Canadian Obesity Network offers media alternatives to hurtful images
Stop the 'shame and blame', the network advises, saying stereotypical portrayal of obesity in the media is often not true.
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Obesity is not as seen on TV. It’s a chronic disease caused by a patchwork of risk factors – including genetics and socio-economic status – that affects millions of people, according Dr. Arya Sharma, the Edmonton-based scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network.
Which is why the network is launching a new campaign to call out what Sharma dubs the “shame and blame” depictions of obesity used in the media.
“It’s a very stereotypical portrayal of obesity that, in general, is not true,” Sharma said of the unflattering close-ups of stomachs or shots of obese people filmed in a crowd, their faces purposely not shown, often seen in TV newscasts and newspaper stories.
He added that these images are harmful because they make people less likely to seek help.
“The typical images you see in the media are promoting the notion of what obesity is … a question of choice or that obese people are doing this to themselves. Even if you read a story in the newspaper that says one thing, the images are often telling a very different story,” he said.
To combat the recurring negative images, the network has launched an image bank of more positive stock photography for media to use.
The images feature families interacting with each other, people working out and doing every-day things.
All show the subjects’ faces, a choice that departs from the anonymous, voyeuristic shots seen on newsreels, Sharma said.
Realistic portrayals of obesity are key to fighting stigma, according to advocate Connie Levitsky.
She made headlines last year when she was fired from her plus-size retail job for writing an online post about her experience helping “fat ladies,” like herself, find clothing.
Now a public engagement co-ordinator at the network, Levitsky remains unapologetic for trying to normalize the word “fat,” and by extension, the experience of being obese.
That includes pushing for more realistic images, she said.
“A lot of stock images and portrayals ignore a lot of the socio-economic factors at play into why people become overweight, as well as the biological ones,” she told Metro.
She pointed out that when stories talk about other diseases, they illustrate them with photos that show people’s faces and tell their personal stories.
“Some people are just fat, and there’s honestly nothing wrong with that,” she said. “It’s important for us to show people that it’s possible to live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives—and still be fat.”