Short Cuts: Miss Piggy, more fat on TV, and a new study on HAES

By | January 25, 2011

Miss Piggy, sitting front row at Michael Kors' Fall 2010 show at NYFW

Item the first:

This is old news in most corners of the internet by now, but I hadn’t mentioned it yet: in the new Muppet movie, due out in 2012, Miss Piggy will be employed as a plus size fashion editor for French Vogue. You know it’s a comedy, because French Vogue would never have need of a plus-size fashion editor. But I kid French Vogue. Piggy has received a bit of attention from the fashion world in recent years, being dressed by Marc Jacobs and turning up at Selfridge’s in Miu Miu, and even Lady Gaga has aped Piggy’s style. Considering Piggy was an early fashion influence for a great many fatshionistas, it’s nice to see her getting the recognition she deserves.

Yes, Miss Piggy is real. Shut up.

Item the second:

PopEater has a Guide to Weight Loss on Television that is quite incomplete, but nevertheless contains a few unhelpful quotes from professionals in the field on how shows like The Biggest Loser contribute to real-life people wanting to lose weight. One such nutritionist says:

“‘Biggest Loser’ set the weight loss reality show stage, and for that [it] will take the initial knocks that the trainers abuse contestants or that it’s not real life. It isn’t real life, it’s reality television, but I think it inspires many people and potentially gives participants a jump start.”

Sure it sets forth totally unrealistic expectations! Whatever! We’ve grown so accustomed to these sorts of Machiavellian comments about weight loss — whatever gets them in the door, am I right? – that this barely raises a flag. The techniques used on The Biggest Loser may be nigh-universally condemned as dangerous and impossible to maintain by even the most pro-weight-loss experts, but it’s okay to lie to fat folks about what they can expect so long as it gets fat asses in the consultation room.

The article finally alights on A&E’s new series Heavy as the least loathsome and most realistic of the weight-loss TV offerings, but also notes that as a result it tends to be a little boring. Apparently Heavy is different because “[t]he show focuses less on the evils of food and more on the psychological aspects behind weight loss and gain.” So it’s basically Intervention (or, for that matter, Hoarders) with fat people.

Quite a few of you have asked if I will be watching, recapping, and/or commenting on this show. The answer is: probably not. The trailer has !!DANGER VIOLINS!! in it, which put me off right away, not because I can’t fathom that the health of some fat people may be in danger, but because it feels creepily exploitative to me, as does the show’s tagline, “Losing is their only hope.” Because what TV needs is more sad fat people.

Also, though this may be a kinder, gentler approach to televised weight loss, it still pathologizes all fat people as having some underlying psychological issue that causes them to eat like pigs. While this is certainly true of some fat people, this is often the only representation we see of fat folks on television, and thus it’s difficult for me to criticize in a thoughtful way past the first few minutes. Not all fat people are unable to walk more than a few feet; not all fat people eat like all the food in the world will disappear tomorrow. Some fat people are athletes, and some fat people are vegans, and some fat people eat and exercise just like their thinner counterparts do, and are still fat. Some fat people are really unhappy being fat, some are apathetic about it, and some dig their fatness. All fat people deserve respect and dignity, no matter their circumstances, but I do get tired of seeing only the more culturally-negative tropes repeated like they are a fair approximation of what all fat people experience.

Item the third:

A new study — technically a narrative review of other research — out of the University of California at Davis demonstrates that weight loss is “ineffective and harmful”. The study has a sample size of 350,000 and argues that positive changes in eating and exercise habits without fixating on the scale produce better health than focusing on weight loss above all else. The revelation comes to us from Linda Bacon, associate nutritionist at UC Davis, author of Health at Every Size, and one of the movement’s most notable voices, and Lucy Aphramor, a dietician at Coventry University in the UK. It hasn’t received much attention in the US as of yet, though FitSugar says:

The study’s authors researched over 200 other studies and found that the emphasis on losing weight in lieu of other healthy goals had a detrimental effect on dieters; they ended up depressed, guilty, and dissatisfied with their bodies, which led to weight gain.

The authors also debate on whether fat is as harmful as many claim, saying that their findings do not support commonly accepted ideas about losing weight, including that it will prolong your life, that obesity is an economic burden, and that weight loss is the only way that obese people can improve their health.

There’s also a short but incisive bit over on The Washington Post’s health blog. But the best take ever is on the UK’s National Health Services site, which not only explains the methodology and considers the study’s funding and the bias of the authors, but does it in a beautifully straightforward and unprejudiced way. I highly recommend you read their take if you’re looking for a basic breakdown.

This study isn’t big news to most of us who are already critical of obesity epidemic/!!FAT RAMPAGE!! panic, but it will be interesting to see if it makes it into the bigger news outlets, which are certainly not above publishing similar review-based studies that perpetuate fat panic rather than subvert it.


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