Fat Girl Swimsuit - © wish.com

Are The Media ‘Normalizing’ Overweight & Obesity?

I’ve noticed a troubling trend in TV and internet advertising lately: Advertisers are making a concerted effort to portray overweight and downright obese people as ‘normal’. By that, I mean, more and more commercials are featuring fat people in their carefully curated casts…

NAAFP Org Meeting - © 2014 Family GuyEven back in 2014, the animated TV series Family Guy was playing (satirically) with the
idea of a National Association for the Advancement of Fat People (NAAFP).
The ‘Fat and Proud’ identity was the cornerstone of their movement.

We’ve all grown used to the phenomenon in TV and online commercials of casts of characters carefully balanced by gender and race. There is almost always at least one black, one Asian and one Hispanic character interacting cheerfully, as if that’s the way they normally associate and live their lives. This may be true at work, where their employer’s hiring practices may assure an appropriate mix of races and genders in the office or on the factory floor. But my experience is – aside from office parties – you’ll rarely see blended-race groups sharing a table at the sponsor’s restaurant, as portrayed in the commercials. But it’s the politically correct image to present.

I don’t mind that at all

It’s the way things should be; everyone accepting everyone else as equals, regardless of religion, gender, age or place of ancestral origin. In fact, I’m prepared for the prediction to come true that, before I die, we’ll all be one uniform shade of medium brown as a result of intermarriage unhindered by any taints of racial or religious intolerance. When there aren’t any visible differences between people of various ancestries anymore, there won’t be any grounds for anybody to feel superior to anybody else, or make the kind of racial slurs that currently divide us, every day, on the most basic levels of social interaction. This homogenization may take several more generations, but I say it can’t happen soon enough.

However… That’s not the main thrust of my post today.

Normalizing overweight

What really concerns me is the subtle signals that advertisers are sending to people who are overweight or obese, that it’s alright to be fat, in spite of the dangers we all know obesity presents. More and more ads show fat people interacting seamlessly with the usual blend of characters of various genders and races, as though none of the other folks look down upon them as a result of their condition. Alas, ‘fat shaming’ is still a very popular sport among the thin.

In real life, I’ve more than once heard fellow diners at restaurant tables close to mine remark, in voices loud enough for me to hear: “Look at fatty over there! What’s she doing in a restaurant? She’s probably carrying enough extra to last her a month if she didn’t eat at all!”

That’s just mean and nasty. And there’s no excuse for it. I’ve come to understand that many overweight folks are that way because they lead passive lifestyles and eat too much processed food. It’s up to them – if they want to cut years – maybe decades – from their life expectancies by ignoring their physicians’ warnings and eating recommendations, and choosing instead to indulge their addictions to salt, sugar and fat.

What irks me about those folks is, they’re contributing to ballooning health care costs to treat their cardio, diabetes and cancer conditions – all of which which obesity promotes. According to one official source, that figure was north of (US)$150 billion last year.

But there’s more to it than that

When ‘normal’ people deprecate fatties, they’re really expressing their fear that, “There, but for an efficient metabolism and some good eating habits, go I!” What if their metabolism fails them in older age, they wonder? What if they gain weight because they’re laid up after an accident and can’t walk off the calories the way they’re used to doing? They might become visibly different from everybody else and, as such, become an object of disdain and ridicule.

More and more folks are getting fat

However… We’re told that more and more folks in the western, ‘developed’ nations are getting fat. And only a few of them suffer from metabolic conditions or eating disorders that are out of their conscious control. And that’s what’s causing health care costs to explode to the point where they’re one of the most serious burdens on modern society. I don’t think I and others who are not fat should have to bear the burden (no pun intended) of the costs of fatties’ care.

Another issue altogether for businesses

Businesses and ad agencies have noticed the increase in fat people among their ‘market demographics’. And, now, they seem to be trying to attract fatties to their respective products and services by including them in the politically-correct formula of races, ages and genders that people with stuff to sell now feel it’s necessary to portray in their ads.

The insidious message those new commercials send is, “Look at all the happy fat people! See how prosperous they look! See how they’re having such a great time in a mainstream setting! See how they’re accepted as equals by all the skinny people!”

It’s easy for needy, downtrodden fat people to extrapolate, from those messages, that it’s okay to be fat. They’re encouraged to think they’re ‘just the same’ as any skinny people, that fat is normal… To paraphrase Gordon Gekko in Wall Street (1987), “Fat is good! Fat Works!” (See photo, top of page.)

The problem with that

“Therein lies the rub,” as Hamlet laments in his ‘To be, or not to be’ soliloquy. “There’s yer problem,” as every mechanic has told every car repair customer at one time or another.

By normalizing overweight and obesity, advertisers are making the issue a socio-political one, rather than the public health concern it really is. Sounds a lot like the crazy, totally illogical and self-defeating belief that wearing a mask to fight COVID is a political issue, rather than a matter of public health and common sense. Soon, the notion that ‘fat’ is okay may evolve into a belief that being overweight or obese is a right, or freedom, in the same sense that some people were and are still claiming they have a right not to obey COVID mask mandates. ‘Fat and Proud’ advocates may yet take to the streets in protests against the rest of us – and especially doctors and public health officials who insist obesity is a medical and public health issue.

The overweight and obese need to take a lesson from the mask and vaccine deniers: A lot of folks who took off their masks or never wore them, and refused the vaccine, have died of COVID – many swearing on their death beds that they regretted not having received the vaccine and/or wearing the mask.

~ Maggie J.