Fat Acceptance: Michelle Obama's Guest Appearance on The Biggest Loser

[Content Note: Fat Hatred] 

So this landed in my inbox this week:
First Lady Michelle Obama is set to make her second appearance on NBC’s weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser.

Obama, who has spent much of her husband’s presidency promoting exercise and healthy eating, will be promoting her “Drink Up” campaign, which encourages Americans to drink more water, in an episode that will air in November.
The campaign (and possibly the guest appearance itself; I'm not clear on the nuances involved) is backed by Brita, a company which specializes in water filtration products which probably wouldn't be nearly so popular in the United States if our government were actually enforcing the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Act that it is theoretically supposed to enforce in order to protect its citizens.
[O]ne in ten Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals, [...] [T]he laws intended to protect our water supplies, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, are not being enforced. In fact, researchers found, barely 3 percent of violations resulted in fines or other significant penalties by state officials responsible for enforcing the law.
And it's especially delicious irony that the television show which Michelle Obama has chosen to appear on in order to promote her campaign of drinking more water is a television show where the contestants are encouraged to dangerously dehydrate themselves in order to lose weight long enough to stay on the show.
An example of this comes from contestant Kai Hibbard who lost 118 pounds on the show. She later blogged that she ate only asparagus, endured colonics and went through 6-hour stretches in a sauna to dehydrate herself enough to lose 19 pounds for the season finale.
Everything about this seems perfect.

But my favorite part of having a representative of the government go on a show which encourages fat people to dehydrate themselves in order to conform to social prejudice and which encourages thin people to hate fat people, all in order to promote buying expensive water filters because our government has chosen not to do its job of protecting citizens in favor of corporate interests, is that this will be Michelle Obama's second appearance on The Biggest Loser. Because one endorsement of a show that tells its viewers to hate fat people if they refuse to engage in self-harming behaviors at the behest of social prejudice just wasn't enough.

And I sincerely hope that this appearance will be just as awesome as when Michelle Obama's Senior Policy Advisor For Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass appeared as a guest judge on Chopped so that he could criticize "lunch ladies" for their too-too-big portion sizes (because we don't want FAT CHILDREN, do we?) after the women had shared heart-breaking stories about needing to make Monday meals bigger because many-if-not-most of their students were too impoverished to eat outside of school and were starving over the weekends. It was really delightful seeing it so starkly portrayed that our national initiative right now is not about Feeding Hungry Children (Because It's The Right Thing To Do) and is instead about Depriving Fat Children (Because They're Ugly).

Which is why the choice of The Biggest Loser for Michelle Obama to appear on in order to promote her campaign is an even better choice than you might have previously thought, because they've semi-recently decided to add fat hatred of children into the mix by including fat kids as contestants! And the fact that fat children are likely to be bullied by their peers isn't a reason for Michelle Obama and other people who care about children to, say, de-stigmatize fatness! NO! It's a reason to bully fat children even more so that they'll finally get it through their fat heads that they need to stop being fat! It's just a shame that it's taking so long to get the message out.


The thing that wounds me the deepest about all this is that I genuinely like Michelle Obama. I voted for her husband, and I think they seem like absolutely wonderful people. I'd love to attend a dinner party with them; I think we'd have a lot to talk about. I'm certain I would like them, and I like to think they'd find my company not intolerable.

Nor do I believe Michelle Obama hates fat people; I do believe she genuinely thinks she is helping fat people and advocating for fat children. I honestly, completely, 100% think that she's coming from a good place on this. I think her intentions are good.

But... the thing is, intentions don't magically prevent harm. There is a very real, very serious problem in trying to "help" a stigmatized group by "encouraging" (and in many cases, strongly pressuring) the people in that group to change in response to the stigma. Telling me that you want to help me avoid fat shaming by making me Not Fat Anymore is hugely problematic. It is, very literally, an eliminationist approach: an approach which seeks to erase fat hatred by erasing all the fat people.

I am fat. I deserve to not be hated for it, in much the same way that I deserve to not be hated for the color of my eyes, or the curl of my hair, or the tilt of my nose, or any of the other facets of my body. The answer to fat hatred as a social problem is to demand that those with prejudice change their prejudices; not to demand that the victims of prejudice just stop being fat. That doesn't work, and it wouldn't be a moral solution even if it did.

And, more to the point, a very great lot of fat people have explained this very patiently over and over again. The people running these "health initiative" campaigns have refused to listen. And that hurts me, too; the fact that the people claiming to want to help me care so little about me that they won't listen when I say that their "help" is causing me harm. It hurts a lot.

There is a petition here asking Michelle Obama to please not endorse The Biggest Loser with a second appearance. And this is me begging her to please listen to fat advocates and please stop advocating for the elimination of a very real part of myself.


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