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New fat TV shows a plus?

5th August 2009

New fat TV shows a plus?

With the exception of weight-loss shows like “The Biggest Loser” and TLC’s series of sideshow freak programs like “The Half-Ton Mom,” fat people are conspicuously absent from television. One recent study found that while some 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, only 24 percent of male characters and 13 percent of female characters were fat.  And the roles are as token as the actors, especially for women and even more starkly, for black women.  Fat characters are more likely to be in minor roles, less likely to be involved in romantic relationships, have fewer positive interactions than thin characters, and were often made the butt of jokes.  It’s a no-win situation for even those handful of TV celebs who have managed to escape the stereotype — if they’re fat and successful, they’re accused of somehow cheerleading obesity to viewers thought to be anxiously waiting for the go-ahead to abandon their treadmills and buy stock in McDonalds.

A number of shows are now trying to restore some much-needed balance…. or are they? Here’s a line-up of some new shows that say they aim to, as one TLC vice-president put it, “put a human face to what had been, before, a punchline.”

    • More to Love” – a dating competition show in the style of “The Bachelor” except that contestants are plus-size. Fatshionista has a great rundown of the first couple episodes here. (Fox)
    • Drop-Dead Diva” – An “Ugly Betty” kind of series in which a model wannabe is reincarnated into the body of a recently deceased fat attorney.* (Lifetime)
    • Ruby” – The series follows star Ruby Gettinger as she works to reduce her 447-pound weight. (Style)
    • The 650-Pound Virgin” – Documentary in which David Smith describes how he lost 410-pounds in 26 months (TLC)
    • One Big Happy Family” – The series, which has yet to air, follows a North Carolina brood in which all four members weigh in at more than 300 pounds. (Discovery)
    • Dance Your Ass Off” – A dance/weight-loss competition in which 12 finalists “go from an eating machine to a dancing machine.” (Oxygen)
    • Making the Curve” – Former-Lane-Bryant-model-turned-American Idol-hopeful-turned-Jenny-Craig-spokescelebrity Kimberley Locke is set to host the reality series in which plus-size women “prove that they have what it takes to form a hit pop musical group.” The show has yet to find a network home.  (h/t Big Fat Deal)

    What do you think?

    * I blogged about “Drop-Dead Diva” before it aired and was pretty critical in my review of the show’s concept.  Other body-acceptance activists who have seen the show and met with co-star Margaret Cho show say that it’s more size-sensitive than the press release made it sound.

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    This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 at 2:35 pm and is filed under Fat Acceptance, Fat Bias, Pop Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

    There are currently 22 responses to “New fat TV shows a plus?”

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    1. 1 On August 5th, 2009, emmy said:

      (Straddling the fence? Sounds painful!)

    2. 2 On August 5th, 2009, Jen said:

      More To Love is the one I think is different from the rest, because it’s the most difficult to see why it’s not ok (beyond the fact that all Bachelor-type shows are rotten at the core).

      I think it fetishizes fat women, keeping them in the “special” or “not normal” category of humans. Luke preferring big women could just make us as a whole seem like a fetish as opposed to individuals. But we’re so used to being considered freaks or disabled or different or, you know, just not normal – it even took *me* two weeks to figure out why it was somehow more wrong than just another Bachelor ripoff.

      It makes us less than people. It makes us the fat ____ (crazy/rocket scientist/blonde/etc.) with fat always, ALWAYS being the FIRST adjective. It helps people see us the way they want to – segregated from the rest of the acceptable population.

      Drop Dead Diva? I don’t judge it, I just watch it – mostly because I want it to have good ratings because anything Margaret Cho is in I feel the need to support.

      The rest of them? I try to pretend they’re not there. Seriously. Plus I see more than enough of Dance Your Ass Off during The Soup. It makes me sad to my soul.

    3. 3 On August 5th, 2009, missmeow said:

      I really like Drop Dead Diva, besides the awful, awful name of the show. Brooke Elliott, the star, is beautiful and actually plus size (as opposed to Hollywood plus size). Underneath the silly premise of the show, it’s really a story about a woman learning to like herself without having to change herself, which I think is something that many women are struggle to do. Using the metaphor of a thin woman being trapped inside a fat woman is a lot like the thing we’ve all been told: the fat you isn’t the REAL you; there’s a thin person waiting inside. When the thin person gets out, you will finally be the REAL you, and your REAL life can start.

    4. 4 On August 5th, 2009, twincats said:

      I’m with Jen in that I see pretty much everything I need to see about these shows on my favorite guilty pleasure “The Dish.”

      I hate all of those shows where a bunch of folks fight it out with each other for ‘love’ because it makes the whole genre seem more degrading. I mean, the ‘prize’ is a human being, FFS!

      I guess it’s really not that much less degrading when the prize is a TV show or a contract or money, but I think it is, at least a little.

    5. 5 On August 5th, 2009, Lindsay said:

      I was recently watching some episodes of Torchwood, and was delighted by how normal and varied the people were. But that same show also has non-heterosexual relationships that are no big deal – they’re not really treated all that differently.

      There were a few odd comments here and there, but they came from mostly nameless characters – people who had maybe 2-3 minutes of screentime. Passersby, that sort of thing.

      I lurve the BBC.

    6. 6 On August 5th, 2009, Lexie Di said:

      These kinds of shows make me nervous and I don’t watch them because I don’t want to get all angry over them. I heard (from bloggers) that Drop Dead Diva showed the fat attorney eating a stereotypically large amount so I decided to ditch it.

      It seems like, recently, there have been and are a lot of shows on fat people. I wonder why? I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing… but as of right now, I don’t see a lot of change, mostly just capitalizing on “Look at me! Look at me! I lost the weight and you can too!” or making fat people the butt of jokes or the token dim-witted over-eater. Those kinds of stereotypes drive me nuts so I only pay attention when something has the potential to show fat people in a new, more truthful light.

      But then again, who knows? Maybe this is just the beginning and shows will evolve to include more fat people like they have to include more black people (though we’re certainly not finished making that equal). I guess all we can do is keep fighting for what we know is true and right and someday, it has to happen sooner or later, the truth will come out.

      It seems like such a long road though.
      -Lexie

    7. 7 On August 5th, 2009, Twistie said:

      Since the vast majority of these shows are about fat people becoming less fat or showing fat people as some sort of side-show attraction, color me pissed off.

      Seriously, would it be that difficult for one of the myriad Law & Order spinoffs to have a single fat ADA? Would it be that difficult for a single sitcom to feature a witty fat character? Would it be that difficult to find talented actual fat people to play the few roles offered for ‘fat’ characters instead of casting them as people only slightly less thin than the ‘not fat’ characters? Would it be that difficult for writers to come up with a single episode of ANY scripted show where a fat person is dealt with in ways that aren’t specific to being fat – and to parodies of what it is to be fat at that?

      Most of these shows are teaching people what they already ‘know’ about fat: that fat people gorge themselves on baby-flavored donuts all freaking day long; that we’re greedy; that we’re lazy; that we’re miserable entirely because we’re fat; that we don’t deserve a thimbleful of respect.

      Even the much ballyhooed Drop Dead Diva features the old saw of the fat girl with a thin girl in her trying to get out…but literally placed there, and very much not the girl the world is seeing when they deal with Jane. Why couldn’t there be a quirky comedy about a young female attorney who just happens to be fat? If DDD were one of a dozen shows one could watch that deals with issues facing fat people in an intelligent way, it probably wouldn’t make me so annoyed, but I can’t help feeing it’s being treated as a beacon of light purely because there isn’t anything better.

      I happen to think we could do a hell of a lot better. I wish Margaret Cho and Brooke Elliot nothing but success, but I still have trouble swallowing the show. I feel pandered to and patronized at the same time.

      And now I’m going to eat the huge bile hoagy I just sliced up for myself.

    8. 8 On August 5th, 2009, Rachel said:

      Why couldn’t there be a quirky comedy about a young female attorney who just happens to be fat?

      Yeah, that’s what gets me about Drop Dead Diva. It sounds like it isn’t nearly as bad as I initially thought after reading the press release, but seriously? Is every show going to make her weight and self-esteem the focal point of the drama? How boring.

    9. 9 On August 5th, 2009, rache said:

      someone said: “But then again, who knows?”

      …there’s an idea. maybe these women are the unwitting Bill Huxtables.

    10. 10 On August 5th, 2009, Leah said:

      Lindsay–
      spot on! (pun intended) Having watched Dr. Who and a few episodes of Torchwood, I have to say there’s a noticeable difference. When I first began watching, I actually felt there was “something way off here.” (How brainwashed am I?) Then I realized I was seeing everyday-looking-characters actively taking part in the plot of a TV show. Oh, *that’s* it!

      May the inclusive people at the BBC be blessed. Seeing such a range of body types and the inclusion of older women is very empowering. It was a welcomed reality check.

      If American TV became more size inclusive, I might watch sitcoms again. As it is, I find glamorized shows like Desperate Housewives to be damaging and when it comes to less glamorous shows, I have no interest in watching petite, beautiful women play “wifey” to the usually fat, and rarely funny “man of the house.” Double standards and objectification. Zzzzzzz. Seen it already–didn’t I grow up watching that!?

    11. 11 On August 6th, 2009, Godless Heathen said:

      You know, I realize every time I watch the show, the actress who plays Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy is not a small woman. Probably not anything near what I’d think of as fat, but she’s definitely rockin the plus sizes. I so love the show for not having a “very special episode” where she has to slim down for something, and for showing her as a sexual person and not the “fat friend” who never gets a date. Bonus points for them not showing her stuffing her face in every scene, and for having an actual life instead of being the character whose fat is their whole deal.

      I respect that the whole Meredith/Derek merry-go-round is a real turn off for viewers. (My hate was Izzy. Dear gawd, Pollyanna should not practice medicine.) I still love the show for having a little maturity about different bodies and different social backgrounds. And also for “seriously?” of course.

    12. 12 On August 6th, 2009, meerkat said:

      I think they’re more bad than good, from what I have seen, but some of them are still a baby-step or two toward actual positive portrayals.

    13. 13 On August 6th, 2009, SteveD said:

      I am going to stay away. Sounds like more of the same from Hollywood. Stupid TV. It does not matter what size the actor, but how well the script is written and acted out.

      Solaris (From from 2002, George Cooney) looked like a winner. Great actor, strange storyline. Real Sleeper. Sure to put you to sleep in a hurry. And I love SCIFI.

      I have found National Geo TV offers some of the best stuff on. This Sunday show about what’s under the Sea (Ie they take away the H20).

      And always good for some laughs and education is the Naked Guy (http://www.historyinternational.com/nakedarchaeologist/). Hey don’t get excited he never gets naked.

      Some of the best shows I have found are British TV.

      Dr Who is Great
      Torchwood was a super show (finished)

      Thank God for Netflix

      SteveD

    14. 14 On August 6th, 2009, Bree said:

      Count me in as another fan of Dr. Who, Torchwood, and also Life On Mars. It’s ironic that the UK government is so obsessed with their fat citizens and how to slim them down, yet their entertainment industry uses a variety of races, ages, body types, and appearances to cast their shows. Some of the stars of these shows would never land leading parts on American TV because they look like regular people you see on the street and/or work with.

      As for the new fat TV shows over here, well I’ve seen five minutes of More to Love and that was enough. Dance Your Ass Off could have been a lot of fun if they had just let the contestants dance without having them lose weight. The ones on Discovery and TLC are just plain exploitative.

    15. 15 On August 6th, 2009, Lori said:

      I thought Drop Dead Diva looked awful from the early descriptions of it and from people’s descriptions of the premiere, but I’ve watched the first four episodes, and I like it and think that overall it’s pretty positive. I think much of that can be attributed to Brooke Elliott, who is so gorgeous and plays Jane as so likable that it’s really hard, IMO, to not come away from the show feeling very positive about the fat character. And, while some of the food stuff in the premiere was really frustrating–the donut obsession and the awful spray cheese scene–in general I think it’s playing out more like Deb was overly restrictive about what she ate and not that Jane overeats. They haven’t, thus far, had scenes of Jane shoving donuts into her mouth as she sits on the couch. She eats a donut for breakfast when she gets to work. She has a sandwich for lunch, instead of a piece of grilled chicken breast. She has some popcorn with her guardian angel when they watch a movie. I do think she’s mainly portrayed as a normal eater rather than an overeater. (And, the show has shown her thin friend comfort eating cookies while watching a talk show, so it doesn’t seem to be implying that only fat people use food for comfort at times.) And, while they do keep mentioning that she’s “too busy” to exercise, as if exercise would make her thin, at least she’s not portrayed as being lazy. They’ve shown her going up and down stairs talking to colleagues at work, and she’s not gasping for breath or anything, so while they do make a point to say she doesn’t work out, they aren’t portraying her, thus far, as particularly unhealthy or out of shape.

      Overall, I do think it’s positive. I know the premise itself–that the thin girl got to live–bothers a lot of people, but I think that part is okay, and probably the place where the show has the most potential. Deb has all of the stereotypes and negative ideas about fat people that society holds, and she has to confront them.

    16. 16 On August 6th, 2009, Lori said:

      Using the metaphor of a thin woman being trapped inside a fat woman is a lot like the thing we’ve all been told: the fat you isn’t the REAL you; there’s a thin person waiting inside. When the thin person gets out, you will finally be the REAL you, and your REAL life can start.

      Yeah, I think that’s what I like about the show, how it’s very insistent that Jane and her fat body is it; this is the life Deb is leading, and she needs to deal with it. It’s very clear it’s not going to be a show where she loses 60 pounds and then is happy.

    17. 17 On August 6th, 2009, Rachel said:

      From what I understood, Jane’s body is now inhabited by both her and Deb making for a kind of angel/demon on her shoulder conflict. Can anyone familiar with the show clarify?

    18. 18 On August 6th, 2009, Lori said:

      As far as I can tell, it’s pretty much all Deb. She “inherited” Jane’s intelligence and legal knowledge–which makes sense because otherwise it would be hard to have her remain a lawyer–but her feelings and memories are all Deb’s. It does seem like she’s also inherited Jane’s food preferences, but they really haven’t portrayed it too much, especially since the first episode, as “Jane wants a donut, Deb doesn’t, but Jane finally wins out.” It seems more like Jane’s appetite came with Jane’s body, and that really hasn’t been too much of an issue since the first episode.

    19. 19 On August 14th, 2009, PlusSizedFeminist said:

      Honestly, none of the shows are positive. Drop Dead Diva is seriously an insult. “Oh NO!!! I got reincarnated in the body of a FAT WOMAN!!!!! THIS IS HELL!!!! MY LIFE IS OVER!!!!!” *rolls eyes* Don’t make me laugh. Again the media is making fat out to be something that is so undesirable that even Buddhism doesn’t even want it (Please correct me if I am wrong, but to my knowledge, reincarnation is a punishment until the person achieves nirvana, correct?). Again, the media is making fat = hell, when really its NOT.

      Give me a show where the fat girl gets the hot guy, and I’ll give you the day the apocalypse will hit the earth and kill us all.

    20. 20 On September 2nd, 2009, Miina said:

      I tried to watch the more to love series but got tired because all the women seemed to talk about how bad they felt about being fat episode after episode. I started to think they were a bit dense not to realize that the man was not into them inspite of being overweight but because of it. I know issues of self-esteem are deeply ingrained but I did not even hear “Well, I feel self-conscious about being big but I know he likes that.” It was almost like they did not notice. It got tedious after just two episodes. They could have edited it to be more interesting.

      The only reason I like watching bachelor type shows is watching women behave badly, I guess that makes me a bad feminist.

    21. 21 On April 16th, 2010, louis vuitton said:

      Since the vast majority of these shows are about fat people becoming less fat or showing fat people as some sort of side-show attraction, color me pissed off.

    22. 22 On January 19th, 2011, A B O U T – F A C E — blog » The list of “Fat TV” shows keeps on growing. said:

      [...] 2009, The F-Word.org cited a television study that found, “while some 60 percent of Americans are overweight or [...]

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