Another Fat-Shaming Accusation

[photo of Adam Richman on a restaurant wall]

Richman on a featured restaurant’s wall

A new TV show called Man Finds Food was set to premiere last week, but the Travel Channel has postponed it because the would-be host, Adam Richman, is in disgrace.

After earning a master’s degree in fine arts from Yale, Richman traveled the country working in many facets of the restaurant industry. He created episode after episode of Man v. Food, which became the network’s most popular show, and which has been called a cult culinary series and a cultural touchstone. He gained a huge fan base, and in 2009 was named one of Yahoo’s “Most Fascinating People.”

When Richman started doing television, he was normal-sized. But years of making these episodes, some of which apparently involved ingesting huge amounts of food, did the predictable damage and he ballooned up. Recently, after working hard to slim down, he showed off by sending out an Instagram picture of a bespoke suit he ordered and was measured for last year. Now the carefully tailored suit is too loose, a visual proof of successful weight loss. In one of the most disastrous instances of media mismanagement ever, he added a single hashtagged word — #thinspiration.

Richman may be a famous show biz personality, but he doesn’t know everything, and perhaps was not aware that “thinspiration” is a loaded word. Maybe he even thought he had made it up on the spur of the moment. As a portmanteau pun, it is pretty obvious. It is also a code word among supporters of the serious eating disorders anorexia and bulimia. A reader self-identified as a “fat activist who is fat” took umbrage and complained, encouraging her friends to add to the social media barrage. A typical response, reported by Ben Beaumont-Thomas, insisted that the term thinspiration “glorifies negative media self-imagery that being thin is better as opposed to any other body style.”

Escalation

An apology was demanded and, at first, refused. Harsh words were thrown around by both sides. Adam Richman did not comport himself well in the dispute, though his rudeness was mild relative to the language one sees in many popular forums and boards. Still, self-expression that is commonplace among anonymized adolescents will not do for a popular public figure. A lot of people freaked out, accusing the TV personality of fat-shaming and worse. One online commentator wrote:

The whole hypocrisy of this is on his show Man vs Food he glorified extreme eating contest and was extremely obese but now that he is thin is holier then thou.

Some social media users came to Richman’s defense, calling his chief opponent “morbidly obese yet massively defensive.” Others voiced more general objections, calling his program the food version of Jackass and wondering if anyone really learns anything from food show “gurus.”

This is all reminiscent of a similar Internet scandal that happened a year ago, when University of New Mexico professor Geoffrey Miller issued an infamous tweet warning obese PhD applicants that if they didn’t have the willpower to give up carbs, they would be incapable of completing a dissertation. That definitely didn’t sit well with the academic community or with Miller’s supervisor, and he complicated the situation by claiming that the ill-advised tweet was part of a nonexistent research project. Katie McCaskey sketched the tempest’s outlines:

The onslaught of angry voices asked, among other things:
• Why is obesity fair game as the last openly discriminatory characteristic?
• Has Miller vetted candidates at either university based on this discrimination?
• Why does Miller, a professor, think that this kind of update is acceptable — if he takes his role as a role model seriously?

The rest of McCaskey’s article offers excellent advice to celebrities involved in Twitter wars and Instagram insurrections. Too bad Adam Richman didn’t take that advice to heart.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Meet Adam Richman: Adam Richman Bio,” TravelChannel.com, undated
Source: “How ‘thinspiration’ became a dirty word,” theguardian.com, 07/02/14
Source: “How to Avoid a Big, Fat, Sloppy Social Media Mess,” SixEstate.com, 06/07/13
Image by Kim

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