Does Glee Promote Obesity?

I have seen some online discussion recently of whether or not Glee is promoting obesity.  I’m not going into plot lines but it appears to be because two fat characters (both female) have high self-esteem, have at least one man who is interested in them, and are not on diets.

First I thought maybe I didn’t understand the meaning of “promote”, so I looked it up:

  • to help or encourage to exist or flourish; further: to promote world peace.
  • to advance in rank, dignity, position, etc. ( opposed to demote).
  • to encourage the sales, acceptance, etc., of (a product), especially through advertising or other publicity.

Let’s look at the first two.  Now, at least according to standardized testing, I’m a reasonably smart girl.  But I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the concept.  The idea that, in a society where fat people receive 386,170 negative messages A YEAR about how we are unattractive, unhealthy, unworthy etc; that showing two fat girls who actually like themselves is going to encourage obesity to flourish.  I’m having an awfully difficult time imagining that people will see two fat people who don’t hate themselves and say “Wow, obesity is way cooler than it sounded the other 386,170 times I heard about it.  I want to be obese!   How can I get that done?”

Looking at third point, let me try to re-construct this argument:

Showing fat people who like themselves and have success in life and love might make other fat people think that’s possible for them, and that’s a bad thing.  If fat people are going to be portrayed in the media, we need to make sure that they are shown as miserable, unhealthy and self-loathing.  That way,  fat people watching will realize that they can never be happy and that they too should be miserable, unhealthy, and self-loathing because this will encourage them to be healthy.

And I think that’s a bunch of crap.

I would guess that people who publicly complain that showing healthy, happy fat people is promoting obesity are most likely in it for themselves – maybe to feel superior, maybe because they want to rail about something.  Maybe because they feel that personal responsibility means that they get to set the standards of health and beauty and everyone else is personally responsible for fitting into them.  If you really care about the health of others,  I don’t think that you would be interested in lowering their self-esteem as a first step.

I don’t have research on this but I do not personally believe that the best way to help someone take good care of their body is to convince them to hate that body and feel unattractive, unhealthy, and unworthy.  I just don’t think that a cogent argument can be made that self-loathing is the yellow brick road to health.

Bottom line:  If shaming people made them healthy we wouldn’t need doctors in this country.  If diets made people thin and healthy (note that these are two separate things) then, after spending over $60,000,000,000 a year on them, we would all be thin and healthy.   Since that’s not working at all, I think it would be just dandy if we all were allowed to make our own choices about our health and have those choices respected.  For me, I choose to believe that healthy behaviors have the best chance to creating a healthy body, certainly better than betting on a less than 5% chance of just being smaller than I am now.

Published in: on February 12, 2011 at 3:46 am  Comments (26)  

26 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I get so freaking sick of this argument whenever a successful fat actor or actress is totally cool with their body and not trying to kill themselves to be thin, and also when said actor or actress is portraying a character that is totally cool with their body and not trying to kill themselves to be thin. Granted, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should, and generally speaking the fat character is actually played by a thin actor or actress in a fat suit, and magically the pounds can be gone just by tearing off layers of foam and makeup. I wish that people could just be people, and not have to “apologize” because they aren’t the norm. It leaves me dumbfounded that we can have so many negative messages thrown at us, and yet people feel that the only way to do things is to lob another negative message at us, as if we didn’t hear the rest of them. And then one positive message comes along that says “Hey! Guess what?! You are awesome!” and people get up in arms over the one positive message, never once batting an eyelash over how negative they can be without even thinking about it. Poo on them I say! Sure, my body isn’t up to snuff medically speaking right now, and not one shred of it has to do with my weight, but it still rocks! I can still breathe, I can still think, my blood still gets to all my organs (at least the ones I still have, lol) and I can do a hell of a lot of things without even thinking about it.

    • Hi Karen,

      You said “I wish that people could just be people, and not have to “apologize” because they aren’t the norm.”

      One of the things that’s really interesting to me is the vast difference between the typical American woman and the typical American actress. People are actually being told to apologize for not being part of an almost infinitesimally small percentage of the population.

      I so very much love how you are thinking about, and appreciating, your body!

      ~Ragen

      • Oh, I totally get what you’re saying. I was more attempting to point more to the entertainment industry, although perhaps I didn’t make that entirely clear. You can thank my pain meds for that.

  2. Ragen,

    I always appreciate the way that you are able to articulate these perspectives. I have loved the portrayal of Mercedes as comfortable in her body, and even challenging the cheerleaders to be more realistic about how they eat. I have actually been concerned with body image on Glee because it seems as though the actress who plays the character of Rachel is getting smaller and smaller.

    Thanks for another affirmative, provocative, thought-shifting post!

    • Hi Ann,

      I’m so glad that you liked the post. I noticed Lea Michelle’s weight loss as well and when I was doing the research for this piece I was sad to see some people saying that she was “doing her part”, and that the actresses who play Mercedes and Lauren need to follow in her footsteps. I’m all for people’s choices about their bodies being respected but insisting that we all need to do the same things and look the same doesn’t make sense to me.

      ~Ragen

  3. They should be more worried about Lea Michele promoting sluttiness on men’s magazines. Seriously. I love Glee to death, also because it shows the various type of people (and sizes) that populate a high school. Because surely everyday highschools resemble a lot more the one from Glee than the one from 90210!

    • Hi Beda,

      I’m cool with Lea doing whatever she wants in her free time but I absolutely agree with you that Glee is much more representative of my high school experience than anything else I’ve seen on television.

      ~Ragen

  4. One thing that people don’t seem to realize is that it’s the same body. Each of us gets only one body to spend our whole life in. A person who loses weight doesn’t have a “new” body. It changes shape, but unless you have a brain transplant, it’s the same body they were born with. How can they shame us and expect us to hate our body when it’s fat and love the same body when it’s thin?

    I am my body. My mind and emotions are emergent qualities of my body; they come from my brain. Without my body there is no me. I don’t say, “My body is dancing.” I say, “I am dancing.” If I hate my body I hate myself, and that is never healthy. Being thin won’t make you nice if you’re cruel, it won’t change your financial situation, or your love life, or solve any more real problems than it creates.

    So, fat or thin, I might as well love my one and only body for the rest of my life, no matter what shape it is. I may as well love myself.

    We need more television programs where people love themselves; it’s not promoting obesity, it’s promoting love. How can you get any better than that?

    • Hi Skyfire,

      I absolutely agree with you. I will never understand the idea that we should get people to hate their bodies so that they’ll take good care of them. I just don’t see that happening. We live in our bodies 100% of the time so whether or not we want to change the abilities, size or shape of them, to me loving them seems to be the place to start, and the place to finish!

      ~Ragen

  5. Uuuggggghhhhhh… the “promoting obesity” schtick gets so old so quickly doesn’t it? But that dead horse just keeps gettin’ a flogging.

    Yeah, by showing a fat person in a positive light, all those thin folks just want to get fat! They rush out and have surgery to screw up their metabolism, then gorge themselves on cheeseburgers and donuts just like the fatties do.

    I think you’re right – they need to show fat people in a negative light so that they have someone to feel superior to.

    Which to me is pretty damn sad. How empty must one’s life be to need to make others feel bad so one can feel good?

    • I’m so with you on this. Putting someone else down to make you feel good about yourself was a bad idea in Junior High and it’s a bad idea now.

      ~Ragen

  6. You’ve hit on a thing that vexes me. I dislike the word choices we have, in objectifying/distancing, when we say “my body.” I’m ME! Knees is me! All parts and the wholeness of embodiment, all me!

    • Hi Marilyn,

      I absolutely see what you are saying. I know people for whom embodiment means that they see themselves and their bodies as a whole being, and I know people who see themselves as a being/soul/infinite energy inhabiting an amazing vehicle.

      I feel that both are valid and that love of self/body can happen for both groups of people, but I understand that for those in the former camp there is definitely a word choice issue that limits self expression.

      ~Ragen

  7. This goes hand in hand with the idea that fat rights is advocating an unhealthy lifestyle. What is actually going on is advocating for body equality, and putting the ideals that most people believe to be true into question. So showing a well rounded happy fat person is making people question the beliefs that keep them going. It is ridiculously sad that showing body diversity on television is somehow turned into a bad thing.

    • Exactly! To me our culture is attempting to make a group of people second class citizens simply for the size and shape of their body. The only way that they can do that and make it seem to make sense is to ascribe a bunch of value judgments to it, and showing happy healthy fat people flies in the face of that effort.

      ~Ragen

  8. Never takes this misery-mongers long does it?

  9. Great post. I love the way that the Mercedes character is portrayed and I also really like the new girl – can’t think of her name – it is refreshing to see a wider (size) range of talent on the screen! If anything, Glee is promoting self-confidence and that is a good thing. I love Glee.

    I also think it is interesting that so many (gorgeous) female actresses (think America Ferrara, Jennifer Hudson) who “make it” despite NOT wearing a sample size then go on to lose a shit-ton of weight. They go from saying “I am beautiful and I embrace my curves” to being the spokespeople for diets.

    • Hi Cameo,

      Lauren is the new characters name and I agree that promoting self-confidence is the way to go, no matter what you think the path to health is. There is an awful lot of cultural pressure on women, I can understand why those actresses would decide to try to make it easy on themselves. I just hate it when, like so many other people, they gain the weight back and have to deal with that back-lash.

      ~Ragen

  10. The only thing they’re promoting is the fact that you can look hot and be desired at any size. I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with Mercedes when she said the sight of her in a cheer skirt would cause a sex riot. It totally would.

    • That was one of my favorite lines in the show ever!

      ~Ragen

  11. Yes and we had better stop showing successful African American Men and Women or goodness gracious they may just wind up in the White House!
    OOOOH we wouldn’t want that would we???

  12. I love the football coach, too. Mercedes has always been awesome, and the new girl seems ok (I’m a couple episodes behind and didn’t realize she was going to stick around), but I love that the coach is this conventionally unattractive woman and is accepted by the other characters and treated well. (Now, anyway. Not at first!)

    • I totally love coach Bieste. Dot-Marie Jones is the actress – she was a high school and college athlete and is a 15 time arm wrestling world champion. So awesome!

      ~Ragen

  13. I don’t watch the show, but here’s my thought.

    I was a size 2 in high school (not intentionally, sans eating disorder, unless you call a diet primarly based primarily on vending machine food an eating disorder). I was the bottom of the social barrel, most unpopular, never had a boyfriend, with no friends to speak of. I was totally miserable.

    I’m now a size 16 (with a reasonably healthy lifestyle). I have lots of great friends, a great life, an enviable career, everything I’ve ever wanted. I’m way better dressed than I ever was in high school. I have much nicer hair and skin than I did in high school. And I definitely have more sex than I did in high school. (Though these days, its not much more. :P )

    In fact, the better my life has become, the more my weight has increased.

    Yet on the rare occasion I run into someone from high school, and “duck and cover” doesn’t help me avoid them, and even though they must know how awesome my life is (because its on facebook!), the first thing they mention is how I’ve gained weight.

    It makes me want to go back in time and burn down my high school.

  14. As my wife Kat said upon seeing it, prepare for a new barrage of “promoting obesity” barbs at Glee after Mercedes’ Hell To the No in the Original Songs episode.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: