If you live in the U.S, chances are you haven’t heard of the show Supersize vs. Superskinny on BBC’s channel 4. This documentary series, hosted by Dr. Christian Jessen, pairs of two extremes of the dietary spectrum, one “fatty” and one “skinny”, and has them swap diets for a time in order for them to learn from one anothers’ missteps.
The Bad News
While I do wish to state that I like the show, and belive it provides a valid service both to the participants and the viewing audience, I do feel it misses the mark on a few key issues. While the people showcased are extremes, I think that the show might take some responsibility for the fact that people have a tendency towards generalization. The “fatties” depicted eat cartoonish amounts of food, gorging themselves on every variety of junk food you might conjure up from your imagination. Likewise, the “skinnies” survive on equally ridiculous fare, one woman featured sustaining on a diet that consists almost entirely of tea and milk. This serves to perpetuate the idea that fatness is purely the result of eating massive quantities of food, and that by simply putting down the fork, we could all be propelled into slim, svelte, runway worthy bodies.
The truth is that food is only one aspect in the determination of weight size. Hormones, metabolism, medications and mobility issues that restrict activity all have a hand in determining weight. There are people who do exercise regularly and eat thoughtfully, yet simply don’t have bodies that would fall into the range of what society might deem as attractive. While these people are not the ones showcased, failure to address the idea that food is not the entire problem almost makes a blanket statement that if you are too chubby or too scrawny, your diet is purely to blame.
The Good News
The episode featured below actually visits the U.S city of Evansville, Indiana, which has the dubious honor of officially being America’s ‘Fattest City’. In Evansville a whopping 38% of the population is obese. While the U.S sometimes seems the brunt of international fat jokes, it appears that Britain isn’t far behind.
What I like about this series, though part of me has to admit it is in some respects a televised side show, is that it illustrates extremes in either direction are dangerous. We inherently know this and yet tend to be polarized about weight in the U.S. A celebrity will come out about being a former anorexic and all we hear about for the next month or so is how tragic it is that young girls are driven to eating disorders by the fashion industry, media, or whatever the scapegoat of the moment may be. You’re made to think that each and every girl in the country regularly is vomiting up her lunch and we all rally behind the cry of self-acceptance, and loving our bodies no matter what the size.
Then a report comes out shaming the nation for the dramatic rise in childhood obesity. We’re shown images of children, faces digitally blurred while their elbows and knees lie buried beneath cascades of fat. These poor lambs struggle to walk, gasping for breath as they waddle their way into the pantry. In a mad instant we pick up the banner for healthy living, diet, exercise, we must salvage our nation’s youth from the wreckage lain by caramel nougat and assorted deep fried splendors.
The truth is that moderation is key. It doesn’t matter if there’s a newscast that sings out how overweight people live longer or another that declares obesity is directly linked to pancreatic cancer, we need to eat and exercise to sustain life, and more importantly, quality of life. Let’s stop running back and forth between one pole and the next and work on finding a happy, and livable medium.