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.