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Glee and fat stereotypes

Posted by on Nov 17, 2010 in Blog Posts | 18 comments

A quick post. So, Glee is supposed to be about acceptance, tolerance, diversity of color, sexual orientation and size (with it’s one plus-sized character.) Did anyone notice last night on the tater-tot episode that it seemed like only the kids of size were indulging in the tater tots or shown as gluttons? When Sue was in her office, 3 very large teen girls were shown outside her door. All were in drab colors, drab make-up and hair and all were literally stuffing their faces with various “junk” foods.  It was Sue’s inspiration to ban tater tots. Mercedes does the stereotypical “food is love” dance of eating more tots because she is lonely.

Just saying it perpetuates the stereotype that kids are fat because they eat too much,  and of the “wrong” foods. Do some of them? Yes, but there are just as many skinny kids eating garbage too. Perpetuating that fat is from gluttonous overeating makes the blame game, bullying and shaming that much easier. (All now couched in the language of “obesity prevention” and the war on obesity, so it’s not really bullying, it’s concern for health! You can pretty much guarantee a fat child has been bullied.(Neumark-Sztainer) Just saying this episode didn’t help.)

I have to admit, before I really looked into the data and learned about feeding dynamics, I thought it was just calories in, calories out. I assumed kids were fat because they ate too much of the wrong foods. I was surprised to learn that you can’t predict what someone will weight based on their intake (OK, at the very extremes you probably can.) But, in infants,  studies have shown that leaner infants often consume less and move more than their fatter counterparts.  The Huh milk study I mentioned last week also showed the leanest kids drank whole milk and consumed the most calories. A study on soda in schools in 2009 in the ADA mentioned that the lean and fat kids drank the same amount of soda. So much for the “obesity in a bottle” theory. The 17 year DONALD study in Germany compared fat, fiber, calories etc and found that there were plenty of big kids eating ‘atoricious’ diets but guess what, plenty of lean kids were eating that way too. There were fat kids who ate exemplary intakes and lean kids too. You could not correlate BMI and intake.

It’s partly observer bias. We notice and perhaps judge the fat kid sitting in the cafeteria with tater tots and a soda, and fail to notice the two skinny ones sitting with her eating the exact same thing.

Remember, the best predictor of weight gain, even in teen girls is dieting. I just wish this show, adored and watched by so many would be as careful with it’s fat stereotpyes as it is with promoting acceptance and diversity in other arenas.

Did you notice? What did you think?

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  1. Amy

    I just watched the tater tot episode last night. I had a different impression. I thought they were being snarky & making fun of the health Nazis taking over school nutrition.

    • katja

      I think it was both. I specifically had an issue with that scene of the kids outside Sue’s office… Did you notice that part?

  2. The WellRounded Mama

    I did watch Huge. I never would have if the fatosphere hadn’t reviewed it first, because I have learned not to trust Hollywood’s portrayal of fat people. I know it’s going to be patronizing and full of hateful fat jokes, so why watch? So I never would have given it a chance had the fatosphere not been a-buzz about it.

    I enjoyed Huge quite a bit because of the diversity of characters on it, and because they were treated as REAL PEOPLE. That was incredibly refreshing, as was the fact that they were allowed to have crushes, kissing, meaningful relationships, etc……probably the first time I have REALLY seen that kind of treatment of fat characters on TV. It wasn’t perfect but it was, on the whole, quite good.

    So of course they cancelled it!

    I’ve not looked at Mike and Molly at all because although it’s nice to “let” two fat characters be interested in each other and pursue each other, apparently it’s only okay on TV if they are stereotypically fat, eat too much, make the usual low-brow fat jokes, etc. Hardy-har-har.

    Sorry, I’m not going to watch a show — even to see fat people actually get some romantic possibilities — if they insult me while I’m watching. Ugh.

    • katja

      I watched one episode of HUGE, also vetted by Fatosphere for me, and have not watched Mike and MOlly. My sense was the same as yours. Yuck. Long way to go here.

  3. The WellRounded Mama

    I haven’t seen this episode yet, but I’ve been having mixed feelings all season. It’s just not up to last year’s standards…and certainly even last season had its problems at times too. But this year? Too gimmicky, and way too mean-spirited. Also too over-the-top sexy for me to let my teens watch most of the episodes so far. They missed some last season too for that same reason….but this season seems particularly bad.

    Some nice moments, both musically and dramatically, still shine through the mediocrity, so I’m still watching at this point…..but I keep waiting for Mercedes to have any kind of a REAL story, to quit playing back-up to the others, and to actually have some REAL romantic storyline. The only romance storyline I recall for her was when she liked Kurt and didn’t realize he was gay. But that was long ago. Everyone else is hooking up with everyone else or at least has crushes…but not her.

    I think it goes back to the whole discomfort show biz types have with fat people actually having romance and sex. We can have them on shows — once in a while — and once in a great while we’ll even treat them as real people and not just best friends or the guest star storyline or someone in need of pity, yadda yadda. But somehow it’s quite rare to see them actually have a real romance….a love interest to root for, a real sex life, a dating life. Once in a while we get a token one-shot show where there’s some love interest…..but almost never do they get a long-term love interest or “crush” storylines like non-fat characters.

    I find that very galling and frustrating.

    • katja

      i agree on over the top sexy. I’m trying to figure out who their audience is? I think I’m about ready to give up. Let me know if it gets back on track. Wonder if these guys will get much work after this show tanks in season 3… I totally agree that the only folks who get romantic story lines are the Hollywood ideal size 2. Wait till you see this episode. the tater tots are portrayed as her romantic interest. Did you watch any of HUGE? Amazing too that Mike and Molly is getting press for fat characters. Wonder how it’s doing? I was sad to see the gorgeous actress who plays Molly going on about her fantasy to lose weight on an ET interview. I fear this will all get worse before it gets better. The “health” hysteria will fuel more bias and bullying, in high school and on TV.

  4. cindy

    I haven’t seen the tater tot episode yet, but the Halloween episode had some eating weirdness that kind of took me aback, mainly because no one addressed the attitude. Finn was worried about taking off his shirt in front of people because he felt like he was flabby, and Sam (? the new guy) has a six-pack and was helping Finn exercise and rattled off what he eats (or more like, doesn’t eat) every day, plus the exercises he does, and it sounded kind of orthorexic, or something. Instead of trying to reassure Finn, they try to help him change his body in what, two weeks or something? There was something else similar in that episode but I can’t remember it.

    • Layla

      Yes this! I noticed that too and it really really bothered me. Part of me felt (hoped?) that perhaps the somewhat orthorexic tendencies in Sam were sort of being parodied, they were sort of poking fun at our overly zealous “health conscious” culture, but they never really delved into it beyond Sam detailing his regiment.

      I still love the series for the music, but I’m getting irritated with it being so mainstream, and I’m really getting sick of all the guest stars and themed episodes. I miss the deeper storylines of last season.

      • cindy

        Layla, I was expecting it to be addressed too, the same way that they hit the viewer over the head with all of their messages, but it never came up again, which left me to wonder what point they were trying to make (if there was one). But if they were making fun of Sam’s eating habits, then why the hard sell on no tater tots this week (and only fat kids were shown to have “bad” eating habits)? It makes me wonder if they were endorsing Sam’s eating habits? I’m probably reading too much into the whole thing. I don’t think this show has a consistent message, not that it needs a message at all, but it does act like there’s a message in a lot of the episodes, though often it’s a false one (like singing to the football coach is going to undo years of bullying and torment she’s gone through, or all she needs is a kiss from Mr. Shue), and maybe that’s why I end up kinda angry and confused.

        Right now Brittany is the only character I still enjoy, Sue is even on my nerves despite my love for that actress.

        • katja

          I agree. it was weird how they mentioned Sam’s very disordered and restrictive eating but no down-side. (And, he had amazing abs, and Corey Monteith is pretty fine too, but was laughed at for his slim and trim body? Weird.) Did that make worse the growing pressure on young men to have six-pack abs, or poke fun at it. That episode bugged me too…

  5. Anna

    We don’t get that episode until next week, but I still have mixed feelings. That sucks. Fat sterotyping totally blows. I’ve just been pleased that Mercedes isn’t shown eating every episode and taking it as a small victory. And Bieste (Beast?) who is a big woman, but she’s also strong, an excellent coach and a sensitive person. I am just so excited there are big women on television who are also PEOPLE.

    So I’m pretty disappointed to hear this about Glee, because I expect better of them.

  6. Jackie

    Agreed. Glee is one of those shows that I wonder why I’m still watching it. Might be time to cut the cord. Sometimes it’s funny, but a lot of the time I just want to hit the screen.

  7. Layla

    I noticed it too and it really really really bothered me, particularly after so much body positivity in last season’s “Home” episode, this was a real disappointment. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, after all, “Home” wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, and “Beautiful” was pretty contrived, but still, after all that, I felt they should have known better.

    *sigh* I suppose I was wrong.

  8. Lisa

    I stopped watching the show after the first half of the first season – too gimmicky for me. But I’m not surprised at all to see the very typical blind-spot regarding fat people. There are a lot of remarkably educated, seemingly enlightened people who still hold onto deeply prejudicial ideas about fat people, and who cannot differentiate between body size (a physical characteristic) and behaviors.

    Slightly off-topic: did you see this article from the New York Times about how different bodies respond to exercise?

  9. Anne

    I did notice, and it just added to the list of things about Glee that have made me a bit uncomfortable lately. That’s the major issue I have about the First Lady’s whole initiative – why make it about obesity at all if what you’re trying to do is make kids more active and increase the availability of nutritious foods. There are plenty of skinny kids who play video games all day…

    • katja

      what else is bugging you about Glee? I’m tired of all the guest stars. Too gimmicky. I’m tired of watching the teachers perform with the kids. Creepy and would never happen. It seems to have lost any innocence and sweetness from the first season. Totally unbelievable costumes and numbers for high-schoolers. I’m all for suspending disbelief, but really? No rehearsing… I want more of the story-lines of the characters. I fast-forward half the songs anyway. 🙂 Sorry Chris…

      • Anne

        I’m also tired of the guest stars. I don’t mind when they do it like they did with Neil Patrick Harris, when it really has a place in the story but this last one was just so obviously “Gwyneth has a new album/movie”. And obviously there are no teachers unions on TV 🙂