In Britain, It’s NOT Okay To Be Obese
This weekend, I saw the UK’s Strictly Come Dancing for the first time — also known as the original Dancing with the Stars — and found it nearly identical to the American version. Same exact show format, same set, same theme music, same costume styles, similar array of D-list celebrities, some of the same judges (Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli).
Now, this is where it gets interesting. Because the two shows are nearly identical, the differences that do exist jump out sharply.
Strictly Come Dancing was quiet. It was calm. In the States, people start screaming, “BOOOOOOOOO!” at the first hint of a negative critique from a judge. In the UK, the boos are soft and don’t come out until the judge finishes his commentary.
Most insanely, Bruno is restrained! Bruno, famous in the States for leaping onto his chair and comparing each contestant to a different sexual animal as the audience cheers, still uses his colorful language in the UK — but he does it quietly, calmly, and politely in his chair.
In short, if reality TV is an indication of the differences between our countries (and keep in mind that I haven’t seen Geordie Shore yet!), the British are more restrained, polite and well-mannered than Americans.
Except when it comes to obesity.
The treatment of obesity on reality TV in Britain could not be more different from the States. I first observed this when Dave and I ended up watching a show about families trying to lose weight together. The name of the show? Fat Families.
The show featured a family from Yorkshire trying to get into a diet and exercise regime following the father’s heart attack. That family began the show refusing to take a walk in their own backyard — the Yorkshire Dales, which are absolutely gorgeous — and joked that they couldn’t understand why tourists booked the holiday cottages Yorkshire Dales are famous for when they could just sit on the couch and watch TV. They finished by doing a charity 10k run in the heart of London.
Overall, the takeaway of the show was inspiring — over six months, each family member lost quite a bit of weight and improved their health significantly. According to the show’s end note, they are now avid hikers in the Yorkshire Dales, joining the outdoorsy tourists who book cottages in Yorkshire, the same hikers they used to mock.
That’s the good stuff. BUT — in between the inspiring moments, the host called them “fatties” at every turn and mocked their appearances behind their backs. The cutaways between segments actually featured the host stealing piles of cupcakes from fat people, who would promptly pout and stamp their feet.
I was aghast. This show could NEVER be on the air in America.
In America, there seems to be a rule — you’re not allowed to say anything bad about someone’s weight, EVER, unless it’s related to their health. In most situations, the topic of obesity is an elephant in the room, and it can’t ever be touched. I feel guilty as I type these words, feeling like I’ve broken a rule!
In Britain, comments about health are definitely present, but they’re sprinkled with comments about appearance.
Take the UK’s X-Factor. There is a contestant, Craig Colton, who is overweight — though not morbidly obese by any stretch — and he cheerfully talks about the weight loss regimen that the producers put him on. In a newspaper article today, the show’s hairstylist talked about how Craig will be able to work a shorter haircut once he loses a lot of weight.
Could you imagine if that had happened on American Idol?!
American Idol has had its share of overweight and obese contestants over the years. And what stands out the most is how the judges would take care to compliment their appearances — how Paula would tell Ruben Studdard how handsome he looked, how Simon told Mandisa she looked sexy — and everyone would smile at how sweet these judges were.
If a slightly overweight contestant had been put on an immediate weight loss regimen, and if it had been made public on the show, there would have been an outcry. Particularly if it was a girl.
So, who handles obesity better — the US or the UK?
Is the American way better? Is it better not to tear people down for being overweight or obese, or even acknowledge it — except, of course, when it comes to health?
Or is the British way better? Is it better to openly acknowledge that obesity is as unattractive as it is dangerous, and even go so far as to mock people for it?
I now ask a question of my readers — how is obesity treated in your country? The American way or the British way? Do you think the American or British way is more harmful? I would love to hear your thoughts.