That was the good. Now here’s the bad:
A recent episode featured a doctor who was selling internal organs to wealthy (and unscrupulous) people who were ill but for whatever reason weren’t eligible or couldn’t wait to be on a legal list for a transplant.
Right away I knew what was coming. Queue the negative fat stereotyping.
Sure enough, the show soon cut to a shot of an obese man portrayed sitting at table in a restaurant scarfing down piles of what I believe were chicken wings in a slovenly fashion – covered in sauce and practically grunting like a pig, with an oxygen tube in his nose to boot.
Why does he have to purchase a new heart? Because he doesn’t deserve one, of course. He’s fat! He eats chicken wings non-stop (seriously – there wasn’t a single shot of this character where he wasn’t at the table with obscene piles of food in front of him). Obviously putting a new heart in him would amount to throwing it away because he’s slovenly and disgusting and undisciplined, so he’s got to buy one on the black market.
This character managed to portray, in only about ten minutes of screen time, almost every negative stereotype about fat people there is. Here’s a list:
1) Fat people never stop eating and rarely move, and that’s the sole reason they are fat.
2) Fat people are disgusting, sloppy, and pig like.
3) Fat people do not deserve medical intervention and treatment for the reasons listed above.
4) Only a pervert would find a fat person attractive (there was a slim, beautiful blonde who never spoke seated beside the fat character. The main character remarked with dismayed awe on how she could possibly stand to get anywhere near him – the subtext being that only piles of money can trump fat where women are concerned. Negative stereotypes for all!)
As I stated up front I do generally love this show, but this episode obviously left me pretty cold.
My husband is about six feet tall and falls into the perfectly normal range on the BMI scale. I fall into the obese 1 range, right on the border of merely being overweight, even after shedding 75 lbs. Ironically once I enter the overweight range I will be in the group with the longest expected life span since statistics show that overweights tend to live longer than normals. We both exercise regularly and can hike four or five miles with no problem. Of the two of us, he’s the one that is likely to consume twenty chicken wings in a sitting. He orders cheese steaks while I dine on spinach and romaine sandwiches with roasted red pepper, mozzarella and balsamic. He’s pre-diabetic and I am not.
In truth, both of us are pretty healthy. Although my husband’s dreadfully inefficient metabolism allows him to eat like that while quite simply refusing to hang onto any excess calories, he’s also great at remembering to eat his servings of vegetables every day. But of the two of us I absolutely work at it harder – I cut up veggies, buy fruits, and plan every lunch down to the calorie and fat gram at the beginning of every week while he casually heads over to Subway or Wendy’s whenever he gets around to noticing he’s hungry. If I ate the same diet he did my extraordinarily calorie-efficient metabolism would store pounds of fat at a truly terrifying rate. I can manage not to starve to death on far, far less calories than he can (bring it on, nuclear winter!) But because society has had it drilled into them over and over and over that our eyeballs are the only diagnostic tool needed, if strangers were asked to look at us both and point to which of us lived a healthier lifestyle – I would bet every penny I own that the majority of people would point at my husband and not at me. I am the one in danger of experiencing poor and neglectful medical care (though thankfully this has only happened to me once) on account of my appearance, and he is not.
Over the years I’ve read story after story after story about fat people dying from medical neglect. Either because coming into a doctor’s office with a head cold and being told to lose weight caused them to avoid preventive care for years, or because doctors dismiss them and their symptoms due to a deeply ingrained bias and fat hatred. The media that we consume, both entertainment media and through news stories – is basically the transfer method by which fat hatred and bias filters into the public consciousness.
People are fat for a myriad of different reasons. In fact I would go so far as to say the reason for being fat is probably 100% unique to each fat person. Yet the thing we most often see portrayed in entertainment are images like the one illustrated above: the fat person is an undisciplined, disgusting hog who deserves to die, who can only be loved if they pay someone to love them.
That is why this is important. The constant streaming reinforcement of these negative and incorrect stereotypes into our brains via the media isn’t just the annoyance of TV being its usual, stupid, shallow self. It could literally be costing some people their lives.