Interpreting Obesity

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Photo credit: Oprah.com

Oprah, a media mogul, entrepreneur, philanthropist, etc is also well known for her fluctuating weight. Media coverage focused on her body was trending through the years of her “struggle” or “battle” with weight issues. In a recent article “How Did I let this Happen Again?” Oprah writes out about her journey being medicalized for her weight gain. I was amazed that all the concepts and phrases mentioned in class in relation to obesity and the medicalization of addicts were commonly found when researching on Oprah’s weight history. Hitting rock bottom, prescribing weight gain via severe diets and other connections to body image and health are part of the narratives of many people who are diagnosed as obese.

As discussed in class with our guest speaker Melissa Campbell, fat bodies are objectified in mass media. They are alienated from the “real self” and are prescribed as deviant, hence the desire to attain slimness and therefore normalcy. In the controversial article “Oprah’s Weight Struggles a Microcosm of America’s Obesity Epidemic”, Jimmy Moore explores Oprah’s weight struggles. Criticizing her as negative, unable to commit and therefore lazy, Moore even goes so far as to diagnose Oprah with food addiction.

Below are phrases that I found in the article that refer to Oprah’s weight “struggle”.

– Weight demons

-“Off the wagon”

-Food addiction

-Poor choices

-“..addiction under control…”

-Obesity epidemic

Photo credit: cartoonstock.com

As we see, all these words in the end characterize the “obesity epidemic”. These problematic phrases use rhetoric that demonize, blame and medicalize people who are obese. Instead of celebrating the bodies of plus size women, media discourse works on shaming and displaying fat bodies as incomplete people. When I say this, I refer to this statement that declares Oprah’s history with her body as a “…sad but true story of a woman who has it all but can’t seem to figure out why she can’t lose weight.” Although this woman has power and fame, she is portrayed as not fulfilled.

However, new media is focused on empowering women who are labeled as obese via blogs, tumblr, and other forms of visual media. Fat fashion communities such as Manfattan were created to allow people to curate their own experiences as well enable role models into mainstream media that are not limited to sizes 0-4. This online community also works to break from the typical visual description about fatness and a space to share resources (where to purchase clothing, DIY tips, and sharing pictures). Changing the discourse on the “obesity epidemic”, fat fashion communities are not medicalizing their bodies as abnormal and therefore needing treatment via diets or weight loss surgeries. They are creating a community that does not discriminate and objectify fat bodies.

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