So I haven’t had cable TV in several years — I do most of my TV watching via Netflix (and am thus perpetually behind by a seaons), and this has been okay with me because I have always really liked TV, and thus am prone to watch more of it than is good for my personal habits. Recently, I spent two weeks at my parents’ house, helping out as my stepfather recovered from surgery (a complicated event, because my mother is profoundly disabled due to Parkinson’s disease), and let me tell you, Shapelings, I watched a lot of damn TV. It’s a stress-coping mechanism, and it let me imaginatively escape from the sadness of dealing with my parents’ aging and ailing. When life is tough, the Dog Whisperer can really come through, is what I’m saying.
What I had forgotten in my years-long hiatus from cable TV is just how many messages about being thin you get in any given hour. It’s a constant drumbeat of forced femininity and snake oil, and I’ve forgotten how hard you need to work to tune it out. Here’s some of what my very unfocused brain remembers almost a week after turning off the TV set:
(Promos for) Half-Ton Dad and Half-Ton Mom
(Promos for) Ruby
Countless commercials for local weight loss clinics
Countless commercials for Weight Watchers and its ilk
Commercials for a new weight loss drug that started by saying that if you’ve tried to lose weight the usual way and you can’t, it’s not your fault! (Hey, what do you know!) All you need to do is ask your doctor about this amazing new pill! (Boo!)
Oprah commercial: upcoming show talks about different beauty standards across the world. Incredulous announcer voice says “Find out where stretch marks and big butts are considered beautiful!” Cut to Oprah singing “There’s a place for us” to the audience.
Constant representation of very thin bodies
What Not to Wear
Now, I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about WNTW and its methods. And it’s on TLC, the very home of “Half-Ton Mom” and “Dad” above. But I’ll tell you, out of two weeks of floating in a sea of cable shows and commercials, the only moments of unabashed body positivity I saw were on WNTW. One moment in particular stands out: the episode featured a very beautiful young woman who had started wearing baggy sweatshirts and jeans all the time after gaining some weight. If you watch the show, you’re familiar with the segment where Stacy and Clinton show sample outfits and the “rules” a contestant should follow. They asked this woman (I think her name was Kandiss) what she thought of the first outfit, and she replied that it looked “slimming.” (At this point, you should imagine me sitting up straight on my couch to see how they handle this interaction.) Stacy turned to the woman and said (and I’m quoting from memory so this may not be quite verbatim), “You need to stop thinking about clothes only in terms of whether they make you look thin. Slimming is not the point — making you feel fabulous is the point! Your body is perfect.”
That last sentence is verbatim, actually: after all the body-negative nonsense that had been washing over my ears from the rest of my channel-surfing week, those words made me cry. Your body is perfect. Kandiss’s first reaction was to roll her eyes, but later in the episode she clearly saw herself as a sexy, attractive, perfect woman. It was such a beautiful moment in a sea of crap, and it reminded me of the uphill cultural battle we face. It’s easy to hate your body, fat or thin or in between: everything in our culture tells you to, constantly. It’s not easy psychologically, of course — but it’s less work. You get to fight yourself only, instead of a whole misogynist, fatphobic culture.
But every now and then, you get a glimpse of what our culture would look like if we all fought back, if we didn’t subscribe to this ridiculous fear- and shame-mongering. Your body is perfect. Pass it on.