The attack on obesity has been capitalized by the American society in the typical ways you would expect by a country built on the means of high production and mass consumption. Their success lies in the misleading relationship between the powers of society and those who are controlled by it, providing the misconception that citizens have become empowered by the knowledge provided to them and thus held responsible for the policing of oneself. Citizens are led to believe that any personal characteristics that deviate from the societal norm, is therefore an individual failure and lack of self-discipline. But where does the responsibility of culture and society fit in and why is it being overlooked?
War rhetoric such as the ‘war on drugs’, ‘war on poverty’, or in this case, the ‘war on obesity’, signals to the people a state of urgency and concern. In this particular context, it is a direct reference to the health of the individuals at risk to the effects of obesity and has inspired an equally extreme response through invasive, high-risk procedures such as WLS (Weight Loss Surgery), food replacements, extreme dieting and over-the-top exercise regimes for severe weight loss seen on shows such as The Biggest Loser. Such modes of discipline, considered an eating disorder for skinny people, is considered self-control by fat people, a point well-made by Melissa Campbell in an engaging class discussion on fat activism.
Yet, that is not the only dichotomy and contradiction we see in America’s attack on obesity. What’s equally important to consider here is the disproportionate effect this has on women and their bodies in comparison to that of men. From diet food to surgery, weight loss ads further capitalize on the bodily insecurities of women in a society obsessed with beauty. Images consistently represent a narrowly defined conception of physical beauty and what that implies. A beautiful woman is desired, successful, charismatic and fun while a fat woman personifies any and everything opposite to that, excluded from the multiple benefits of being skinny in American society.
Fat men, however, are represented by media and society at large in a much more loose and accepted manner, though stereotyped nonetheless. Fat men are also likely to find more avenues of acceptance, such as the funny guy who makes jokes about his obsession with food. Take for instance, Doug’s character in the King of Queens (see this clip I provided from YouTube) ; a beautiful, thin wife and her fat, funny, teddy-bear of a husband. It is unlikely we would see a reverse of this relationship represented anywhere in media. Fat men are seen indulging in HungryMan dinners while only skinny women are seen indulging in low-calories meal bars.
Ultimately, it is not enough to be considered skinny by societal standards but additionally beautiful, a point I brought up in a previous blog entitled, Beauty: From the Inside – Out, in which I criticized a comparison between the diet/health of two women based on their physical attractiveness.
By providing ineffectual means by which citizens can take control of their weight, American society continues to profit off of individual ‘failures’ without assuming even the slightest accountability. As mentioned by Oullette and Hay in their article, Makeover Television, governmentality and the good citizen, widespread internalization of the system and individual acknowledgement of obesity as a problem allows for the ‘reinvention of government’. By doing so, reality TV and other media avenues are represented as providing a public service, simultaneously and ironically profiting off of the failure of it’s own system.