Monday, March 18, 2019

Please Leave The Building, Elvis

I foolishly got into a Twitter conversation dealing with a reality TV personality, body shaming, and bullying. Naturally, it went about as well as sipping a sandwich through a straw. It was a mistake to get involved for many reasons. One of these is that I now feel compelled to write about it, which also means that I'm about to admit that I actually watched the show.

The thing about reality TV is that it's not. Shows are partly scripted and often staged with scenes being reshot with "advice" from the producers. In one case, a reality show misled viewers by filming a scene that was supposed to be taking place in another country on a soundstage in LA. Unfortunately, many people take these shows at face value and make all kinds of assumptions about individuals in the cast, as if a glimpse at a minuscule section of altered reality defines who these people are. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

In all my exchanges online about one reality show incident in particular, Vanderpump Rules, I've made it very clear that my beef is with the network and producers, not individual cast members.These shows are designed to create drama, a good guy vs. bad guy scenario, so that viewers react. Yes, the events presented are only very loosely based in reality or, at minimum, exaggerated, but the messages sent are still real. This seems to be a difficult concept for people to understand, and, in this case, the five male and one female producers are to blame, not those who choose to be filmed.

As for the details, the story goes like this:

On the show, most cast members hurl insults at each other at various times. It has been a theme since the program started. Most have also apologized at one time or another. Some continue the same behaviors on camera while others appear to have changed. One young man likes to use body shaming as a way to vent his frustrations or sometimes just to act the jerk, and he does it to more than one person, though he has a main target.

To some people, all of this seems trivial, just one more type of insult no different than calling someone an idiot, but the producers have continually focused on this one female cast member receiving the brunt of these kinds of comments. To sum up, it's not just one individual on the show making comments about her weight, and it's not an isolated incident with the young man mentioned. The show addressed fat shaming about a year ago when a different character made some rude comments to this same lady. Everything seemed fine after awareness was raised and apologies were made, but dead horses apparently invite more beating.

For the record, the young lady at the center of all of this isn't fat and never has been. Her body changed, and people on the show (and now on social media) felt the need to comment. Oddly, the bodies of a lot of cast members have changed over the years, yet nobody is shoving the F word in their faces, not just because none of them are fat, either. This is a story line, one that should be ended or resolved. Instead, those involved in the show just keep dragging it out and sending out more and more damaging ideas about body size.

As embarrassed as I am to admit that I watched the show, raising awareness about the warped beauty standards ingrained in our society is part of my cause. The things said on the show are exactly the kinds of things that triggered my near deadly eating disorder, so I'm not ashamed to stand up for more responsible language relating to body image on TV (not that this will change anything). Plus, there have been enough actual studies (not merely surveys) showing that fat shaming increases the chances of depression, eating disorders, suicide, and obesity, and fat shaming simply doesn't work. And, a recent study showed that even observing body shaming causes much of the same in viewers. If anything, body shaming has the potential to make things worse in both the one targeted and those watching, especially when it comes to over eating. Science aside, it's just cruel to take jabs at people for their weight, and that includes comments about anorexics, too.

When you see the absurd lengths some of the individuals go to in order to look a certain way on reality TV shows, it's no wonder why eating disorders in the general population are on the rise, there's an increase in dangerous and unnecessary surgical procedures, and people are more and more critical of both themselves and others. Shows like these encourage comparisons and discourage uniqueness.

It should be obvious that I don't support bullying in any form. That said, body shaming has further reaching ramifications than a generic or even other kinds of direct insults. I'm not suggesting that the individual being insulted isn't affected in the latter cases, though. This is another concept people seem to have trouble with, that there's a difference between making a comment about the way someone is acting or even how someone is dressed and judging someone for their weight. There's no disputing that insults have the potential to hurt the person being targeted. Body shaming goes one step further when it's done publicly, because it sends a message about beauty, worth, and weight stigma, an unhealthy and potentially dangerous one.

One of the more bizarre comments I witnessed online relating to all of this was one suggesting anyone who's happy with her body is faking it if she feels hurt when someone calls her fat. This I don't understand. It would be like someone saying those who have a normal IQ really aren't happy with themselves if they react at all when someone continually calls them stupid.

Can I put a period on this now?