Media and Fattitudes

This post refers back to two previous ones about a TV series based in the world of law, that seems to have been fairly controversial. Some viewers found nits to pick, criticizing those who are basically on the same side but not 100% ideologically aligned.

Others related to it in the light of their own experience as either overweight people, partners of overweight people, or mothers and fathers of overweight children. If the show had continued, it would have been interesting to see an episode about an obese child being taken by the state authorities, and the parents charged with child endangerment and/or abuse.

Drop Dead Diva stars Brooke Elliott as attorney Jane Bingum. Comedian Margaret Cho plays her assistant, Teri Lee. At the beginning of the second season, Mandi Bierly interviewed the two actors together. They discuss the “full-figured beauty” of Christina Hendricks (also described as gorgeous, curvy, and voluptuous), and the various fattitutes of celebrity comedians like Sarah Silverman and Ricky Gervais.

Bierly remarks that although many episodes deal with body image issues, there is so much more for the consumers of this particular cultural artifact to find. Elliott confirms the point.

She is particularly sensitive to the effect that pervasive everyday propaganda has on young women and girls, because she recalls feeling beleaguered and besieged:

I so desperately don’t want them to feel that way. They have to find their own strength to resist the pressure of society…

Stop looking at just weight, we are entire people all the time. We are more than just what we look like.

Drop Dead Diva brought in a spectacular series of guest stars, including Paula Abdul, and this is what Margaret Cho says about her:

In my memory, Paula Abdul was one of the first celebrities to be made fun of for gaining weight… and people were so horrible about it…

Cho mentions such words as dignity, respect, and gravity; and also terms like insensitive, undignified, obsessed, suffering, and terrible. She expands on the metaphysical nuances of the show’s philosophical underpinnings, and reveals some very disturbing biographical information:

I almost killed myself so many times as a younger woman. I took so many diet pills. I have a heart murmur because I took Fen-Phen in the ’90s. I have permanent damage to my body because I wanted to be thin. That desire to have a smaller body, to take up less space in the world, was so important to me that I don’t remember most of my twenties.

Apparently Josh Berman, who created and produced Drop Dead Diva, set out with the firm intention of redefining some of the so-called ideals around beauty and age. Evette Dionne observes that TV fiction in general tends to stereotype “women of size” as desperate creatures who stalk men who have no interest in them, and who are willing to be doormats because they are so grateful for any attention.

When the show came to an end, Dionne wrote,

Television is a dreary landscape for women of size… a vast array of tragic sameness.

One of Dionne’s statements is a bit weird. She says that “Confident, successful, loving, stiletto-clad fat women are prominent in larger American culture.” High-heeled shoes punish even ordinary feet, and must be horrible for women who carry extra weight. But there seems to be an implication that an overweight woman can only be acceptable in footwear designed to cripple her. It almost seems to be a micro-aggression, implying that overweight women who wear flat shoes are not worthy to feel confident, successful, or loving.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “‘Drop Dead Diva’ Q&A: Brooke Elliott and Margaret Cho on how TV — and comedy — affect women’s body image,” EW.com, 06/06/10
Source: “Drop Dead Diva’s Final Season Marks the End of An Era in the Fat Liberation Movement,” Bustle.com, 03/30/14
Photo credit: ptxdview on Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Presentations

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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