Too Fat For Reality: Is TV Exploiting Obesity?

I’ve been noticing a number of weight-themed shows on television lately. While The Biggest Loser certainly isn’t new, ABC recently premiered Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Kirstie Alley’s new series Kirstie Alley’s Big Life also just premiered on A&E. I’m sure there are other series out there, between cable and network TV that feature some sort of diet/weight-centric theme but it’s those three in particular that got me wondering whether or not series like these are changing people’s perspective on the issue of obesity in this country.

Obesity’s been a problem in America for quite some time now, but looking beyond the health issues that arise, there’s also the issue of how obese people are treated socially. Speaking in generalities of course, there’s definitely a stigma with being overweight and it seems likely that a lot of people trying to shed a few (or more) pounds aren’t just doing it to lower their blood pressure or decrease their chances of getting diabetes. Thin’s in. That’s no secret. There’s a fair amount of judgment passed on the obese for their weight and appearance. I’m talking about anything from being called names or picked last in gym to being publicly ejected from an airplane because someone decides you’re taking up too much room. This seems to go beyond the concern for health problems. It’s more an attitude (by some) that overweight people deserve the ridicule they get.

So my question is, are shows like The Biggest Loser, Kirstie Alley’s Big Life and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution exploiting the social stigma that is obesity in this country or will they promote some level of general sensitivity toward overweight people? I’m still undecided on the matter, which is why I want to put it to you guys.

I suppose I should explain that by “sensitivity,” I am by no means suggesting that people should brush off the weight problem in this country nor do I think it’s something we should all just accept. I’m speaking specifically on a social level, as far as how these types of shows might affect how people perceive obese people, if at all.

One of the main focuses of Kirstie Alley’s Big Life is on her struggle to lose weight. In the series premiere we saw her hounded by paparazzi looking to get photos of her, one of which was featured later on the cover of a tabloid magazine. It adds an interesting perspective to the weight-issue as it sheds a bit of light on the other side of celebrity-gossip and Hollywood’s obsession with weight. NBC’s The Biggest Loser features a number of overweight people competing against one another to drop pounds and get into shape. And Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution showcases his trip to a town in West Virginia, deemed the most unhealthiest area of the country.

While these shows are all well intentioned in their goals (especially Oliver's show as it's shining an even brighter light on the poor eating habits of people in this country), are they also unintentionally exploiting the issue of obesity for entertainment value? Are people watching because they genuinely care about the issue and/or the people involved or is there more of a side-show-element to them that appeals to people and if that’s the case, how will that affect how obese people are treated in this country?

Those are the questions. As I’m undecided on the issue, myself, I’m asking you, Cinema Blend readers, to weigh in (yeah, I went there.) with your thoughts in our comment section below.

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Kelly West
Assistant Managing Editor

Kelly joined CinemaBlend as a freelance TV news writer in 2006 and went on to serve as the site’s TV Editor before moving over to other roles on the site. At present, she’s an Assistant Managing Editor who spends much of her time brainstorming and editing feature content on the site. She an expert in all things Harry Potter, books from a variety of genres (sci-fi, mystery, horror, YA, drama, romance -- anything with a great story and interesting characters.), watching Big Brother, frequently rewatching The Office, listening to Taylor Swift, and playing The Sims.