Tonight I sat with my wife watching TV, as we often do to unwind from the day, and found myself wincing repeatedly. It wasn’t because Steven Colbert talked about the new Doritos flavored Mountain Dew (Dewitos? Seriously?) and compared it to drinking the soda and eating some chips and throwing up a little in your mouth. Well, okay, I winced a little at that. Rather, I was made uncomfortable by the repeated anti-fat comments I heard through the night coming from my flat screen.
First up was the British romantic comedy ensemble cast movie Love Actually. In this silly and sweet movie, we hear a young woman snarkily described as the one with the big arse and huge thighs. We have multiple women cherished for their thin bodies, all portrayed as brainless, wonton sex toys, or both. Another is degraded for being the stereo-typed fat, ugly sister the father has to pay someone to marry. A man is repeatedly shamed for being fat and alone, possessing only one narcissistic friend/boss who for one night will indulge his chubby mate at Christmastime rather than shag a bevy of half-naked drunk girls at a party. I lost count at about a dozen obvious anti-fat/pro-thin comments from both female and male perspectives. Damn. I used to love that movie.
I was glad to turn my attention to the documentary Unhung Hero about male obsession with having the most appropriate size penis for self-esteem and to attract women. At least it wasn’t about weight. After I watched the filmmaker consider and back out of several penis enhancement procedures from around the world, I was ready for my usual late-night indulgence of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. And that’s when I got hit with yet another weight-biased comment.
This one truly floored me though when Steven Colbert brought up Kenneth Bae, the recently-released American imprisoned in a North Korean labor camp. Upon returning home, he commented about what an “amazing two years” he had. He “learned a lot,” as I’m sure anyone would, about himself and what suffering he could endure. He also was happy to share he “lost a lot of weight … but in a good way!”
Just stop right there for a second. WTF?!?! I’m sorry. That’s when I knew I had to write this blog. What message are we sending here? Hey, it’s fine that the Nazi’s held my ancestors in a concentration camp. They needed to lose a few pounds, right?
Listen, I’m thrilled for Mr. Bae and his family. He was a victim of horrific human bondage for the sake of international political gamesmanship. But how brainwashed must he have been about body image and health that this is among his first statements upon his release? If someone has endured that kind of hardship and brutality and is still that fixated on thin equaling good, how can we possibly hope to save ourselves and our children from that very same message? We can’t delude ourselves into thinking this is not touching every single one of us. And we think this is a female issue? Bae is a middle aged man. Yes, men are not immune to the message. Bae is Asian. Nationalities are not immune. Races are not immune. Age is not immune. You are not immune. I am not immune.
I don’t know how we will ever get beyond this in all honesty. It may take generations of body-loving individuals to stem the tide and reverse the flow. We may one day have to realize that body-hate messaging needs to be as regulated as cigarette smoking. I don’t know. But I had my fill of TV and the weight-loss message tonight.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 443-602-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.