Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Where is everyone?

Very soon another season of the Biggest Loser will begin on Australian telly. I know this because the advertising campaign is relentless. These days they creatively choose a theme for the seasons and this year it's 'Singles'.

I won't post the ad here but these are the key elements I get before I flip the channel:

Audio: Regina Spektor's cover of 'Real Love'
Visual: Usually one person, in white, on a beige background a-la-photoshoot, speaks about how they're ready to love themselves again, or find love, or be proud of themselves.

Where is everyone on this? How has the blogosphere that I read not said one peep about this crappy, detrimental, patronising and socially damaging campaign? Why am I surprised? Here is what I hear in these ads....
"I can't love myself when I'm this big. I don't think anyone else can either. I find it acceptable that people can't see me past the fat, so I'm going to lose it, because all I see is fat too. Yeah, no one likes fat people."

I don't know how to explain it (so rambling is afoot), but what I really hear is the product of a culture that has taught someone that they are somehow not good enough because they're big.
A bit of disclosure: I speak from a privileged point of view. I am a classic cis woman - female looking, mainstream height, weight, colour, shoe size, everything. My biggest challenge in clothes shopping is I'm about a 10-12, and those sizes goes first. Tough times indeed. When I see magazines, advertising, etc about make-up, clothes, products, routines that I'm supposed to buy into "because I respect myself", its easy for me to ignore them. I don't think that's just because I have a healthy self-image, or that I don't like to shop, or that I was unpopular in school so I've mostly fobbed off that 'pretty' crap. I think it's partly easy because, physically, I have no public display of being unfit. When I buy fish & chips, no one looks me up & down and judges me for being irresponsible - my figure shows I'm apparently sensible enough with the rest of my diet. When I exercise, no one links that to my size or my opinion of it. I fit into seats, I get through doorways, I can pass poeple in corridors, I can climb stairs, I can pick things up - all without anyone ever noticing what I'm doing or the effort it may take me. But I get the impression it's not the same for large people. If I feel bombarded by images of more-ideal-than-me that I'm supposed to choose, I can only imagine what a large person is experiencing.

I think size-ism has been in fashion for a long time, but especially so right now. I also think we treat weight like we treat the economy - we wish is were a meritocracy. And I think that's a load of crap.
In a meritocracy, people would generally deserve their situation. Certainly for the most part, people who are happy with their lot in life like to believe they've earned it in some way - very few says its all in the stars. By extension, there is no such thing as misfortune, only bad choices and deserved outcomes. I think people treat weight the same way - "you've earned the size you are and all the responses things that some with it." ( I think calling someone a 'skinny bitch' is a warped version of 'tall poppy syndrome', and I won't even go into the seething I have for labelling someone a bitch just because of their size.)

I think these ads normalise the idea that self-esteem and love are (justifiably) elusive for large people and that everyone else is justified in being disinterested in large people. I know that obesity is becoming a more prevalent issue for Australia, but I don't think pointing at large people - in this punishing, separatist, distancing way - is anything like a step toward a healthier country. Portion sizes, access to healthy food, access to physical activities in lower-socio-economic communities, attitudes to activity during secondary school - all these things relate to the health of someone as they create the habits of their adulthood. It is generally accepted that to be large is unhealthy, but there's something in me that believes some people are just big - they've always been big, they're going to be big, and maybe it will affect their health in the future, but you know what? Shit loads of things affect health - drinking, wrong foods, stress, poor work places, unhappy families - and most of them are invisible to the average bystander. There will always be people who have unhealthy habits - why should large people get everyone's open contempt? Why do people feel entitled to presume someone's discontent and then comment & advise them on living habits, as thought their singular experience will apply to all?

Before all that though:
Making change when you feel shit about yourself is like pushing water uphill. We've known this since we stopped saying "that child has bad blood".

It really shouldn't matter what I think of your weight or size. I don't think I have a right to make you feel any particular way about the way you look, and I don't see why anyone feels entitled to use their judgements about weight to inflict an emotion upon others.

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