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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Importance of Language

This is going to be brief because I have an exam tomorrow, but I just came across an article description that really bothered me.

According to Yahoo!'s homepage, "Some contestants on 'The Biggest Loser' drop more than 100 pounds and even find love."
(Article here.)

I'm sorry, but what does that mean? Are they referencing a relationship that blossomed because of the show? I wouldn't know; I don't own a television and only watch Castle on Hulu. The wording seems to me to suggest that only people who are thin are able to find love.

Shouldn't we be beyond propagating this stereotype by now? It's unhealthy, especially for the young men and women who read that, whether they're overweight or not. It reinforces the idea that only thin people are beautiful people and only beautiful people can be in love. I realize that the people on that show are often dangerously and unhealthily obese and it's a good thing to be in shape, but the average reader of that remark gets another "ping" of positive reinforcement for the skinny stereotype.

I'm underweight (thanks to my university's dining policy) and I still find that comment to be extremely offensive and thoughtless.

What do you think? Innocent wording or potentially deliberate propagation of an unhealthy body image?


  1. I think you are over-analyzing this quote. There are plenty of couples who are not "skinny" The article (like most) ON Yahoo! is geared towards creating the oh so coveted "fuzzy feeling" from discussing people who has lost a large amounts of weight and seen changes in their lives.

    Good for the contestants who found love. I think it is far to say that looks, whether you like to admit it or not, do factor into the initial attraction of someone to another. However, these people do have quite a success story with their lifestyle change and appearances. Most of the contestants on the show usually lose weight to what is considered a healthy weight, not a twig shape like the modeling industry.

    If you are so easily offended by the joy of some contestants' weight loss and change in relationship status, I worry you may need to find a less offensive website than the Yahoo! homepage. (Tomorrow they may run a story on expensive clothing that some people may not be able to afford, this is kind of edgy)

  2. I'm not offended by the joy of contestants who lost weight and found love -I think that's great, good for them -my whole point is that they shouldn't have had to lose weight to find it in the first place, nor should it be implied that only slender/skinny people are attractive, which is what the article description does.

    There's a difference between writing about expensive clothing and propagating a myth about body image and beauty that has been proven time and time again to be damaging to people. That's my problem with the article. Yahoo! frequently writes about things that I think are stupid (i.e. celebrities, expensive clothes, made-up fights between singers, etc.), but those things are just that: stupid. They're not reinforcing harmful gender/body type myths.

    I'm not denying that looks play a role in attraction, but the way we as Americans regard good looks is almost entirely based on our socialization. For example, Jamaican women have a tendency to prefer men with bigger stomachs, because it shows wealth and access to food -it implies a stable life. American women have a tendency to prefer flat abs, because that's what is promoted as being desirable -it shows youth and fitness and (my point again) slenderness, all of which are constantly shown as being important and the end-all be-all of what it means to be attractive. Socialization plays a major role in what we find attractive, so promoting the concept that you can only find love if you lose weight or are already skinny is simply harmful and irresponsible. Not unexpected, certainly, but that's another issue.

  3. I still don't think it is a bad thing to promote being slender. Child obesity, as well as overweight adults, has been steadily increasing for quite some time. What is wrong with some losing weight on a tv show and finding love? If two meet in this premise the idea of changing their lifestyle to a healthy habit brings them closer together is this wrong? However, it is important to promote a healthy weight (which as stated before the contestants reach).

    The love that developed with some contestants was not out of a shallow change in image. The hard work and devotion these people made to definitely should factor in. THe hard task of losing the weight brought many of the couples together, as they supported each other through the process. For being someone who describes oneself as under-weight I feel you do not understand the great will-power that goes into losing the large amount of weight from being heavy.

    When I was in high school I weighed 240 pounds and was wearing a 42 inch waist. I made the decision my Junior year to start eating healthier and plan a workout schedule. Now 6 years later, I have managed to maintain a weight of 185 (34 inch waist) and greatly improved my self-confidence and body figure. There is nothing wrong with self-improvement, if it makes you happy. I, like many people of this show, wanted to make the change. Why blame society's media and socialization? I never was told to lose the weight, I simply wanted to. My loss of weight did not factor into maybe dating anyone or impressing anyone, it was all for myself.

    We have moved far past the initial sense that a heavy figure implies wealth in our country, so why should it be kept? Healthy living is important, obesity is one of the leading causes to heart disease. So putting a show on TV (tuned into by millions weekly) may inspire others to do those extra 10 sit ups, or go for a walk with a loved one, or maybe just go outside an play a game with some friends. Perhaps you should watch an episode on Hulu when Castle is a re-run.

  4. There's nothing wrong with promoting being slender or healthy (two different concepts, by the way, which you conflate) -I think you are, perhaps deliberately, missing my point.

    The problem I have is the promotion of the idea of slenderness being the *only* way someone can be found attractive or find love.

    *That* is what is wrong with the message of that article description, and the reason I have such a problem with it is that most people are going to skim past it and not read the article, but still get that "ping" of reinforcement of body image stereotypes.

    I'm happy for you that you were able to lose weight and be confident in yourself -but was your confidence due to the way people saw you once you lost weight? You might be neglecting factors you're not even aware of in that argument.

    I know people who are actively trying to lose weight because that makes them happy and I also know people who are overweight, married, madly in love and totally happy with their bodies. I'm not saying one is implicitly better than the other. There's nothing wrong with being slender, and there's nothing wrong with being slightly overweight (if it's to the point that it damages one's health, that's another issue entirely).

    There's also nothing wrong with self-improvement, if that's what you desire. To promote the message that a particular body type is the only type that is *desirable*, however, is wrong. That is what I take issue with.

    Promoting being healthy and promoting being slender are two entirely different things; conflating the two is a very poor argument. I was not saying that "a heavy figure implies wealth," a statement that doesn't even apply to what I said at all regarding what American women think, I was saying that our idea of what is attractive is entirely dependent on our socialization.

    Perhaps you should do some research into psychology and the negative effects of the promotion of a skinny body image, especially on the development of teens and young adults.

    It's as unhealthy for me to be 20 pounds underweight through no deliberate choice of my own as it is for someone else to be 20 pounds overweight, but my body is of the type that is considered traditionally attractive in this country. How is the promotion of my body type healthy?

    Additionally, and I won't go into great detail on this, but I loathe television almost in its entirety, with a particular vitriol reserved especially for reality shows. They are nothing better than an excuse for people to sit around and watch adults behave like spoiled toddlers and debase themselves for money. They promote horrible behavior and glorify idiocy.