Fat-Shaming in American Culture

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The 1985 film The Goonies included what appears to be a classic bit of media fat-shaming. In a memorable scene, before his friends would let him inside, one boy had to hop up on a tree stump and do the “truffle shuffle,” a maneuver that involved lifting his shirt and jiggling his chubby tummy.

Director Richard Donner called it a “painful scene” and arranged to help young actor Jeff Cohen get his life in order. Thirty years later Donner told the press:

I got him a gym and some instruction and someone to work with. He lost lots of weight and built this great physique and became captain of his wrestling team in high school, captain of his football team, and president of his school class for two years in a row.

Unfortunately, casting directors were only interested in Cohen for “fat kid” roles, and rather than return to acting, he went on to become instead an entertainment lawyer and professional writer.

A previous post mentioned Childhood Obesity: Ethical and Policy Issues, written by Dr. Garrath Williams and two coauthors. Dr. Williams followed up with an article discussing artwork chosen for the book cover, and the iconography of obesity in general.

He objects to the tendency of editors to “reach for a small stock of images”:

There’s the headless fat person… There are pictures of food… Pictures of bathroom scales or tape-measures or calipers invite us to fixate on body size…

These images aren’t just cliches, though — they’re misleading and even stigmatizing. Pictures of fat bodies, robbed even of the dignity of an individual face, are worst of all. They perpetuate vicious stereotypes of laziness, gluttony, and even stupidity — as if obese people were just space- and food-consuming objects, not people who contribute to society and struggle and love and make mistakes like everyone else.

A 2011 study by Rebecca M. Puhl, Ph.D. (Senior Research Scientist at Yale University’s
Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity), and two colleagues gathered information to assess the need for laws against weight discrimination. Its title posed the question, “Obesity in the news: do photographic images of obese persons influence antifat attitudes?”

The Abstract read:

Results indicated that participants who viewed the negative photographs expressed more negative attitudes toward obese people than did those who viewed the positive photographs. Implications of these findings for the media are discussed, with emphasis on increasing awareness of weight bias in health communication and journalistic news reporting.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How the ‘truffle shuffle’ helped turn The Goonies’ ‘Chunk’ into a star athlete,” NationalPost,com, 09/04/15
Source: “Picturing childhood obesity: what’s behind the cover?,” Lancaster.ac.uk, 06/11/14
Source: “Obesity in the news: do photographic images of obese persons influence antifat attitudes?,” NIH.giv, April 2011
Twitter images (top to bottom) by @Melonenbrot@ilovegreggo@hdfatty@starkspectre

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Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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