Monday, July 20, 2009


I recall an old episode of E.R. It's probably the only episode I can remember anything about. An illness was spreading through the hospital and it was hard to pin down. They finally realized that it was a staff member who was not washing his or her hands after using the restroom. Now it was just a matter of discovering the lazy, unclean idiot.

Please don't let it be the fat guy, I remember thinking. Don't do it, I silently pleaded. You see, I knew about the stereotype.

Sure enough, it was the fat guy. Of course. Because, according to the world of television, overweight characters are lazy, unintelligent, or both. (Or worse.) Look around and you'll see the stereotype played out time and time again. It's awful, and it reinforces itself. Fat characters are, the majority of the time, hapless fools or idiots, and often slovenly and lazy. One noteable exception was Camryn Manheim of The Practice... but she had to challenge the producer to a game of chess for the right to be cast despite her weight. (She later won an Emmy for that role, for what it's worth.)

This is not my imagination. If you're interested, you can read more at pubmed. Though there are exceptions, it appears that television is not improving much in this area, and it continues to reinforce those stereotypes. It's nearly impossible to find an overweight character not cast in a role of a socially inept fool with a poor work ethic.

Worse yet, producers appear to be more brazen as they create television shows which actively exploit the overweight. The Biggest Loser is, thankfully, an exception. But, wait, is it? Do you get the word play in the title? Even the winner is, surprise surprise, a loser. Deep down in my gut, I feel that the show would have, indeed, exploited the contestants if it weren't for the good, strong hearts of Bob and Jillian, the trainers who succeeded in making it a - for the most part - positive show.

I've already talked about my fears with More to Love here. My suspicions have yet to be confirmed there, but I can see unabashed fatsploitation on Oxygen with Dance Your Ass Off. In fact, ironically enough, I had high hopes for that show. I imagined a show of empowerment and positivity. I even played along until I saw them dance on the first episode.

Every outfit, or nearly every outfit, for the overweight dancers had an exposed belly. Seriously? Just in case we missed the "grotesqueness" of it all, the episode was titled "Shake and Rattle Those Rolls". Seriously? Seriously. My hopes at a positive show of overweight people meeting physical challenges were dashed. Here are a couple of examples:

(Photo credit obvious, but here's another link.)

Just try and tell me that the folk in wardrobe weren't told to purposely make these women look worse. I mean, I agree that overweight people can be (are) beautiful, but they - like everyone else! - need to dress properly for their bodies. There's no way they couldn't have dressed either of these women better. Instead of putting them in flattering outfits, they dressed them to make a point: "See how obscene these fatties are? Isn't it gross?"

Well, yes. The outfits are gross. But they are't.

Subsequent episodes haven't gotten much better. The third episode involved a stripper pole. Um, yeah. Real subtle.

Joel McHale, on The Soup, said it well: "Dance Your Ass Off continues to be the biggest exploitation of overweight people since they started putting cookie dough in ice cream." Let's face it: If The Soup is calling something exploitative... Well, that's saying something, isn't it?

Let me leave you with this: There is good news out there in tv land. But it will wait until tomorrow. I've babbled long enough for one day.


Salluas said...

And such exploitation and unabashedly incorrect stereotypes and portrayals are just a few of the many reasons I have not owned a television in many a year. I could go on but it would be irrelevant to your post. On another note, great job being an athlete! I have a friend that I am currently trying to motivate to improve his own physical fitness lest bad things happen.

Cidtalk said...

Here here sister!!! I comment on things like this in our podcast of movie reviews all the time. I always seem to try to convince my husband, who's never been overweight, that these things exist, but he doesn't see them. I think he thinks I'm the only one who sees it..but now I know...I'm NOT!! :)

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

@Cidtalk: You're right! And now you even have a study to show your hubby. Who can argue with pubmed? ;)

Karen said...

@Salluas: I keep wishing I would stop watching television. And your point is well taken. Many other "minorities" (whether by numbers or by marginalization) are poorly represented on television. It's a very real situation.

Thanks for the kudos. :) I hope your friend finds health and happiness, whatever that is for him.