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From Tuesday to Friday this week I was home for America's beloved overeating holiday, that paradoxical celebration of all things vegetable.  Since all the libraries were closed, I had plenty of time to spend with my mother, who is well-known to be a lovely person.  This Thanksgiving, my mother (and my aunt) got up at 6 to head over to the First Congregational Church downtown and wake up the homeless people who sleep there once a week through arrangement with P.A.D.S.  Some weeks, my mom does their laundry, and dinner and a bag lunch are provided.  On holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, sometimes there are singing volunteers.  A lot of these people are bankrupt thanks to catastrophic illnesses for which they were uninsured or underinsured.  Thanks to the lovely church ladies of DuPage county, they are not necessarily either cold or hungry.

But my mother's concern for the genuinely hungry has an upsetting foil in her preoccupation with weight-- not just her own.  Which explains why I spent two nights of my visit home watching The Biggest Loser (via), a disturbing show if ever there was one.  It also explains why my last boyfriend eventually became uncomfortable visiting our home.  My mom kept trying to tell him about Weight Watchers.

Jill at Feministe points out that
The Biggest Loser puts fat people on display as moral failures — it suggests that people are fat simply because they are lazy, and if only they worked a little harder, they could lose the weight. In reality, the contestants are nearly killing themselves for the amusement of the viewing audience.
The fat-shaming and unhealthy rate of weight loss on the show are creepy even without the parts that have been cut out (they dehydrate themselves and one guy fasts until he actually urinates blood).  In the special on past contestants that my mother wanted to watch, people from past seasons-- many of whom had been "inspired" to become personal trainers and magically kept the weight off by continuing to work out like it's their job, since now it is-- repeated so often that they'd been "given a second chance at life" that it didn't take a cynic to wonder if they'd been asked to say so.

In one testimonial, a former contestant described her weight loss goal as treatment for PCOS-related infertility.  No one bothered to explain that, although weight loss is one possible treatment for PCOS, so are less disruptive measures such as birth control and diabetes or fertility medications.  Oh, and that obesity is actually a symptom of PCOS, meaning that no, the bad fat lady didn't make herself infertile.  Not that "careful not to eat yourself barren" isn't about as elegant as mutually-reinforcing gender expectations come.  Honorable mention: breastfeed like it's your job, look fuckable again in no time.

As our sensitive friends over at the New York Times might have suggested to you by now, though, gentle reader, Biggest Loser is hardly the most odious example of our society's treatment of fat people.  Like most people with some interest in human dignity, I have my own favorite example just from PETA.  You don't have to look far in most feminist blogs to find someone pointing out the dozens of flaws with the BMI, a measure of "health" that, as far as I can tell, is used primarily to make people feel bad without much investigation into their actual risk factors.  As Jill mentions in the link above, "thin" is a poor stand-in for "health," since many of the ways people attempt to lose weight-- not just on the show-- are terrible for you, and overweight people don't forfeit being healthy, anyway.

The silly association between weight and health also gives small people permission to be cruel to anyone whose body doesn't meet their standards.  If someone doesn't respect or value themselves enough to be "healthy," then why should you?  A person who can't or won't prioritize their own health must be personally lacking, right?  Strangers (and my mother) police your weight because they just care so much.

Of course, along with their health overweight people do not forfeit being beautiful, successful, or loved.  If they miss out on those things, it's because people like the producers of Biggest Loser take them away.


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