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.


Shieldmaiden1196 on January 25, 2011 at 11:20 am.

I saw the first ep of Heavy, not because I wanted to, but because people at work had it on and I couldn’t escape it (I work at a 911 center that isn’t all drama all the time so we do have TVs in our consoles that we watch between calls).
I was annoyed from the get. The first black screen quote is “!00 million Americans suffer from debilitating obesity”. The very definition of what constitutes ‘debilitating obesity’ makes me want to call bullshit right off because I have a feeling that for the show producers they mean ‘fat we can see’. Then they show two people who have real issues that they medicate with food and of course the implication is that there are 100 million Americans shuffling around out there that are just like these two people. Ironically, I weigh about the same amount as the woman on the show. I’m a firefighter and an EMT. I’m not on the brink of some fat-inspired dun dun DUN disaster. She also has real issues with her mother and her husband that magnify her displeasure with herself and she’s an emotional train wreck but of course, its because she’s fat. Never mind that she’s beautiful. I was cranked up to a fare thee well by the end, had to turn my chair around and put on something else.


Lesley on January 25, 2011 at 11:32 am.

The reliance on numbers is so enraging to me, as it contributes to the idea that ANYONE who weighs more than X pounds must be “debilitated”, never mind that there are Olympic athletes who weigh as much. Different bodies are different, yo.


Monica on January 25, 2011 at 11:24 am.

Hoo boy, how about that picture with the article at the NHS website? The picture itself is pretty inoffensive, just a fat man stretching (and he has a head! oh, the things we count as victories) but the caption reads “Health at ‘every’ size?” SOOO SKEPTICAL. Also, this sentence boggles me: Suggesting that individuals should be encouraged to have healthy behaviours at any weight does seem to make sense, but there needs to be more research to determine the long-term health benefits of this approach before it can be recommended over conventional appraoches(sic). I think it’s the framing of fat shaming as the “conventional” approach that gets to me, because I’ve been in the fatosphere long enough that “conventional approaches” seem inhumane. But although the intro had my eyebrows befriending my hairline, I do agree that the rest of the article is good, especially for the scientifically not-so-inclined.

The full (LONG) journal article is available here if anyone’s interested.


Lesley on January 25, 2011 at 11:29 am.

Oh, thanks for that, I meant to link the full study and forgot!


Ashley on January 25, 2011 at 12:26 pm.

I never realized what a fashion icon Miss Piggy is, but it’s true. She’s a babe.


Living400lbs on January 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm.

If anyone didn’t see it, Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist posted some notes on Heavy. I don’t know if she’s going to do recaps, but if you want to get into the details of the first episode, it’s useful.

ShieldMaiden: I weigh more than Jodi and have fewer obvious health problems — and I’m a professional computer nerd, not an EMT or firefighter. 😉


contemporarycontempt on January 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm.

Of COURSE Miss Piggy is real! Everyone knows that… she even got a make-over from Joan Rivers! I wonder, though…was her date Frank Oz, or did she go stag?


buttercup on January 26, 2011 at 9:06 am.

Danger Violins. HA. Love it. I will have to remember that.


Lauren on February 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm.

I’ve only just seen this – the Linda Bacon report was discussed in UK national newspaper The Independent. Among the hateful comments, a few agreed that the research must have been funded by the fast food industry, probably one of the funniest and most bizarre excuses for HAES I’ve ever read!


Katryn on February 23, 2011 at 10:37 pm.

I know I’m late to this, but I’m catching up on past posts… Anyway, had to add that I’m really not on board with this “Miss Piggy as fat icon” thing.

Miss Piggy was my first introduction to fat-shaming. First of all, she’s a fucking PIG. She doesn’t even get a real name like Kermit or Grover or any of the other characters — she’s just identified as a female pig. She’s an embodiment of a lot of the characteristics negatively associated with fat women in general — loud, selfish, sexually aggressive. And of course the object of her affection doesn’t want her — she’s everything a woman shouldn’t be.

If y’all can find some inspiration in her, then more power to you. But to me, she’ll always represent playground taunts and budding childhood body shame.


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