About 2 weeks ago, I watched a debate on Good Morning Britain about whether or not including models who are “morbidly obese” in music videos and magazine covers is the equivalent to glorifying a serious medical condition.
In fewer words: does the representation of extremely fat people normalise and propagate obesity? This debate was started when Angelina Duplisea was featured in Miley Cyrus’ music video for Mother’s Daughter, which was released at the beginning of July 2019.
Piers Morgan, the host of the show, argued that there is a modern trend of glorifying “morbidly obese” people in the media, citing the example of Tess Holiday, who modelled for the cover of an issue of Cosmopolitan, which he deems as dangerous for both the individual and society as a whole. Chloe Goodman, a former model and guest on the show, agreed with Morgan’s stance on the problematic nature of using medically obese models in the media, stating how “a morbidly obese person promotes an unhealthy message.” In addition, she pointed out an important double standard: if a magazine cover included an anorexic model, there would have been public outcry. Piers developed this point using the example of the trend in the 1980s of heroin chic models being used in catwalks, which the public responded with distaste, because it was “promoting and propagating an unhealthy body image.”
Undeniably, the function of the media is to represent and promote different types of lifestyles in the hope that it will lead to greater tolerance and co-existence, but how far should this extend? Where do we draw the line? Not long ago, Cancer Research UK came forward with the finding that obesity causes more cases of 4 common types of cancers (bowel, kidney, ovarian and liver) in the UK than smoking tobacco does, making obesity the second biggest preventable cause of cancer.
Angelina Duplisea acknowledged that she was not of a healthy weight, but pointed out how her health-related problems are more the consequence of her age (she’s 46 years old), rather than her weight. Also, she highlighted the hypocritical position of Piers’ on this issue: he himself is not stereotypically thin, yet he attacks another person for being an unhealthy weight.
Is this simply a case of fat-phobia, or is it an attempt to police the rhetoric about body positivity so that it doesn’t do more harm than good? I think one important thing needs to be pointed out: bigotry or discrimination in any shape or form is not acceptable, even if it’s intended for the higher purpose of discouraging people from viewing obesity as acceptable and normal.
While Piers and Goodman agreed that obese women should not be featured on magazine covers and in music videos, Duplisea disagreed with them and instead argued that “even unhealthy people deserve to be represented.” This point is critical: there are many people in the music, modelling and beauty industry who have undergone cosmetic surgery, skin-whitening procedures or used tanning beds and sunbeds, all of which could be potentially life threatening if not done carefully, and yet they are still very much represented in the media.
Overall, although I do acknowledge that obesity is a serious medical condition, and that society does need to play a larger role in promoting healthy lifestyles which are more accessible to a larger audience. I think giving obese people a space to be seen and represented is so important; fat-shaming and demonising people who are obese is not the solution to any problem, but given the impressionable nature of younger minds, it’s vital that in an effort to be more tolerant and accepting, we don’t normalise unhealthy body images.