What does pop culture tell us about being obese in America? That’s the question posed in Newsweek’s Fat on Film. The thought-provoking online article includes a slide show of various fat characters on film, including Gwyneth Paltrow (above) in Shallow Hal. (Did anyone even see that movie?) The article says the portrayal of fat characters represents several archetypes, stereotypes and beliefs about what it means to be overweight and what role those who are fat should play in society. In the article, Beth Bernstein and Matilda St. John, who have written extensively about the intersection of fatness and pop culture, explain how what we see on screen tells us how overweight people are viewed by Hollywood and, by extension, society. It’s definitely worth a look.
On a related topic, I enjoyed the buzz over a plus-size model who rocked the fashion world and blogosphere when her nude photo appeared in Glamour magazine alongside an article on women’s body confidence. Lizzi Miller — all 180 glorious pounds of her — flashes a confident smile as her stomach bulges over her thong bikini.
Within a day, Glamour was inundated with comments, overwhelmingly positive, about the magazine’s showcasing a beautiful model unafraid to let it all hang out. Web sites such as Facebook, MSN and Jezebel.com were consumed with dialogue over Miller’s photo, and Newsweek.com dedicated Web space to a renewed debate over women’s body image.
The response was so large and effusive that Glamour editor Cindi Leive says Miller is proving to be a game changer when it comes to fashion magazines — which often pay lip service to the idea of representing all women, but usually opt for the carrot-sticks-and-cigarettes, skin-and-bones types when it comes to cover girls.
“I think it absolutely will,” Leive told Matt Lauer on Today. “You get a reaction like this and you can really see it. It’s also a sign of the times that women are really looking for a little bit more authenticity….Immediately, within hours of the magazine coming out, we had people telling us they were emailing it to friends, and that it was the first time they felt good about their bodies, looking at this picture.”
Lizzi Miller (below) has become known as the “woman on page 194″ in some blog posts. One reader wrote to Glamour saying “Get this hot momma off of page 194 and put her on the cover!” Other reader comments:
“Thank you for showing a picture of a BEAUTIFUL woman who has a stomach and thighs that look like mine! I have NEVER seen that in a magazine before!”
“This woman rocks and we need more women like her to make a mark on what the real woman looks like.”
I agree with Newsweek.com: It would be nice, every so often, to see a “normal”-sized model in something other than a story about how it’s OK to be fat—er, comfortable in your own skin.
Yes, I’m against animal cruelty. That’s what People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals or PETA is all about. But what about human cruelty. Have they forgotten about that? PETA launched a new ad campaign in Florida that is incredibly insensitive and insulting — but that’s often the approach this animal rights group chooses to take. This time they’re trying to undermine the confidence of overweight women. I think it’s offensive to women of all sizes.
The billboard depicts an overweight bikini-clad woman with the phrase, “Save The Whales, Lose The Blubber: Go Vegetarian.”
In a press release, PETA stated:
A new PETA billboard campaign that was just launched in Jacksonville reminds people who are struggling to lose weight — and who want to have enough energy to chase a beach ball — that going vegetarian can be an effective way to shed those extra pounds that keep them from looking good in a bikini. [....]
Anyone wishing to achieve a hot “beach bod” is reminded that studies show that vegetarians are, on average, about 10 to 20 pounds lighter than meat-eaters. [...]
“Trying to hide your thunder thighs and balloon belly is no day at the beach,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA has a free ‘Vegetarian Starter Kit’ for people who want to lose pounds while eating as much as they like.
“Our goal is help overweight Jacksonville residents – the best way to do that is to go vegetarian. We’re not trying to insult anyone,” Ashley Byrne, a senior campaigner for PETA told the Huffington Post. ”Vegetarians look and feel better than meat eaters. This is a life-saving message.”
Once again PETA has put its so-called quest for animal rights and desire to get the world to switch to a vegan lifestyle ahead of basic decency toward their fellow humans. Now they’re preying on people’s fear of being fat to champion their cause.
“It’s too bad PETA feels the need to insult and humiliate people in an effort to get them to eat what they define to be an ideal diet, said registered dietitian Elisa Zied, who did an excellent job debating PETA on Fox News.
Even some current PETA supporters feel like the group went too far. Several commenters on PETA’s own official blog announcing the campaign are shocked by the approach:
Wow. Even though vegetarian, I will not support PETA simply for campaigns like this.
Cruelty free means cruelty free.
This is way out of bounds.
However I will be sure to point out this offensive campaign to my friends and collegues so they won’t support PETA either. Way to go!
It is a sad fact that our country is becoming obese. while I do find the billboard to send a thought provoking message, I cannot say that it’s in harmony with the image that PETA represents.
Did it ever occur to the creative marketers of PETA that perhaps there are overweight people who are vegetarians?
We do not often know of the circumstances behind an individual’s weight problems but our great country is always there to judge everyone in an instant. PETA is about raising awareness and protecting animals. Let’s remain focused on the actual cause and leave the weight issues for Jenny Craig.
This is the most awful ad I have ever seen. Shame on you . You care more for animals than you do people.
I became a vegetarian and gained 20 pounds over 3 years. I don’t intend to switch back, but I would just like to point out that a vegetarian diet has pretty much as much or more calories than a normal diet
That last comment is so true. Eschewing all animal products is no guarantee that you’ll lose weight. And it’s not necessarily healthier. It CAN be. But a diet that includes meat and dairy can also be healthy. It’s a personal choice.
I talked with registered dietitian and Fit Woman nutrition blogger Marsha Hudnall about the campaign to get her perspective. She’s the director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, a healthy weight retreat for women in Ludlow, Vermont. She thought the message in the billboard was insulting and uneducated.
“There are lots of reasons why women struggle with their weight, switching to a vegetarian diet doesn’t address all of these reasons and is not the single answer by any means,” she said. “The ad underscores the fat prejudice in this country and the current stigma of being overweight. This only adds to the problem.”
Marsha is not alone. The blogosphere is bristling with negative comments about PETA’s billboard blunder.
If I thought for one second that my kid chose to go vegetarian out of some sort of weird fear of being fat, I’d be shoving prime rib down her gullet faster than you could say “all things in moderation.” The fat phobia and degradation apparent in this campaign makes me sick.
In her posting, she captured many of the comments that are swirling online…
PETA, you have finally done it. You have made me change my mind about something. Congratulations. However, it won’t be to your liking. I’m going out right now get some Kobe Steak for dinner wearing my endangered species ocelot fur coat and if any one of your mink-releasing vegan followers dares to as much as sneer in my direction I’m making a hat out of their bony ass.
Sure it’s possible for some people to lose weight with a vegetarian diet, but certainly not everyone loses weight by being a vegetarian (like me!). Strike one. Vegetarianism shouldn’t be a decision based on weight loss. Strike two. There is nothing wrong with being fat. Sometimes it is out of a person’s control. Other times it’s a conscious choice. Whatever the case, people can still be beautiful if they are fat. Strike three. And sooooo many other things wrong with this billboard… Using women’s objectified bodies to promote the personal, moral decision of vegetarianism is immoral in and or itself. Also using the slogan “Save the Whales” in reference to a woman’s body is dehumanizing. Apparently fat women are just whales that need to be saved by people from PETA by forcing them to go vegetarian.
Thoughts, opinions, musings and discussion about nutrition, food trends, diet myths, new products and fad-free healthy eating.
About Janet Helm
I’m a nutrition journalist, consultant, registered dietitian and mom of twins. My passion is translating nutrition science into intelligible words – and healthy food choices. I want to help people make sense of nutrition news. I don’t think it needs to be complicated or confusing. l believe food should be enjoyed, not feared. And I think taste and health can happily co-exist.