A new year and the old bombardment of diet TV is upon us once more. The ingrained acceptance that “Fat is Bad” leads to some truly repellent TV. The abuse contestants experience on such shows, hidden beneath the pretence of help, is disgraceful. For example, Steve Miller, the presenter of ‘Fat Families’, refers to his participants as “tubbies”. Or equally unpleasant, after examining a specific food, Miller joyously cries into the audience “and if you eat too many of these, what does that make you?” to be met with the delightful term “fatties!” sung in unison from the crowd. Then again, what more is expected from a man whose self-help book is titled “Get Off Your Arse and Lose Weight” (2007). There is an argument that the word “fat” needs to be embraced by those overweight, disempowering its use as an insult in the process. However, within the context of a show focused entirely around embarrassing its contestants into losing weight, this political move is clearly not Miller’s intention.
Steve Miller and the producers of ‘Fat Families’ underlying message is clear; if you are fat, you are lazy and greedy.
Each week the new contestant is subjected to examining “the extent of their problem” via a close up camera designed to scrutinise every bulge of their half naked body. Miller often reminds the audience at home that although this may seem harsh, it is necessary for them to confront the truth. There is no consideration of the psychological impact this may have, or the binge eating cycle such humiliation and (encouraged) self-hatred can lead to.
‘Fat families’ takes the belief that food is bad to an astonishing new level. Whereas most diet advocates suggest that there exist “good” and “bad” food, Miller seems to take the line that all food is evil. One example of this occurred while a family involved in the show were secretly filmed having lunch in a restaurant (as stooges tempt them with food). In response to one member opting for a plain, dressing free, salad as a started, Steve informs us off screen that while yes, a salad is more sensible than the pâté option, better still would have been to forgo any started. After all, the salad may have contained up to a 100 calories. The implicit message here being that the less food the better. This completely ignores the fact that food is a positive, nourishing and essential ingredient for life. Or even, if we are to indulge in the “diet myth” for a moment, that there is evidence (and common sense) to suggest that eating something light and nutritious as a starter leads to dieters consuming less over all.
Sadder still is the self-abuse, considered reasonable, by the individuals involved in such shows. For example, the woman taking part in “Diet tribe”, who muffled through tears, “if I look back at my wedding photos and I am fat, I will hate myself forever”.
One reaction to hearing this could well be the suggestion that they need to get some perspective on life. However, in a world were fat is bad and thinness equates to your value, the fear exuding from these individuals has nothing to do with weight, but instead is intrinsically linked to their fundamental worth.
If we commit the sin and god forbid, put on weight, this sort of treatment and self-loathing is viewed as an acceptable response. It is the individual’s fault after all. No need to consider the emotional trigger for over eating, or the potential cry for help it covers. Let alone the possibility that some people may be perfectly happy (and healthy) while a little overweight. There is no thought to the protection fat gives us against intimacy, or in women especially, against sexual advances. Nor a moment of reflection honoured to the political implications of fat. The naïve and ignorant arrogance that the likes of Steve Miller spew onto our subconscious gives credence to the idea that our worth can be measured in correlation to our weight. This is a line of thought that under no circumstances should we accept.
‘Fat families’ Sky1 HD Wed, 8pm.
‘Diet Tribe’ Sky3 Sun, 7pm
Miller, S (2007) Get Off Your Arse and Lose Weight: Straight talking advise on how to get thin.