Effing Around

There’s just so much to write about these days. It is, after all, the post-holiday season of Constant Diet Chatter everywhere you look or listen. God, you’d think there was nothing else in the world worth talking about except people’s weight. But, you know, as long as we (they) can keep us focused on the size of our waistlines, they’ve filled up headspace that could be otherwise occupied by, gosh, Paying Attention.

I know I tend to spend a lot of time fussing about how THEY are out there messing with us for their profits. I do not own an aluminum foil hat and do not believe aliens or communists are under my couch. I do believe corporations exist very often in an ethics-free, short-term-profit-obsessed zone that makes them prone to manipulate the public so that we panic/obsess about things that are not particularly important and ignore issues that are important (the whole of Tea Party ideology is based on precisely this sort of false panic, and it’s worth thinking about who profits from it…)

This blog concerns itself for the most part with  two specific issues where this plays out about which I am consistently concerned/infuriated/frustrated: fat and feminism (with a little theology thrown in to deepen the flavor. They’re connected. The female body is the site on which much of culture plays itself out. The culture (most cultures) has a history of defining the “proper” or “virtuous” or “desirable” female body as a core function of its definition of gender roles. The obsession with weight and correlating it to both beauty and health in the West is, among many other things, an expression of violence to and restriction of women.  All of which is to say that the following two Dispatches From the Netiverse are, in fact, connected both profoundly and importantly. The first is from the oft-quoted-here Ragen Chastain and the second is a juicy bit of collage-journalism from Upworthy.

Here’s Chastain:
I told you last week that Joanne Dolgoff, the doctor in charge of the kids on this season of The Biggest Loser, had reached out and offered to have a telephone call with me about my concerns with having kids on TBL this season.  A couple hours before the scheduled call she cancelled with an e-mail that said:

Something has come up at work and I am unable to do this phone call today.  But in thinking about it further, I think the show itself is the best evidence of our intentions and approach. So I think it’s best if you can tune in to “The Biggest Loser” on January 6 to see that the kid participants on the show will follow an age-appropriate program that emphasizes getting healthy rather than numbers on a scale.  As you’ll see, the kids are handled with great care, support and encouragement to help them live a healthier lifestyle.  Thank you.

It turns out that she had offered to have calls with a number of people who had similar concerns, which she also cancelled.  It also turns out that her e-mail to me is just a copy and paste of the public statement that TBL made about the concerns regarding the kids.  She deleted all of her Twitter exchanges with those who have concerns.  My guess is that she is has so thoroughly drank the “the is a good idea Kool-Aid” that she honestly could not believe there was a backlash.   I do find it disconcerting that, despite a number of people asking, she never produced any evidence for her intervention’s safety or efficacy, even though that she repeatedly claims in the media that her program has a “proven 96 percent success rate”  Marketing people throw the word “proven” around a lot, of course one would hope that no person of science, for example a medical doctor, would do so, especially when kids’ health is at stake. People trust medical doctors and so when they toss around words like “proven” people tend to assume that they are speaking as a scientist, and not a PR and marketing firm.  Maybe I just missed the statistically significant, replicated studies printed in a peer-reviewed journal?  I don’t know because, like every other request for evidence that people made to her,  Joanna failed to produce anything.
What isn’t in her e-mail is that they are trying to call their inclusion of kids on the show “bravery” for talking “about something that nobody else is talking about”.  Executive producer Lisa Hennessy called it a necessary first step in starting a national dialogue about childhood obesity.  So I have to ask, how pissed off is Michelle Obama right now?  She has made her entire stint as First Lady about focusing on the weight of children, even unbelievably. calling Biggest Loser contestants good role models for kids, and here comes TBL taking credit like nobody has ever put the words childhood and obesity together before.

And here’s the juicy bit from Upworthy:


You’d think Barbara Walters would know better. Okay, maybe not. Sheesh. And for crying out loud, Pretty much everybody who matters thinks Ms. Clinton has been a splendid Sec. of State. How bloody dare anybody talk about her hair and make-up. I have seen precisely one article ever about the clothing choices of a secretary of State that I thought was even worth the paper it was printed on and that was a piece in TIME about the coded meanings Madeline Albright’s brooches. That was actually fun. I’m perhaps even more than normally enthralled by clothing and fashion commentary, but it’s one thing to talk about FLOTUS’s clothes–she’s clearly having fun with them and making a point of representing for American Style, but Ms. Clinton’s never been particularly into fashion (and I can only cringingly imagine what the media would do with it if she were, since she’s not ever been thin enough to be even allowed to really play with fashion in public–which raises the question of whether she actually might ever have wanted to play around more with her wardrobe…). She dresses like a diplomat. Which is her JOB. Men are allowed to dress for their jobs–with more or less elegance, but for their jobs. But Ms. Clinton is supposed to fuss over her appearance as if she were, ummmmm, Barbara Walters. Geeez Loueeeeez.

So anyway, TBL is about to start crucifying the young for the sake of ratings–or a pseudo-righteous crusade against a pseudo enemy of Our National Virtue and the Media have decided that it’s okay to use the hatred of/fear of women to generate More Big Bucks. Again.

There’s an especially good piece up on xojane about the media flap over Lena Dunham’s insistence on showing off her supposedly not-ready-for-primetime body. It says, in part,
We expect, weirdly, to be protected from Lena Dunham’s thighs — as if Dunham herself must be made to understand how uncomfortable they make us, how DANGEROUS they are, to a media consuming public that doesn’t want to appreciate the variety intrinsic to reality, but who are happy to only see people and bodies that we instantly recognize and which do not challenge us.

I’m not a fan of Girls. I recognize it’s brains and chuzpah, and get why the young think it’s fab. I think I’m just too old to relate, and too crabby to want to spend more time than I already do with the age group, no matter how fond I am of them. But the show is smart and feels agonizingly authentic, and Dunham’s clothing does an exceptional job, I think, of eff-you-I’ll-wear-what-I-want-ness without straying over into what my prissy old self would call WTF-why-would-you-wear-that-ness. This mostly has to do with the fact that she wears clothes that are more or less accurately sized, which is unfortunately no small thing these days. Anyway, it’s a good discussion both of Dunham and Titanic-era Kate Winslet. You can read the rest here: http://www.xojane.com/issues/lena-dunham-naked-nude


On a final and not entirely unrelated note, her name was Jyoti Singh Pandey. Her father wants us to know it. Let’s not forget his daughter’s name any time soon.

round glass

4 thoughts on “Effing Around

  1. sarahjunebug says:

    In response to the first paragraph: I hate this time of year for a bushel-full of reasons, not least of which is the “Biggest Loser” style competitions that pop up at my gym and at my work (last year). I am absurdly competitive, and skilled at the whole weight-loss thing. But even if I had weight to lose, those rapid, competitive weight losses are almost always unhealthy and extremely temporary. :-/ Don’t need the temptation. *sigh*
    When my coworkers talk about their new diets, I generally just smile and nod and eat my chocolate. Everyone wants to start a juice cleanse. Blah.

    • fatmatters says:

      Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone spent the same amount of energy actually working on being a nicer human that they spend on being a “better” (thinner) version of themselves?

  2. Miriam Sagan says:

    I have been having an interesting experience-television. Ten days in a guest house to see my folks with cable. Suddenly I am in America and the cultural exchange about weight. I must mention, however, that ordinary life sans TV has much much less of this imagery/pressure. Sure, people talk about it but really nothing compares to the assault of TV ads etc. My life at a community college and a small city western state capital and even the internet contains about 5% focus on weight compared to TV. I don’t know what this means. I wasn’t thinking about Beano either. I assume it is the create fear/sell something cycle. I have to say not watching TV is better for me, despite this week!

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