Discuss and debate the issues that mean the most to you.
On September 3, TV-network-for-ladies Oxygen will be premiering a new reality series entitled “My Big Fat Revenge.” You might have heard about it. Certainly, several of you have emailed and tweeted at me about it.
Although the title might seem to suggest that this is a series in which fat people get revenge -- this was my first assumption -- that’s not actually the case. Rather, this is a series in which fat people lose weight and then perform elaborate hoaxes, with help from The Power Of Television, on the people who wronged them back when they were gross and fat.
Confused? Yeah, let’s take it to the press release:
Oxygen Media gives women a life-changing opportunity of transformation and retribution in the empowering new docu-series “My Big Fat Revenge,” premiering on Tuesday, September 3, at 9 PM ET/PT. After being discounted, humiliated, and rejected because of their weight, these women are ready to take control of their lives, put their painful pasts behind them, and finally stand up to the people who inflicted the hurt. [...] With an eye for an eye approach, these ex-boyfriends, former classmates and even family members will get a taste of their own medicine as they’re set up on blind dates, auditions, and nightmare jobs to experience what they put their offenders through. For these transformed women, this is their golden opportunity to settle their scores and hopefully get the apologies they deserve.
Also there is a trailer:
And now let’s break it down like an early-90s dance track at a roller rink (groove is in the heeeeaaarrtt, aaaaahhhh).
Problem #1: Mistreating the people who mistreated you is counterproductive.
Hey, who HASN’T had a revenge fantasy? In middle school I had a litany of terrible magic I convinced myself I could wreak upon the delicate preadolescent bodies of my tormenters, that if I simply STARED HARD ENOUGH at the girl who made booming sounds when I walked down the hall, or the boy who spent a year calling me “Obese” as though it was my name, I could make their stupid asshole heads explode.
I mean, it never worked. But I thought about it a lot. The difference is, that was MIDDLE SCHOOL. While my anger at harassment has not really changed, as an adult I came to realize that “punishing” individuals who said mean things wasn’t really useful, nor would it actually make me feel any better. Because being viciously mean to people -- even people who were mean to you -- takes its toll after awhile. It’s hard on the soul.
The fact is, the people who would treat you like shit for being fat (or for any appearance-related reason, actually) probably already feel like shit about themselves. Kind-hearted well-adjusted self-respecting people do not call other people pork chops or humiliate them in public or even plant seeds of self-loathing and self-doubt in private conversation. They just don’t. Piling on to said folks’ obvious personal issues is unlikely to turn them into nicer people, and doing so only to see them in pain is just not a form of recreational good times I am into.
Problem #2: Fat shaming doesn’t work, why would shaming fat shaming work?
A couple weeks ago a new study was getting a bunch of media attention -- apparently researchers had discovered that the experience of fat stigma not only fails to help people lose weight, but actually makes people fatter. OH NO WHAT HAVE WE DONE.
Researchers assessed the body mass index (a way of measuring body fat based on height and weight) of 6,157 people, all Americans ages 50 and older, in 2006 and 2010. The people they studied were a mix of sizes -- normal weight, overweight and obese. But they found that the overweight people who reported experiencing weight discrimination were more than twice as likely to become obese by the next check-in in 2010. And people who were already obese in 2006 were three times more likely to remain obese by 2010 if they had experienced weight discrimination.
SURPRISE! Are you surprised? I’m not surprised. Some medical fattery experts have subsequently hypothesized that the stress and anxiety of discrimination is contributing to this result, both in terms of sad fat people eating more food to cope with the sad fatness, and also because there may be some weird and nebulous connection between the physical effects of stress itself and the likelihood of putting on weight.
I’m inclined to think there might be something to this, because my own weight, which I had been keenly aware of and fought with literally from the time I was seven or eight years old, suddenly leveled out when I decided to give up chasing skinny phantoms and learn to live in and with the body I had. Basically, the moment I stopped internalizing cultural fat hatred and started allowing myself to be critical of the messages, both covert and overt, that said I was deeply flawed for failing to be thin, I stopped gaining weight. WEIRD HOW THAT HAPPENED IN MY CASE.
Because, y’know, discrimination in all its forms is EXHAUSTING, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Discrimination is not motivating, it’s often incapacitating. When you are constantly feeling judged for your appearance, it’s hard enough to squeak through the day without crying or punching anyone, let alone put your mind toward dieting for weight loss, which is ALSO exhausting and miserable. Not many people have the resources necessary for all that.
Thus, I have a really hard time believing that publicly shaming and humiliating people who shamed you will cause them to have some kind of revelation that turns them into nicer people. What needs doing in that case is for those abusive jerks to look inward and figure out what they’re so insecure about, that they need to flagellate others in order to build themselves up.
Making them soil their drawers by punking them with a fake arrest scenario on television strikes me as unlikely to accomplish this.
Problem #3: The “revenge” is tied up with the “transformation.”
One crucial aspect of “My Big Fat Revenge” is that the revengers are no longer fat. Which is fine! Totally fine. Nobody has to stay fat who doesn’t want to be fat. And, I mean, this IS a product from the same people who have brought us (or blighted us) with the nightmare scenario that is 14 seasons of “The Biggest Loser,” so like, having “before” pictures to ooh and ahh over is kind of non-negotiable.
But it also begs the question: Would these wronged individuals deserve apologies if they HADN’T lost weight?
Is it only their social redemption via lost pounds that entitles them to their vindication and their revenge, to their anger, to their hurt? If they were still fat, would they get to feel any of those things on television, or is it only by unearthing their “true” inner slenderer selves that they are allowed to express rage at being so mistreated?
The message that comes across is not that being a fat-shaming jerk is bad, but that being a fat-shaming jerk to someone who would eventually lose weight is bad, because THAT person is socially redeemable and is even something to be admired and respected. (Unlike a fat person.)
Also they might come back and prank you really hard on TV. Somehow the series would seem to gloss right over the idea that you shouldn't fat-shame people because IT'S JUST A SHITTY MEAN THING TO DO.
At the conclusion of each episode, Oxygen.com will run a companion web series featuring an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the emotional journey behind the women's weight loss. From their intense workout regimens to dietary changes and weigh-ins, the web series will reveal the powerful transformations and show how the two women featured in that week’s episode lost the weight and found their confidence.
They get their "revenge," unlike fat people, who don’t get to feel angry, or to demand respect or even basic human dignity a lot of the time. Fat people, who don’t get to “transform” in any way that doesn’t involve a pair of suddenly far-too-large pants; fat people, whose confidence is buried somewhere in all that surplus flesh and has to be dug out through hard work, sacrifice and deprivation before it can be reclaimed alongside their “new” body.
There’s nothing “empowering” about “My Big Fat Revenge”: it is simply a document of people who were treated badly by assholes then becoming assholes themselves, and laughing about it as though this is a gratifying experience. “Now that I’m thinner, I can be a jerk with impunity! VALIDATION IS MINE!”
I see enough people being jerks in real life, thanks. I think I’ll pass on this version of it.