No silver lining

There’s a season one episode of House called “Heavy”, about a ten-year-old girl (Jessica) who has a heart attack. She’s overweight, and her mother swears she exercises and eats right, that they’ve been to nutritionists and physical trainers, and nothing works. Chase, the useless shallow pretty boy, assumes they’re lying, and if Jessica would just stop eating and get off her ass, she’d lose weight and be healed. Foreman is actually open to the possibility that the mother is telling the truth and there’s some undiscovered deeper problem causing the weight gain. House and Cameron are just focused on finding the cause of the heart attack, since no amount of obesity should cause a ten-year-old to have one. In the end, it turns out the heart attack was caused by Jessica taking diet pills in desperation to lose weight, and the weight gain was caused by a brain tumor messing with her endocrine system.

What impressed me about this episode was that Jessica literally had no friends.

See, in TV land, the truth must be sugar-coated. Fat or ugly children always have at least one friend, because it’s a Nice, Fair World, right? This episode clearly plays on that expectation, too. When Foreman goes to see her homeroom teacher, he asks if he can talk to some of Jessica’s friends to get more insight into what might be happening to her. The teacher looks at him uncomfortably and explains that Jessica doesn’t have any friends. “Not one?” Foreman asks. The teacher says she’s tried to get the other kids to include the girl, but kids can be “jerks”. Then she directs him to talk to Jessica’s assigned eighth-grade mentor.

The eighth-grader clearly loathes and judges Jessica, and is mainly worried that if she tells Foreman anything helpful, people might think she purposely associates with Jessica, or wants to help. Foreman wryly assures her he’ll tell everyone at the hospital that she was forced to mentor Jessica, and the eighth-grade girl – in clueless seriousness – thanks him.

The girl’s mother is endlessly supportive, as is her gym coach, and her homeroom teacher. But Chase accurately represents the opinion of most doctors and adults when it comes to overweight people. Despite growing research into disorders that cause incredibly sluggish metabolisms, people just enjoy blaming and judging overweight people. It’s the American way.

This isn’t strictly a women-in-TV issue. While I personally don’t see overweight boys and men suffering quite the same fallout as overweight girls and women, all “fat” people tend to be judged as lazy pigs, despite the fact that if you pay attention, you’ll notice that about half the overweight people you know are more active and eat more healthily than probably ninety percent of the slim people you know. It would make just as much sense to assume all slim people are neurotic about conforming to society’s beauty standards.

Or, you know, we could just all stop judging others and worry more about whether we’re up to spec. What a novel idea.


  1. scarlett says

    I can’t certainly relate to the comment “about half the overweight people you know are more active and eat more healthily than probably ninety percent of the slim people you know”
    I’m 170 cms, 58 kilos (too lazy to think in feet, inches and pounds), and do jack all to be healthy. Why be healthy? I have my fast metabolism to fall back on :p

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    LOL. Unfortunately, I have no idea how that translates into feet and pounds? I assume in context that means you’re slim?

    I know people who eat fast food and never exercise and are skinny even into their 50’s. And I know people who wait tables – which means 20-40 hours of damn good exercise per week – and still remain overweight. You’d have to eat about 8,000 calories to make that happen with a healthy metabolism. There’s just a lot more to weight and nutrition than we currently understand, which is why people need to be less judgmental.

    Besides, being 20-30 pounds overweight isn’t nearly as unhealthy as being the same amount underweight. Why judge one but not the other?

  3. Mecha says

    That is an interesting message to put in a TV show, yeah. Usually you only see that sort of thing in the old After-School Specials.

    5’7″, 128 pounds, Scarlett? You do have an excellent metabolism. @_@

    Yeah, there’s all sorts of really strange weight stuff. The recent studies about bacteria, degrees of genetics, etc, etc. I can’t remember where to find the reports, though, I see a lot of it via blog connections. As an anecdotal tale of my own, my ex actually eats more carefully than I do, and exercises more (read: ever) and he’s still having serious weight trouble. So yeah. A lot of my family is varying shades of overweight too. Honestly, stick-thin is frightening. A woman I know (friend’s GF) is absolutely sickeningly thin, and it’s sorta scary to see. She looks like she might crack and die any second. At least she eats healthy. ^_^;;


  4. scarlett says

    Actually, I remember reading an article comparing women of different sizes. The one which stuck out for me was a woman who must have been at least 120kgs (about 280 pound; it’s roughly two pounds to a kilo, I think). She was dressed in clothes that really suited her figure and had this radiance, you could tell she was healthy and happy. Looking at her, I would happily of traded my figure for hers, if I could have had that radiance with it.
    My metabolism’s slowing down, and I think that’s a really good thing, because it’s made me stop and think ‘well if I want to keeping fitting into my size eight jeans then I’d better excercise and eat a sandwhich instead of sitting on the couch eating KFC’.
    As far as imperial-metric goes, it’s about two pounds to a kilo, and just over 2.5cms/inch, 33cms to a foot, three feet to a meter. Don’t know the exact comparison for miles-kilometers, but I know its roughly 1.5kms to a mile.
    I never worked out why Americans hold onto imperial measurements. Metric works in multiples of 10, 100, 1000 etc so it calculates nicely. 1 cm = 10 mm, 1m = 100cm, 1km = 1000m etc.

  5. baskerville says

    about half the overweight people you know are more active and eat more healthily than probably ninety percent of the slim people you know.

    Most of the people I know who are overweight, it’s pretty obvious why they are. Before my mom decided to do something about my dad’s weight, he’d eat too much, eat unhealthy food, drink a little more than he should, and after sitting in an office all day, he’d come home and sit in front of his computer. My uncle, same thing to a far greater degree, with lots more drinking, lots mroe nhealthy food and a blatant disregard for his own health. He almost went out of his way to take bad care of himself, no joke, no exageration. My neighbor: drank nothing but soda (“I don’t like the taste of water”). And so on.

    No one I know is morbidly obese or anything (with a possible exception or two), but it was usually pretty obvious why they were overweight.

    I don’t judge people one way or the other by how big they are, thats not my point. I just don’t believe so many people are overweight just by being wired that way, or suffering from some other medical cause. If it’s not diet and lifestyle, how else do you explain the US having such a larger percentage of overweight and obese people than the rest of the world? If it’s medical causes and/or natural biodiversity, why aren’t the numbers more even globally?

    I know not everyone who is overweight is so by lifestyle, and I know that many people just don’t care about their weight, and I can certainly respect that. But I also think theres a good number of folks out there who don’t have an underlying medical cause, but are jumping on that wagon for all it’s worth.

    Because if every overweight person is so by illness and/or biology . . . well, I think if thats the case we should be very, very worried about whats going in our food and water.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    According to New Zealand research, yes, the American lifestyle is partly to blame, and yes, some people just eat too much and don’t exercise. But they also point to overconsumption of soy as a contributing factor to undiagnosed hypothyroidism. American companies put soy in everything: it’s a filler ingredient in food, it’s consumed by many of our meat animals, and most people are first exposed to it in baby formula. Then there’s the issue of diagnosing hypothyroidism: American doctors stick to the old numbers, while Dutch scientists have recommended a new way of measuring to get more accurate results on an individual basis. American doctors refuse to hear it.

    My whole family shows symptoms of hypothyroidism – including but not limited to staying overweight no matter how we eat or exercise – but none of us have been treated for it.  Last year, I cut soy out of my diet as much as possible, and have lost some weight despite making no other changes to my normal healthy eating habits and moderate levels of exercise.  Even as a child, my metabolism wasn’t that good.  I’ve always eaten healthy.  I’ve never in my life had a “pig out” session.  In fact, eating more than 1500 calories a day generally made me feel stuffed.  And yet I’ve been overweight from early childhood.  My story is far from unique.
    So yeah, I do believe there’s a lot out there that’s misunderstood, undiagnosed, and simply ignored by doctors who’d rather not deal with complicated stuff. Maybe because you’re related to people you know to be overeaters, you haven’t had any reason to look at other overweight people and try to evaluate what makes them overweight.

  7. baskerville says

    Wow. I did not know that about soy. Considering the local hippie pharmacy touts it as the uber health food, thats pretty scary.

    In the case of my family, I notice because one worries about health issues. Otherwise I’m not really bothered one way or the other by people’s weight, so no, I don’t really evaluate the causes.

    The arguement that illness and anomalies were the cause of people being overweight bugged me, because, like I said, I couldn’t see a cause for the discrepancy in numbers. (If it is soy, that totally answers my question.)

    So it’s not what I personally think about overweight people, it was just that the argument had always seemed so unlikely.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    So it’s not what I personally think about overweight people, it was just that the argument had always seemed so unlikely.

    And that’s a perfectly reasonable assessment, if you’re not aware of knowing anyone who eats/exercises well and still remains overweight.

    You say you don’t judge people for being overweight, and I believe you. But I have to wonder if you ever carried an assumption at the back of your mind that every overweight person you know is someone who sabotages him or herself, or is unhappy and eats to compensate, or similar? I really don’t mean to personalize this or put you on the spot, it’s just that’s an attitude I’ve run into. In fact, I’ve had alleged friends flat out disbelieve me when I told them I had tried every exercise and diet tip they told me about, to no avail. Then when I started losing weight this year, suddenly they believed me.

    And again, you sound more open-minded than that to me, which is great, so I’m not putting this on you. :) As far as the soy thing goes, I’m skeptical of all research I read – every researcher can make mistakes, or have a marketing agenda – but I’d been eating a lot of “healthy soy substitutes” when I read that research, so I tried it, and it improved all of my hypothyroid symptoms. So that’s all I can really say on the matter: it worked in my case.

  9. scarlett says

    It seems much more acceptable for men to be overweight then women, especially in the entertainment industry. Can you imagine the female equivilant of Jack Black or Jack Nicholson having such a following?

  10. baskerville says

    Seems? I think it’s blatantly obvious. But it still shocked me a little when American Idol told even moderately heavy girls they were “too fat to be an idol”, then kept describing that insanely overweight guy (The one who beat Clay Aiken. Ruben Stuttard?) as a “big cuddly teddy bear.”

    I mean, I know the double standard exists, but they were so obvious about it, and they’d been so cruel to the girls that it was more than a little ‘wha-huh?’

    And then of course, they defended it with ‘thats the way the industry works. Show business is cruel.’ Way to make a difference, guys.

  11. scarlett says

    Well, I’m pleased to say that one of our winners was this half-caste Aboriginal girl who was easily two hundred pounds (margin for conversion; I’m thinking 100kgs). She crashed and burned after one song, I’m not sure if that was because ‘voting for the fat chick’ wasn’t the same as ‘buying the fat chick’s CD’ or that NO-ONE buys the AI winner’s albums…
    And is it just me, or did Lindsey Lohan look a lot better as a redhead with a few kilos on her then a super-skinny blond?

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    I get violent urges toward people who say “That’s just the way it is.” If we always went by that maxim, white Anglo guys never would’ve stopped getting their asses kicked by every marauding invader using Britain as a rest-stop and taken over the world, now, would they? 😉

    Seriously, though, Marilyn Monroe was frequently a big fat cow by today’s standards. That woman had HIPS and non-skinny thighs in many films, and she was THE sex-symbol of the 20th century. And corpulence was the beauty standard back in Renaissance times. Waifishness was probably associated with peasantry.

    Beauty standards come and go. Maybe the quickest way to get to a truce would be if women started being as picky and unforgiving about men in TV as then men in power are with women. Can you imagine how much talent would go unemployed?

  13. sbg says

    Amen to that. My sister complained to me once about not being able to lose weight where she wanted to, her breasts, and said something to the effect of, “Lindsey Lohan did it, I don’t know how.”

    I do. She went from a normal-sized girl to rail-thin and rather anemic looking. She didn’t just lose her breasts, she lost everything.

    As much as I complain about my curves, I would much rather have them than have none at all.

  14. sbg says

    And then of course, they defended it with ‘thats the way the industry works. Show business is cruel.’ Way to make a difference, guys

    Here’s where I admit to watching America’s Next Top Model and getting absolutely pissed off at the treatment of normal sized girls being called fat and told “the industry” just isn’t ready for that. FCOL, these were women who were gorgeous and confident, and if they happened to make it several weeks in a row, the judges would be puzzled about how downtrodden the poor dears were after hearing how fat and unacceptable they were…well, duh. Confidence is very easily shattered.

  15. baskerville says

    My brother thought Linsey Lohan was cute and hot pre-weight loss. He says that now, “She’s just another ‘meh’ blond.”

  16. scarlett says

    BF and his mates thought the same; she was a hot, curvy readhead and now she’s just another skinny blond. Ashley Simpson, too. I wonder if going blond and losing weight helped these women’s career, or just kept them in the tabloids?

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