It seems like “obesity” is still the freakshow topic of many media outlets. It’s the mutant menace of our day, the thing that will bankrupt all healthcare systems and devour our children. Why, it’s a wonder we’re not all fat already — oh, wait, we almost are, according to most studies! Then there’s the news stories that are basically infomercials for weight loss methods, especially surgery. Very little is reported about the dangers of these procedures, the death rates, the complication rates or repeat surgery rates. Now, to their credit, some media outlets do some reporting on it but most do not. If it’s medical and it causes weight loss, it’s A-OK in the media.
It really would be nice to see some objective journalism when it comes to size- and weight-related topics. Occasionally, it happens. Recently, a few Health At Every Size (HAES) articles have seen publication but they are few and far between. Also, over the years, I’ve met some really nice media personalities who are sympathetic to the cause of size acceptance and who don’t like size discrimination. At the very least, while some may not agree with us, they at least hear us out, which is more than I can say for others.
More commonly what we see is biased reporting such as the tabloid-like headlines of some of the UK papers (the Daily Mail has had a lot of them recently). Since when is a suggestion from a professor considered newsworthy? Noone is even considering this idea, no government or legislative body at least. And yet, it makes it all the way to the Drudge Report and other international media outlets.
I guess I take some personal offense, not as a size acceptance activist and educator, but as a former journalist who was trained in the fundamentals of journalism. And those fundamentals are pretty simple:
1. The only place you put your opinion is in an editorial;
2. Report the facts and report what people say about the facts;
3. Don’t make up the news, report it; and
4. Try to show both sides of any issue, if it’s possible.
Instead of these standards, what we tend to get in “obesity reporting” is either an entirely one-sided story with a focus on how obesity will supposedly kill you if you don’t submit to surgery or at least dieting in order to lose weight — or it projects the writer’s fears about obesity, which can include insulting fat people or writing things like “why can’t you just put the plate of food down?” In other words, generalizing without any factual backup whatsoever.
Sometimes there are “sympathy” pieces, written by people who agree that discrimination against fat people is wrong but also fear the heralded medical ills of obesity. And then there are plus-size fashion pieces, which even come under attack now and then, like this week.
If the headline has “obesity” in it, 9 times out of 10, it will ultimately be about weight loss…which means, it’s ultimately a self-defeating article that won’t help anyone. So why do we see so many of these headlines? It’s been known for a long time that the media is a great advertising medium in the guise of supposed “news.” Are you a scientist that made a mouse lose 0.0075% of its body mass in a poorly controlled environment with a drug you’re trying to sell? Nevermind that it writhed in agony the whole time or grew an additional leg, publish the results in a press release claiming the “potential” cure to obesity! Have a position of some prominence and an outrageous opinion that would impede the rights of fat people “for their own good?” Tell the news all about it, it will sell!
So where does ISAA come into all of this? Well, ISAA works with the media whenever we can. We respond to legitimate inquiries from the media, give our positions, try to clear up misperceptions and engage in dialogues. ISAA distributes press releases also and we try to communicate using our own media capabilities (email lists, podcasts, e-zines and now blogging). We know we can reach people with information they can use to help themselves.
ISAA also encourages you to contact any media outlet that publicizes anything biased or factually inaccurate and let them know what you think. Just as we want to know what you think about us, most media outlets welcome public feedback, even if the public doesn’t agree with them. They may not change their stance on the matter but if enough public pressure builds, they will respond. It’s definitely worth the effort. We’ve seen many successes over the years because of public input caused businesses to reconsider their position on a size- or weight-related matter. It can happen.
It will take time and it will take perserverence in the face of all obstacles. But ISAA is more than just its volunteers. ISAA has become a concept, a size acceptance idea that has begun to take root all over the world. It may not be evident immediately upon review right now, but give us time. We may surprise you. And you might surprise yourself!