Fat Suits, Fat Shaming, and Othering.

Ms. NineteenPercent opens her video with the controversial line “Fat People Are Liars – they can’t be trusted! “. Don’t worry, this isn’t a fat-shaming video – per se – because she goes on to state “at least this is what the media must think“. She draws attention to the fat-shaming and fat fear-mongering language prevalent in the media.  But more so, she questions the credibility of experiments that require usually female (and QUITE attractive) thin women dressing up in fat suits in order to experience what it is like to be a fat person – so that we the voyeuristic, reality TV consuming public can watch horrified at how other people (not us, of course) treat heavily overweight or obese people. We can walk a mile in their shoes for five minutes while chilling on the couch. NineteenPercent makes a fantastic point – don’t we have enough credible accounts FROM overweight people about what it is like to BE overweight?

As 2012 begins, the TV networks in Australia have two amazing shows for us: The Biggest Loser, and Excess Baggage – both of which will have a plethora of firsthand accounts on being overweight or obese. Excess Baggage teams up 8 celebrities with eight “everyday” Aussies to fight the battle of the bulge! This idea of teamwork isn’t so bad – in fact, most people who begin a weight loss journey generally like to team up with someone else to keep motivated, or start a weight loss blog to record their journey for the viewing public. There is nothing wrong with that and you do meet amazing people (I know from experience). However, it still sends a powerful message – fat people need to be fixed. Aussie songstress Christine Anu confides in one of the advertisements for the show that she replaced sex with chocolate – and though the announcer ridicules this, she is admitting something that will probably attract a large (likely female) audience. Jean Kilbourne asserts in Can’t Buy My Love that many women (in particular) replace carnal desires and relationships with food. In fact, it is actively endorsed by the advertisers, who would prefer you sit down with a box of Lindor and a glass of wine, rather than engage in a couple of hours of exuberant sexual activity (or, any physical activity for that matter!).

Biggest Loser Australia opens 2012 with Biggest Loser Singles, with ads that leave me without words every time I see them. Don’t get me wrong, I sympathise with the 24 year old who has never been kissed – however this notion of suggesting that you cannot be overweight and attractive is simply over played (though, clearly an experience of many). Steve Molk shares these concerns, stating that the ads have a “very clear undertone that by being overweight you can’t be happy in yourself or be confident enough to find (or even deserve) love”. Oh channel 10! We are really playing the fat-shaming card here aren’t we? And you just know that the show is going to be slotted before MasterChef…. *shakes head*. The ad to Biggest Loser 2012 specifically opens with “my weight has deeply affected my confidence”, so right here we have a firsthand account of being overwieght. As she goes on to describe how she has never been kissed, we as an audience are meant to feel horrified and saddened with this deeply personal account of her life as an overweight person– yet for some reason, as NineteenPercent points out, we still need thin women dressed in fat suits to confirm this mistreatment.

When Gwyneth Paltrow donned a fat suit for the travesty that was Shallow Hal, she was quite vocal with her experience, stating “well, I put on the suit and I went outside and walked around. It was actually very interesting, because I was really nervous about being found out. But when I walked around, nobody would even make eye contact with me. Like nobody would even look in my direction. Because I think when you get a sense of someone being outside what we all consider normal, you think, oh it’s polite not to look. But actually, it’s incredibly isolating. And it really upset me”. While Ms. Paltrows experience was surely upsetting, unfortunately her description of it leads into a form of othering. If you are reading this, you are probably well versed with Foucaultian notions of governance – and the labelling and categorisation of humans and behaviours in order to properly organise and govern society (if not, please read some Foucault). Othering exists (in one form) as a method to exclude or repress undesirable groups in society – in this case, Fat people. Furthermore, it often involves the demonisation and dehumisation of groups – which explains the fat-suit validation “studies” – to further justify attempts to civilise and exploit the inferior others – hello the entire weight loss industry, weight loss TV, fat suit studies, women’s magazines, and need I go on? (It should be noted that Othering was first introduced by Hegel, and later popularised by Edward Said in Orientalism – a fantastic book).

The media actively seeks to other people based on their weight, and further seeks to negatively represent overweight people  through movies and television. And though many argue that weight loss television shows are empowering (which, they are for some), you can’t disagree that they help to re-enforce and perpetuate that being overweight is somehow wrong. Bell Hooks asserts that people often have trouble accepting that someone consciously creates specific representations of people to help foster negative stereotypes or ideas, though the reality TV industry surrounding weight, movies like Shallow Hal, Tabloid Magazines, and Fat Suits certainly seem to suggest that Ms Hooks has a rather fantastic point – someone IS actively constructing specific representations of groups of people.

The most troubling thing about the fat suit experiments, as pointed out by NineteenPercent, is that they are almost exclusively done using women – the world’s most significant Other. Susan Bordo states that “the body – what we eat, how we dress, the daily rituals through which we attend to the body – is a medium of culture”. Bordo recognises that disciplines of diet, makeup and dress have become normalised behaviours in media through advertising and programming as female’s body shaming has become the most common form of gender oppression, transcending race, age, class, and sexual orientation. Media -and advertising – largely contribute to the othering, and dehumanisation of overweight people, while the representations and language embedded in media are a contributing factor to low body image. When we look at Bordos assertions coupled with the fat suit… well, It looks like there is a problem.

Kaley Cuoco (the smurfette in Big Bang Theory) starred in a 2007 TV movie with Caroline Rhea (Sabrina the Teenage Witch) entitled To Be Fat Like Me, in which she as a healthy, athletic, 17 year old girl dons a fat suit in order to experience what it is like to be fat (and also understand her mother and brother) for a student documentary. We learn that the world is a cruel place. But, if we watch one of a glut of worldwide reality weight loss shows, we already  knew that.

Rather than me ramble on any more about it, how about I leave you with some videos and reading material  =)

When Fat meats Black and Female on the TV screen – Tocarra from ANTM

To be Fat Like Me Part 2

To Be Fat Like Me Part 3



 nb – the connection between the Foucault link being hosted by My University, and my using it is purely coincidental – though may explain why my education lecturers were in love with Foucault!


3 thoughts on “Fat Suits, Fat Shaming, and Othering.

  1. Wonderful extrapolation. My younger sister recently wrote a paper for her health class railing against Urban Outfitters’ “Eat Less” shirt (that has since been pulled from shelves). I showed her this blog as a follow-up so thank you!

    (I stumbled upon your blog in my search for feminist blog space; definitely one of my favorite finds so far!)

    • I am glad you enjoyed, and I hope your sister did as well! this message just over joys me.
      I had heard about that particular UO shirt. I am incredibly glad it was pulled from the shelves.

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