Fat people on reality TV

Fat and obese people are being more commonly featured on reality TV shows

Fat and obese people are being more commonly featured on reality TV shows

Excerpt from an interview: Winnie Yu https://winnieyu.net and Patrick Wanis PhD, author of “Secrets to Losing Weight, Being Thin and Loving Your Body”:

Winnie: What are common stereotypes of fat people and thin people?

Patrick Wanis PhD:  Generally, when we think of fat people we think of them as inferior on many levels: physically, mentally and even emotionally (as it pertains to relationships.)

Almost 78 years ago, Coca Cola made famous the fat jolly, rosy red cheek Santa Claus and only until recently have we associated fat with happy and jolly and often more so with men than women. Today’s fat people, particularly women are viewed as angry, bitter, outspoken, opinionated, and even dumb. Rosie O Donnell is criticized and viewed as angry and bitter while Drew Carey and John Goodman are viewed as lovable comedians. Even the character Mimi in the Drew Carey TV show was portrayed as almost a caricature – opinionated, with extreme makeup and unstable self-esteem. Mimi was more of a circus act than a three-dimensional being. Either way, we tend to view fat people as a form of entertainment on television i.e. Drew Carey, John Goodman, John Candy, Chris Farley, John Belushi, Louie Anderson, Lavell Crawford and so forth. Again, men generally get a pass for being fat – if they are funny! And most of them made fun of themselves for being overweight.

In everyday life, we have come to view fat people as inferior; not as smart or as intelligent as thin people; inferior in beauty and physical appeal;  less successful, often outcasts who can’t get a date; inept at sports and physical feats, clumsy and; when we pass them on the street, we often refuse to look them in the eye. Of course, new research reveals that fat people also harm the environment more than thin people do (i.e. they are not as green as thin people):

Fox News online reported:

“Each fat person is said to be responsible for emitting a ton more of climate-warming carbon dioxide per year than a thin one.  It means an extra billion tons of CO2 a year is created, according to World Health Organization estimates of overweight people. The scientists say providing extra grub for them to guzzle adds to carbon emissions that heat up the world, melting polar ice caps, raising sea levels and killing rain forests.”

Fat people on reality TV shows more to love

A snapshot from the TV reality dating show “More to Love” which seeks to break taboos and portray fat and obese people as healthy, normal, sexy and highly attractive.

As a society we reward and punish people based on their physical traits and abilities: sports players (basketball, baseball and football players) can make millions of dollars while a teacher, policeman or fireman will make a small annual salary. Models can make ten thousand dollars per day (and more in the case of Supermodels.) We also pay higher salaries to taller people. I do not have the research available to determine if this correlates to fat people. However, many companies are wary of hiring overweight people because of the health concerns that potentially translate to lower productivity and loss of work due to illness, etc.

One reader wrote:

“Speaking as a plus sized woman who is discriminated against every day you thin people have nothing to complain about.

Look at it this way: Thin people beat us out of jobs we are often more qualified to do. Thin people get paid more and get more frequent raises than we do. Your clothes cost less. Flying isn’t an anxiety producing ordeal where you worry that some skinny boarding pass collector is going to arbitrarily decide that you need to pay for a second seat which you probably can’t afford because you’ve been passed over repeatedly for promotions. Strangers in the grocery store don’t scan your cart to see what you’re buying and chastise you if you have a quart of ice cream or a package of cookies. Your health insurance costs less, even if you have hypertension and I don’t. These things are just the beginning. I could easily list a hundred more, but I won’t.”

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Another reader wrote about the discrimination not only against fat people but the expectations of women:

“A similar thing used to happen when I’d go out with a diabetic friend of mine (he’s male, I’m female): he’d order a diet coke, I’d order a regular, and not one time out of a dozen did the server ever hand him the diet coke, expecting it to be for the woman. So I had to taste them both every time!”

Thin people have many advantages over the people who are overweight such as greater variety and convenience for clothes shopping,  greater chances of being asked out on a date, more invitations to parties and events that involve active participation in physical games, activities and sports.

I am stating the obvious when I say society views thin as beautiful (think Models) and fat as ugly but it goes one step further. When you put on a few extra pounds, you can expect constant condemnation and judgment as is the case with celebrities who are overweight such as Jessica Simpson who was severely criticized for losing her thin status. We do need to separate those cases of a few extra pounds from the cases of the dangerously obese such as Kirstie Alley who is 5 foot 8 inches and 250 pounds.

Thin people, particularly women, are viewed as beautiful and attractive; role models for the rest of us; glamorous; successful; happy and fulfilled. The same applies to men in the vein of magazines such as GQ or Men’s Health. Generally speaking, thin people are more popular than overweight people.

Winnie: How do reality TV shows featuring overweight/obese people doing physical feats challenge these assumptions?

Patrick Wanis PhD: I don’t believe that these TV shows are changing stereotypes very much because the shows compete with Hollywood which is always reinforcing the stereotypes on the big screen and in the forms of its celebrities. Recall too, that when Hollywood portrays a fat person it will do it for comedy such as Eddie Murphy in the “The Nutty Professor” or if it dares to take on the challenge of portraying a fat person, a woman, as someone we can love, it will have a beautiful skinny actress put on a fat suit such as Gweneth Paltrow in “Shallow Hal.”

TV has simply responded to the reality that obesity is increasing alarmingly (people are becoming fatter in the US) and therefore it is trying to tap into that audience by creating and hosting TV reality shows with overweight and obese people doing physical feats and dancing. While it might hopefully open up people’s eyes and minds to the reality that some overweight/obese people can do certain physical feats including dancing, I feel that it is not helping society because we still view the overweight/obese as a form of entertainment, almost to the extent of a circus act. To challenge and change society’s stereotypes, we must reveal more than just the physical aspects of the overweight/obese, we must see them and experience them as three-dimensional people and reveal more of their personality, character and soul. By showing overweight and obese people doing physical feats, we are ironically still judging them for their exterior – their physicality.

Winnie: What do these shows say about the health and well-being of people who are overweight and obese?

fat people on reality TV secrets to weight loss

Lose weight, become thinner and learn to love your body with Patrick Wanis PhD

Patrick Wanis PhD: Regardless of the carefully cast and carefully structured TV shows, we must be careful that we do not lose sight of a key element surrounding obesity: it is dangerous to one’s physical health. While a person may be able to perform a spectacular dance and a physically challenging one at that, we cannot escape the cold truth that obesity directly contributes to 30 causes of death including Heart Disease, Stroke and Cancer.

On the other hand, hopefully, these TV show might help us to find balance and neutralize our obsession with physical perfection and thinness; we can be a few pounds overweight (according to BMI) and still have fun and play; be healthy and competent physically, mentally and emotionally and yes; be loveable!

As I point out in my book “Secrets to Losing Weight, Being Thin, and Loving Your Body”, I promote balance and we need to distinguish between Body Types and Body Shapes. We are born with a certain body type which we cannot control but we can control the shape of our body by all of our actions – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

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4 replies
  1. Avatar
    roberta says:

    Why is it ok for fat/obese people to make “skinny” remarks they think are humorous to thin people yet are very touchy if a slim person mentions the word “fat”.

  2. Avatar
    Mak says:

    Why is weight treated like it’s genetically determined? Granted there are people who have larger builds (You can be “big” and not “fat”).

    Fat people SHOULD be criticized because it signifies a lack of self-control and self-respect. I got fat for about a year and thankfully people pointed it out to me, making me realize i needed to do something about it. You can easily control your weight by healthy eating:

    1) eat a well balanced diet. This means eat fruit/veggies. Avoid nutrition-less calorie-packed foods like pop and alcohol.
    2) portion control. Instead of eating 2 sandwiches, eat 1. If you’re not satisifed with 1, then eat nuts/fruit.

    and of course exercise. Exercise doesn’t mean 60 minutes of working out hardcore everyday. If you’re fat you wont be able to handle that anyway. You gotta start small and build up. Like walking on a treadmill for 10-15 minutes at first.

    So please, stop trying to make fat people think it’s OK to be fat. They need to realize being fat sucks, and they need to start taking care of themselves. This is coming from a person who got fat, was told he was fat, and did something about it.

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