this whole blitz in the media lately, this whole use of the word ‘epidemic’ scares me. It reminds me of the change over the years in how smokers are perceived. I’m old enough to have vaque memories of people smoking in restaurants, offices, cars, and everwhere.

    But then at some point the second hand smoke thing hit the media, and all the stuff about bad things smoking could cause. And sure, smoke and smoking is bad for us, we know that. But..this stuff was in the media long enough and pounded in enough somehow it translated a bit into *smokers* are bad, in many perceptions.
    …..that smokers are somehow less than everyone else, bad people somehow, social pariahs. I’ve never smoked, but I’ve always been overweight, and I think I can relate. I sometimes feel bad for my smoking friends (most of which have tried to quit a zillino times), freezing out in the rain, getting so often heckled and nagged at and even put down by others for it and “why don’t you just quit”. Just like that..apparently.

    It seems that’s settled in, and now the obese are the next group that will be thrown into this light…as if there weren’t a bad enough social perception already. Luckily in this case there is no issue of ‘second hand obesity’..but I still can’t help but wonder in a few years, if I want to have the occasional treat of fries or chocolate, will I have to ask for a special seat in the junk food section?? Or worse?? It seems the media does its best to label, and divide, and to NOT dig into the very real and very complex human issues behind the weight.

    (hope its okay to post this long rant..love your site btw!)

  10. Migraineur says:

    JuJu, yet another fine piece of writing. A while back I wrote on my blog, “Gluttony and Sloth have been numbered among the Seven Deadly sins at least since the time of Pope Gregory. But, peeps, that was the 6th century. Since 590 AD, we’ve learned that the sun is not the center of the universe, that microorganisms cause smallpox, that our blood circulates rather than just sloshing around inside us, and that instead of four elements, there are hundreds of them. Why has our understanding of Why People Are Fat not been upgraded in the last 1,417 years?”

    The absolute best thing about Taubes’s book (and like you I think there are many great things about it) is that he takes on the moral stigmas. If obese people eat a lot because they are actually experiencing starvation at the cellular level, and if obese people take the elevator rather than the stairs because cellular starvation leads the body to conserve energy, what does that say about the very notions of gluttony and laziness?

    It may take years, it may take decades, but I fully believe that with brave people like Taubes, and you, speaking out, we might actually see obesity for what it is – an endocrine disorder. And not only an endocrine disorder, but an endocrine disorder that is caused by the very dietary advice that has been dished out by doctors, nutritionists, and even the US government for the last 30 years.

    Nothing makes me sadder than to see an obese person eating a bagel with nothing more than a little jelly on it, chased with a glass of orange juice – the officially approved, but totally counterproductive, low-fat “weight loss” breakfast. I always want to say, “You’ve been lied to. Have an egg. Take two, they’re small.”

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