Football, Fat People, and Media Representation

What Will you DefendOne of the ridiculous reasons given for refusing to represent fat people in the media as happy or successful at anything other that weight loss is that fat people aren’t prioritizing our health and are therefore bad examples who must be kept out of the media.  For today I’m setting aside the fact that this is both completely untrue and that it even if it was true it would still be extremely messed up, to discuss the almost unbelievable hypocrisy that is committed whenever this argument is made.

Perhaps you’ve heard of a little game called Football (or American Football if you’re outside of the US.)

If we really believe that we should not give positive representation in the media to people who don’t “prioritize their health” then I’m pretty confused by some things when it comes our massive media promotion of those who choose to play football:

First is this incredibly long list of injuries for last season.

And what about the massive impact of concussions on players future lives (and the NFL cover-up thereof.)

Or the fact that the massive rate of bankruptcy means that most of them can’t likely afford the future healthcare they’ll need.

Not to mention that many of the players are “obese” based on their BMI.

Football players are given massive media exposure despite the fact that they are clearly not prioritizing their own health.  The NFL makes more money than any other sport and its commissioner has predicted that they will achieve $25 billion in annual revenue by 2027.  (That will still be less than half the current revenue of the diet industry but that’s a whole other blog post.)

So if we think that people who don’t “prioritize their health” are poor role models and shouldn’t be represented positively in the media, what was that whole Superbowl thing about yesterday?  Where is the hand-wringing that football players aren’t good role models because they aren’t prioritizing their health.  Where are the calculations about how expensive football players (at every level) will be – not just with sports injuries while they play, but with the fallout from concussions, and the constant pounding their joints take?

Where are the calculations of how much money could be saved if instead of playing football those who participate just walked 30 minutes a day 5 days a week?  Where’s the government-sponsored “War Against Football”? And all of that despite the fact that body size is complicated and not entirely within our control and we don’t have a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people were able to change their body size, but playing (and quitting) football is absolutely a choice.

The truth is that this whole “It’s because of fat people’s health” thing is just a crappy justification for size-based discrimination, and it’s long past time to stop using healthism to justify sizeism, and to end both of them instead.

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18 thoughts on “Football, Fat People, and Media Representation

  1. might i also note that the media is tremendously invested in not only promoting but also glamorizing anorexia?

    to a degree we no longer do this, so we say. we have proudly stopped extolling women who look like isabelle caro [RIP], even though we never really had— isabelle caro was not sexy.

    & we are extraordinarily proud to have included immense misfits of the melissa mccarthy variety— the internet has taught us there are WAY too many women who actually look like melissa mccarthy for us to ignore such a voraciously, voluminously valid source of money forever. this doesnt mean we need to treat them like romantic hero[ine]s—nobody would believe that! i mean, it’s unthinkable—but we do acknowledge they exist. & EVERYBODY ON EARTH SHOULD BE IMMENSELY PROUD OF US FOR THAT. PRODIGIOUSLY. COLOSSALLY. MASSIVELY. MASTODONIC. you know.

    &, i mean: LENA DUNHAM. WE’VE ALLOWED HER TO BE ½ NAKED IN PUBLIC. if anything truly shows progress, it’s gotta be that. i mean, our COURAGE in VIEWING cannot be described as anything other than revolutionary. it’s almost as if we, the media, are members of the resistance running, in darkness & in secret, between france & germany— sometime even before we were born! this DID happen, right‽ OF COURSE! & it’s JUST like we were THERE!


    well— but the thing is? the thing is, underneath all of our Tremendous New Source of Self-Esteem? we’re still saying the same things. we just say them differently. but thats the real maypole of our age. it’s the thing in the middle, the thing that cant be missed. in our case, though, we pretend it isnt there. we just dance around it.

    meaning, at least in part: since c1980 has there EVER been public mention of a female entertainer larger than callista flockhart [okay, maybe katy perry] that DID NOT mention her weight?

    think about it. i believe you will find it really difficult to do. it’s almost like the bechdel test for a world based on weight judgment. & while it’s true that we “try” to do better now, we most certainly have not succeeded. as i type, i’m going through a binderful of performing women in my head, from approximately ages eight through eighty & outside of that infinitesimal human slice, i cannot remember any.

    “SUCCESSFUL” DIETING is one of the primary ways we judge HUMAN VALUE.

    it supersedes any humanitarian work, for example —madonna’s may be opportunistic & laughable, true, but, of all people, angelina jolie’s is probably sincere. she’s gotten write-ups for it, true, but how many more mentions do you think she’s gotten over whether [or not] she ate a donut [for example][or not] that day? those kinds of things you can see every day. & it’s the same for almost any female, & very occasionally male, celebrity.

    i mentioned anorexia [& have finally returned to it] because it is obvious that MOST if not ALL of the entertainment industry’s painfully, exactingly controlled weight is done, yes, BY STARVATION. STARVATION often accompanied by BARFING & more than occasionally COMPULSIVE EXERCISE & [what can be excruciating] SURGERY. that’s not a cruel or jealous disapprobation, it’s just true. i’m from that world, i remember seeing christina hendricks for the first time & knowing from the inside just how much hell she mustve taken before becoming the person she eventually became.

    when the media intransigently, unrelentingly, elatedly, fauxverjoyously, captivatingly, supercalifragilisticexpialidociously, on & on, ESTEEMS beyond MEASURE a celebrity’s weight loss? for the most part they are celebrating a person’s tortured eating disorder. not always, as w/ everything there are some exceptions. but most of the time. & if they dont think their target market gets that, & will emulate it until a minuscule number ‘win’ & a slightly less minuscule number die, & an even greater number destroy their health more than the occasional milkshake ever could [i raise my hand to this one]— well, then the media is OUT OF ITS MIND. or more cynical than even i thought.

    1. ps & apologies for writing even more:
      i mention this because yr article about colleen mccullough made a huge impression on me. that her photograph was considered so outré, so very close to repulsive, that they couldnt use her on the cover of her own book—even an OLD photo of her. i researched this, btw, & some wouldve been quite decently plausible—it just ENRAGED me.

      to me, the refusal to acknowledge ubiquitous, & intensely health damaging, anorexia in the entertainment industry is VERY similar to our willingness to ignore football injuries. the cause+effect are so similar: we get to see what we want & the stuff that might be negative or even, perhaps, harrowing beneath what we see? is easy to miss. all we have to do is not look.

      sign me,
      yr weariest member & sometime correspondent,

      pps & a small fyi. the model on the cover of the colleen mccullough book would be considered fat by modeling agencies. i know that doesnt seem true, but as far as i can tell by my internet gandering, i can make you that promise.

  2. What’s more, the NFL – with its 25 billion dollar profits – is officially a non-profit organization. That means those billions in profit are untaxed.

    And speaking of not prioritizing health, what about NASCAR with its fiery crashes, skiing with all those broken limbs and back/neck injuries, and professional wrestling with all those incredibly dangerous moves. Yes, even though they are carefully scripted and choreographed, people have died performing them.

    We laud rock stars and movie stars who are known to have serious addiction issues, so long as they are thin and (when female) conventionally pretty.

    But let someone weigh five ounces more than we think they ought to, and out come the lace hankies and the smelling salts.

    How hypocritical can society be? This hypocritical.

  3. I totally agree with you there – but when I use this argument in discussions, it mostly fires back on me. It seems than many of the people that I meet who are worried about obesity for “health reasons” would think it a good idea that soccer players (who have the same importance here als football players in the US) pay for their injuries themselves, without healthcare. And then they would like that everyone only gets health insurance coverage if they can prove they live “healthy”. I dread what that would mean for me (depending on who sponsors the doctors who get to decide what healthy living means)
    What, you’re vegan? No, we don’t cover that, we dont’t think that is healthy eating, so you have to pay for your broken bone yourself.
    What, you exercised by gallopping on a horse through the snow in the sun (as I did today, and it was sooooooooooo great)? Well, that’s way too dangerous, we only accept excercising in studios without fresh air and sun, so pay for your influenza yourself, please.

    So, if I use this argument, the result to me alsways seems to be not that fat people should get the same acceptance as everyone else, but that other people should be mistreated in the same way that fat people are now. Has anyone made the same experience?

    1. Ps: an of course that doesn’t change a thing, those people I know wouldn’t see soccer players as role models, but they still would want to watch soccer in TV – and only thin persons

    2. Wow. That’s one I have never personally encountered. It frankly scares me to know there’s anyone out there making this incredibly bizarre argument.

      Excuse me while I go hide under my bed for a while.

      1. In Canada (or maybe it’s just my family, and maybe the news station program) there has been discussion for 15-20 yrs of making smokers pay for their own chemo when they get cancer, and pay for their own open heart surgery when they have a heart attack. There other “groups” who – it has been suggested – that they pay their own way (not just fat ppl) because “we don’t want to pay for unhealthy” ppl to mooch off of society when something goes wrong.

        1. If only perfect people get health insurance, then the entire health insurance industry will be put completely out of business. Because NO ONE is completely, perfectly, 100% healthy, even if you’re only looking at their behaviors.

          Everyone takes health risks every single day. Most are small, but they’re real.

          Do you shake hands with people? HEALTH RISK! Don’t give insurance to that person! He shakes hands with people! Do you go outside and breathe the air that has a varying degree of pollution and natural allergens? HEALTH RISK! Do you stay inside all the time, with air-conditioned air? HEALH RISK! Do you sleep on the proper side? There’s a right side and a wrong side, for your organs, don’t you know. If you start on the right side, and roll to the wrong side, HEALTH RISK! Do you walk? TRIPPING HAZARD! Do you dance? TRIPPING HAZARD! Do you work out? Definitely hazardous for injuries.

          Do you shave? HEALTH RISK! One of the discoverers of King Tut’s tomb died from a shaving cut gone septic. DOWN WITH SHAVING! Don’t let shavers get health insurance!

          Do you have a beard? HEALTH RISK! All that hair catches food and traps bacteria, and that’s why women MUST shave their underarms and pubes, because hair is a health risk.

          Do you eat out? HEALTH RISK! You don’t know what’s IN that food. Do you cook your own food? HEALTH RISK! You could burn yourself!

          Seriously. This argument that people who take risks should not have the same coverage is just plain silly. Risks is what insurance is all about. You’re gambling that your risk will fail, and the insurance company is gambling that your risk will be fine. They look at the percentages, and set their prices accordingly, but it’s still all about risk.

    3. Well following the argument to the end, how are the soccer players supposed to pay for their med. bills when they are bankrupt? Just let them decompose on the street, these heroes of bygone days.

  4. Oh, wait – let’s look at that “role model” aspect with the NFL players. Not only are they damaging their own health, but young people are lining up to EMULATE THEM! Pop Warner and school football leagues have no shortages of players signing up to bash into each other, bulk up, and reach for the golden ring promise of a future NFL contract.

    It’s so bad that football is practically a religion in many communities, and the star players are literally idolized.

    “I don’t wanna be healthy! I wanna be a FOOTBALL HERO!!!”

    People point to the defense budget and ask what we could do with all that money, were it spent on social programs. Maybe we should ask the same thing about the money spent on the NFL and Weight Loss industry.

  5. We seriously need to look into banning American football (as well as most -I’d say all- team sports). The amount of shaming and hazing that goes into these games at the hands of people who just live their lives to be bullies is staggering. I would say that 99.9999999% of people who have played, or were forced to play team sports like I was, had a negative experience. A lot of time these negative experiences follow the people through life and have long running effects. The names I was called by coaches and teammates would make a longshorman blush, my knee was completely destroyed at age 11 by people my father goaded into tackling me. He thought I would be less of a queer if I was forced to man up.

    It is disgusting to see my sister already dressing up her 2 year old in San Diego Chargers and Padres gear. I very strongly believe that this borders on child abuse because serious academic studies have shown that adults involved in any team sport show sociopathic tendencies so my sister is literally setting up her son to be around people who do not see the world from a sane point of view.

    I was invited to one of my best friends Superbowl party on Sunday…I was only to happy to say that I was getting settled into my new facility and would not be able to make it. Me and a few of the other residents took over TV room 2 and binge watched OITNB while everyone else got some sort of joy out of watching millionaire racist, queer-phobic, pretty boys smash into each other for 4 hours.

    1. Simon, First, hello! I’m glad to see you here and glad to know that you’re getting settled in your new residence.

      Second, I completely agree with you about the long-lasting damage of forcing kids to take part in “team” sports. I still sometimes tear up when I remember 3rd through 6th grade, where ALL we did during “recess” was play a hideous game called “kick soccer” (basically baseball but kicking a soccer ball instead of hitting a softball with a bat). I was slow, clumsy, afraid of the ball after being hit in the head a few times. I was no good at all at throwing or catching and I was always the slowest runner in the class. And OF COURSE the teachers picked the team leaders from the “popular” girls every few weeks, and OF COURSE the team leaders got to choose the girls on their team, and OF COURSE I was always — ALWAYS — the last one left, and the unlucky team leader who had to accept me would turn to the teacher and say “Oh, Mrs. So-and-So, do we HAVE to have HER on our team???” And the teacher would just chuckle. And then my teammates would yell at me, berate me, do everything they could to make me feel like shit, when I failed yet again to be any good at a game I knew I couldn’t play.

      How anyone, anyone, could ever have thought this would inspire me with a love of sports and physical activity is beyond me. How those teachers could have failed to protect me (and the other non-athletic girls in my classes over those four years, one of whom btw was “skinny”) is also beyond me. How anyone could think that this would not instill body hatred, self-hatred, and shame into me forever is beyond me. I used to pray–literally pray–for rain so that we couldn’t have “recess” (i.e., the torment would stop for just one day).

      What makes me so sad now is that there were physical activities I *was* good at. I could climb trees very well indeed, and I was an excellent rider (I had my own horse). I was also pretty good on roller skates. But none of those were ever visible at school, where it was all kick soccer, all the time, for four godforsaken hellacious years. Four years of being tormented every day for my chubbiness and my clumsiness. Thanks, President’s Council on Physical Fitness or whatever it was called.

      1. Wow your post is amazing…your experience is so similar to mine. I went to school at either DODDs military schools or schools on or near Navy bases and had always hoped that my experience was just one of being the lone gay kid amongst all the other military kids. I was so shocked to finally hear that my nearly every kid, save for the very few ultra athletes, experienced massive bullying and shaming at something was supposed to “fun.”

        I suppose that there’s some very old and idiotic thought that those experiences are supposed to make us “tough” or resilent. Well my thought is that we are in the 21st century. We do not have the same need to be tough any more and its time we looked at a far more accepting and friendly society free of bullying and shame. There is no need for us to learn the lessons that team sports teach us anymore and it is high time that they are summarily banned, be it from PE in pre-schools to every single professional league on the planet.

        1. Amen. We do NOT need to be “tough” and we do not need to be berated, bullied, and jeered at by “teammates”, opponents, or coaches/teachers.

          I was in a public school in Florida in the 60s/70s, so no, alas, it wasn’t just the military. Once in a very great while we varied “kick soccer” with Dodgeball. Remember Dodgeball? Aka, put the fat unpopular kid in the middle of a circle of jeering bullies and *throw the ball directly at her* as hard as you can. Extra cred with your bully friends if you make her cry. And this was called a “game.”

          1. Thanks! It IS interesting, though not all that similar to my own experience. My kick soccer hell was in elementary school — in 1st and 2nd grade (ages 6 and 7) we were allowed just to play outside for recess, but from 3rd through 6th (ages 8 through 12), it was ONLY regimented kick soccer (and occasional dodgeball). We weren’t graded, but we also weren’t allowed to do anything else AT ALL or to opt out.

            Things actually got better in junior high (grades 7 through 9), where we had different rotating units of games none of us had played before: soccer, flag football, basketball. I wasn’t any good at any of those either, but neither was anyone else because no-one had ever played them, and the variety made the torment less. We were graded then, I think, but that didn’t bother me. I could easily live with a C- in PE. It was the incessant bullying during those interminable years of kick soccer that was so hard to bear.

            1. And yet these same schools ban recess games like Red Rover and Freeze Tag, because it might hurt the kids’ feelings, or someone might get hurt.

              I was fortunate in that whenever we had recess, we were allowed to enjoy it however we wished. I only wish that recess was something that continued on through the junior high and high school years, as well, because we needed some sort of stress-relief and physical activity.

              As for the father, who thought that football would toughen you up and get the gay out of you, have him watch the movie “Victor/Victoria” sometime. I love the part about the gay football players and boxers.

              If people like sports, they’re going to like them, regardless of their sexual orientation.

              I hope he was horrified about the knee injury.

              Gay in a DODDS school? I’m horrified on your behalf. I’m not gay, myself, but I went to a DODDS school, and know the rules, and the culture. YIKES! Congratulations on surviving.

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