Forsake the media, the whole lot of us, for creating the headless fatty, a term made popular by activist Charlotte Cooper, referring to photographs or video of anonymous obese people used in news media stories about obesity. The headless fatty is seen walking while drinking a soda, or sitting in front of large plate of burgers and fries, or eating other foods considered unhealthy. Headlines and captions read Obesity leads to early death. Obese? That’s because you eat too much, says top Doctor, or Obesity costs health system $147 billion: study says, which smacks of shaming the obese person and says, its killer fat. Shame on the media.
I’ve hated that phrase since an editor of mine told me to go out and take a picture of an obese person from the waist down. It would be better if the picture had some unhealthy food.I didn’t. Shame on my old editor. A “headless fatty”, writes Cooper, a board member of Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society and blogger about fat at Obesity Time Bomb, are photograph features of one or more fat person, usually in a public place and unaware of being photographed, with his or her head cropped out of the image.
In a nutshell, it’s dehumanizing, and results in the continued attack of obese people. The lack of a face makes the subject no longer a person, but a symbol. As Cooper writes:
“As Headless Fatties, the body becomes symbolic: we are there but we have no voice, not even a mouth in a head, no brain, no thoughts or opinions. Instead we are reduced and dehumanized as symbols of cultural fear: the body, the belly, the arse, food. Nutrition and exercise, under the media obesity watch, is rarely associated with non-obese people who also struggle with those issues.”
Some research suggests that 70 percent appear to be taken without permission, while 30 percent appear to be stock images with most appearing to have a 40+ Body Mass Index. The clothing is casual, too small, or too big. Given that people of the size generally shown comprise only about 5 to 6 percent of those labelled obese and less than 2 percent of the general population, the constant use of their images to illustrate these articles also exaggerates the extent of the problem. In today’s media mantra, that’s called fake news.
That stigmatization is also found in the comedy situations of obese people used by television, which goes almost unnoticed. Images such as overweight people eating fast food or drinking soda, with uncovered stomachs, or in unflattering side or rear views, headless, and the ridiculed overweight characters’ garner laughs and ratings, and affects how we view overweight people from a young age.
Here too obese characters are shown overindulging in junk food and are less likely than thinner characters to be involved in romantic relationships. Remember “Fat Monica” on the hit show Friends? It’s the most cited example. Thin Monica is hot, good-natured and likeable, but in a few episodes, Monica is wearing a fat suit in a flashback show. She is objectified and portrayed as pathetic, emotionally gouging on food.
It doesn’t stop at sitcom television.
Fat Stigmatization in Television Shows and Movies: A Content Analysis, authored by Susan M. Himes and J. Kevin Thompson, in 2007, examined the phenomenon of fat stigmatization, or “fattertainement”, messages presented in television shows and movies. The analysis was used to quantify and categorize fat-specific commentary and humour. Researchers targeted 135 scenes from television shows such as The Golden Girls (1985–1992), Friends (1994–2004) and movies such as The Nutty Professor (1996), Thinner (1996), and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999) to name a few.
Shame on us!