Written by Marco Orlando (“GAMEFACE”) - August 2008
These days, all a person has to do is turn on the TV or look through a magazine to be exposed to the message that the media sends to society in this day and age, especially our youth and our women. Countless advertisements can be seen on television at any time, day or night, that promote exercise equipment and dietary supplements as a means to achieve rapid weight loss. Numerous magazines feature celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie, who have long been tabloid fodder for speculation of eating disorders, on a regular basis. Popular television shows such as Extreme Makeover and The Swan exploit average people’s aspirations to achieve the physique that they have always wanted through painful and costly plastic surgery. There are even television shows such as The Biggest Loser that glorify average people and their aspirations to lose weight on a national platform in an attempt to influence others around the country to do the same. Simply put, the message that the media sends to society in this day and age is “Thin to win.” Personally, I think that is a terrible message to send to our society, especially our women and our children.
First and foremost, I want to make it perfectly clear that I’ve been fat for many years and that I make no apologies for my size. I don’t have the six-pack abs that people feel a guy my age ought to have, and I’m perfectly okay with that, even though it took me a long time to reach the point where I was willing and able to be comfortable in the skin that I’m in. Simply put, I like my body just the way it is and it doesn’t matter to me what other people think about it. However, there are times in this day and age where it bothers me, as well as many other people, when our society feels the need to pick fat people apart just because they are a little on the heavy side.
In my personal experience, and many other fat people can attest to this as well, gym class was a nightmare. For someone like me who really doesn’t enjoy getting very physical, spending time in the locker room and changing with other students of the same sex was not a pleasant experience because I was singled out and made fun of because of my weight. Yet, other boys who were much heavier than I was, and might have been involved in extracurricular activities where it was “acceptable” to carry some amount of excess weight, received no such harassment from their peers. Perhaps there is some sort of double standard involved, which has an influence on why society passes judgment on young children regarding their weight when they have barely reached adolescence. Why is it okay for a boy who plays football after school to be heavier, but not okay for a boy who takes up chorus or drama club? How is a fat boy who plays football any different from a fat boy who sings in chorus or takes up acting? Is it because of the message being sent to society that fat people are not attractive, especially those who participate in sedentary extracurricular activities where there is an audience, which inevitably draws criticism from observers? If that is the case, then that is not acceptable at all. It’s not acceptable to me, who had to endure such embarrassment during my childhood, and it’s not acceptable to our children, who will continue to face hostility and ridicule because of their weight unless we, as a society, decide to do something about it.
Sadly, it isn’t just heavier boys who are ostracized from our society because of their weight. Heavier girls are much worse off in comparison to their male counterparts. Many girls of all ages with some amount of excess weight, including a number of those who haven’t even reached puberty yet, are relentlessly bombarded with society’s message of “thin to win” on a daily basis, whether it’s through the numerous images of attractive and youthful women they see portrayed in the media or whether it’s through the so-called “well-meaning” criticisms of their friends and family members that they would be more beautiful “if they just lost a little weight.” For almost 50 years, Barbie dolls have been marketed and sold to millions of young girls who have been easily influenced by her unrealistic body proportions and Hollywood-like appearance. Television shows such as America’s Next Top Model, Laguna Beach, and The Hills feature many young women who have virtually zero body fat and feel the need to “enhance” their appearance through artificial means. Can you imagine the impact that these harmful images have on the delicate mind of a young girl? What if it was your daughter and she came up to you after school one day and told you she felt ashamed of her body because of what she sees and hears today? If I were a parent, it would break my heart to see my daughter so upset that she doesn’t have the physique of a supermodel that she has to starve herself, purge herself or exercise to the point of exhaustion in the hopes that she can look like the beautiful women she sees on TV.
Even full-grown adults are not immune from the pressures of society and the media to lose weight. Many times in the workplace, fat people are passed over for benefits, raises, and promotions in favor of someone who is thinner and ostensibly “healthier.” Regular visits to their primary health providers are a constant source of irritation to fat people because they feel their doctors care less about treating their legitimate ailments and more about making an issue of their weight. Fat people have a much harder time finding clothing that will fit them in many popular department stores. Sometimes, they are forced to place an order for their clothing on the Internet because the stores don’t carry anything in their size at their physical locations. Even popular plus-size clothing retailer Lane Bryant can cause frustration in fat people. Their catalog features models who may technically be considered “plus-sized,” yet they have no substantial layers of fat on their bodies so fat people have no real way of knowing how the clothes featured in the Lane Bryant catalog will look on someone with their physique. Even booking a flight can be a source of aggravation for fat people since some have to pay for two plane seats because of their size.
It is perfectly natural for people like me to want to ask questions and challenge the “status quo,” especially in a situation where there could be definite and beneficial improvements made in order to enhance the well-being of fat people in our society. For example, what if we, as a society, didn’t hate our bodies? Or more importantly, what if we, as a society, didn’t hate each other’s bodies? What if society as a whole could open their eyes and realize that being fat is not really that much different from being short, being tall, wearing glasses or wearing braces? Many studies have proven that being fat is more a matter of genetics than it is of laziness, which goes against people’s stereotypical perceptions that fat people become fat because they are lazy. It has also been proven that a fat person’s eating habits aren’t that much different from those of someone thinner, which diminishes the credibility of people’s stereotypical perceptions that fat people are slobs or gluttons. Simply put, fat people are not that much different from those who are thinner, and we need to start treating them with more respect.
Instead of seeing society continue to spend millions of dollars trying to remedy what they consider an epidemic with extreme weight-loss regimes and expensive plastic surgery, I suggest that money would be better suited going toward programs throughout the country that can educate society about size acceptance and enhance the self-esteem of our children and countless others who don’t have the movie star physique often portrayed by the Hollywood elite. Fat people should not have to live in a world where they are taught to be ashamed of what they see when they look in the mirror, and we need to start teaching them at an early age that they are beautiful just the way they are. Fat people deserve to live in a world where they are judged not by the size of their waistlines or the contents of their stomachs, but by the size of their hearts and the content of their character. Furthermore, we owe it to fat people to promote a more appropriate and a more positive message, a message that will assure them that they don’t need to have movie star looks or a supermodel physique to be considered attractive.