Monday, May 23, 2011

Obesity Epidemic? Or News Epidemic About Obesity?

If I lived in Denver, Colorado, chances are I would be seeing fewer fat individuals than if I lived in Biloxi, Mississippi. Why is that? How can we propagate lifestyles in Denver throughout our nation which is suffering from an obesity crisis which is not waning, regardless of our obsession with losing weight and Michelle Obama's initiative to end childhood obesity (this...according to research studies reported in news outlets nationwide)? I don't know. Nor do I have any way of knowing if the obesity "epidemic" is as bad as the media and various industries who profit from American obesity say it is. There are those (Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth and blogger Sandy Szwarc) who have found evidence that obesity is not the crisis nor epidemic that the media and others would have us believe.

I'm not sure which is worse, our tendency to obesity or our acute, dire and morbid obsession with avoiding it. Certainly, the media coverage is ubiquitous. I'm not so sure that it has helped. Nightline doesn't seem to think so, arguing that the most up-to-date research data provide evidence that nothing appears to be changing American's love affair with food and its blatant disinterest in the excessive lipid fallout of overeating. At the conclusion of the new story, Nightline squarely dumps the blame at the feet of the fatties who aren't "trying hard enough." Perhaps it is too easy for me to recognize the infamy, having experienced this like a bad case of chiggers or lice, but once again the emphasis is on the fatties' lack of effort. (Is there a surreptitious message "embedded" that obesers are just lazy and lack will power? Hmmm) Judgment about the obese appears to be a media obsession, also; fatties must be vilified for overeating themselves into the "grotesque." The contradiction, of course, is since no one looks like the broadcast journalists and entertainment celebrities that people TV and the visual media, then, in fact, their uber thinness is in the minority and they are the grotesques, not the rest of us who are average to overweight! But their skinny grotesqueness is rarely discussed.

It's at times like these, speaking as a once mega weight with an elephantine memory, that I feel demonic mischief rising strong and tall in me wishing for magical powers. If my wish came true, I would cast a spell or create a potion (in reverse of  Eddie Murphy's biochemical drink in the movie, The Nutty Professor). transforming all those "slim" broadcast journalists into 400 pounders. Maybe the rolls around their middles would tenderize them into more empathetic, "stand in your shoes" kinds of people, unable to glibly secrete those self-righteous words off their gilded and most likely Master Cleansed tongues. Only true heavyweights understand what it takes to lose weight. IT'S TORTURE! The more you have to lose, the more rankly hellacious it is. It doesn't ALL have to do with a lack of "trying hard enough or making a greater effort!"

But empathy for chubbasaurs is in short supply in the media these days, especially since the word has come down from on high and The White House has spoken. Video clips of lovely Michelle Obama in her righteously slim body decked out in beautiful outfits ready to do fat battle are juxtaposed against clips of slovenly, morbidly obese folks chowing down. Now you and I know that this makes for dramatic storytelling! You know, I'm not knocking the intention which is a good one to raise our awareness that what we put in our bodies must be nutritious. I take issue with the media's obsessive prurience about obesity. It is biased and perversely voyeuristic preying upon our most base natures. I'll speak for me. I remember, back in the day when I was obese, some twisted and bitter part of me enjoyed seeing and knowing that there was always someone fatter than I. Such pandering actually mollified me with the thought that I "wasn't all that bad!" Pathetic.

Now I know better and view with a critical perspective to media manipulation. That's why it makes me really sad to see programs like The Biggest Loser; the weight loss equivalent of Sumo Wrestling. (And what happens when the rapid weight loss is over and the spotlight is off? That's a discussion for another day.) The show is completely unappealing to me. I guess I've learned being a voyeur is only satisfying for a brief second and it does nothing to help me get past my own reflection in my bathroom mirror. It's all about empathy; first with ourselves.

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