Marie Claire Blogger vs. Mike & Molly: A "Heavyweight" Fight

Last week a blogger for Marie Claire Magazine named Maura Kelly posted an article called, "Should 'Fatties' Get a Room? (Even on TV)?" The post is focused on a new fall sitcom for CBS called "Mike & Molly". I must disclose that I have not watched this show, but have read that it centers on a couple that meets at an Overeaters Anonymous Group. Ms. Kelly takes a strong position that this show is "promoting obesity" and is grossed out by having to watch two obese people make out (or do anything else, like walk across a room).

As you can imagine, this post has been met with quite a reaction, including 3,195 reader comments (as of tonight) that prompted Ms. Kelly to post an update (aka apology). The update apologizes to those readers that were offended (many of which state that they have since canceled their Marie Claire subscription) and offers that perhaps her strong reaction to these overweight actors comes from her own history as an anorexic. The gist I get from the comments, is that most readers do not feel the apology is sincere and expected a better response from Marie Claire (that would include firing Ms. Kelly and/or making it clear that they will not support this type of discrimination). There has also been a strong response from the celebrity community, including Sharon Osborne on "The Talk" who said that she was appalled and wondered about what Ms. Kelly would think of her. Sharon admitted that she's 30 pounds overweight...should she not be allowed to kiss her husband or walk across the room?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34% of adults are overweight and about the same percentage are obese. If approximately 70% of our adult population is overweight or obese, why don't we have more characters that accurately reflect what people actually look like and the challenges that they face? Hasn't there been some effort to portray more diverse characters in other ways (e.g., race and ethnicity)? Why would being overweight be so offensive to the viewing population? And is Mike & Molly really the first show to do this? Growing up, I was a fan of the sitcom "Roseanne" (1988-1997). The primary couple on the show (Rosanne Barr and John Goodman) were very overweight and struggled quite openly with weight, diet, and exercise on the show. Perhaps my memory is fuzzy, but I never remember hearing that viewers were horrified by these characters showing affection on the show.

Ironically, as I was getting ready to put this post together today, I caught the Oprah show. She had on Portia Di Rossi who discusses her battle with Anorexia and Bulimia in her new book "Unbearable Lightness".

Portia spoke about her breakout role in Ally McBeal in the 1990s. Many of you may remember the media headlines at that time calling the three female leads "Scary Skinny" (which they were- Portia was down to 82 pounds at one point). Ironically, she specifically discussed her fear about a scene where she seduces her boss in her lingerie in the law office. Although she was skeletal and sick looking, did we hear from viewers or writers that they were "grossed out" to watch her make out with her boss on the show?

So what is best for viewers? What messages regarding "normal" should we be sending to viewers? If actors are too skinny, the concern is that the image is not realistic and it is causing young girls to have eating disorders trying to achieve this ideal. However, when a show like Mike & Molly is showing characters that accurately represent 70% of the population, there is also controversy. From a public health perspective, I would say that characters should accurately reflect the viewing population- people tend to respond to people that they can relate to. If you are creating a health communication product (e.g., poster or brochure), you test it with the target audience to make sure that they connect to the images. If you are concerned about "promoting obesity", then have the characters modeling healthy behaviors. For example, Mike & Molly are attending an Overeaters Anonymous Group, which means they are taking steps to improve their lifestyle.

I for one, would be very happy to see more realistic characters on television. I would also like to see research on how those characters can be used as a health communication tool to promote positive body image and health behaviors among the viewing population.


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