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Week 5: Media Representations One: Obesity

I chose to write about obesity because I am a person who has struggled with weight my entire life. Watching family members encounter obesity-related health problems in recent years has made me make some lifestyle changes, like educating myself on what healthy eating REALLY is and incorporating exercise into my schedule. Taking my height and age into account, I am still considered overweight by the medical field.

It is easy to see in nearly every media how thin and beautiful people get the lead role, make the cut, win the girl/guy or prize, etc. I set out for this assignment to find some media that are sending healthy messages to people who struggle with their weight. I was looking for media addressing the issue of obesity, presenting realistic human bodies in a positive light, while also reinforcing healthy life habits like exercising and eating healthy foods. Here’s what I found:

I recently read a copy of “Seventeen? magazine, one that is very popular with teen girls – it was the April 2007 issue. While flipping through the magazine, I saw countless images of women who were thin, in my opinion some TOO thin, but none exhibiting the ghost-like figures sometimes portrayed in the fashion world. I was relieved to find some photos of women whom I considered to be a realistic size: 2 photos of Jennifer Hudson, a celebrity, Kelly, a student modeling for the “just flaunt it? article, and an ad for “Torrid? which is a company selling teen girls’ clothes in sizes 12+. There was a feature called “Real life? about a girl whose tattoo became infected – in the full body shot it is clear that the girl is a realistic representation of teen bodies; I guess she’s a size 10 or 12, about 140-150 pounds. Another “Real life? article was about a girl who confessed her lesbianism to the school; in her full body shot it is clear that she is an obese teen. There was an article about doing cheerleading workouts, like crunches and kicks, as well as an article about choosing healthy options at the school cafeteria. Both seemed like healthy advice. This magazine included an article called “How training can turn tragic,? a story about a teen girl whose eating disorder eventually killed her. While I began reading the magazine in order to discover how obesity is treated in teen girl world, I was relieved to see an article addressing another weight danger, anorexia – one that harms teen girls much more quickly.

It’s not very often that I’m home in time to watch Oprah, but I managed to catch it today, February 25th, 2008. It’s a show that’s on at 4pm when students are home from school. Today, Oprah was interviewing Valerie Bertenelli about her lifestyle changes: losing 40 pounds on the Jenny Craig weight loss system and giving up drugs. I’m realistic enough to know that not all students will watch Oprah, but I also know that many do and won’t admit it. Most of the episodes I catch consist of high-interest material relative to a wide audience. I think that the teens who watch Oprah in the afternoon are receiving a positive message about what healthy people look like, as Oprah herself talks about her weight struggles often.

A recent popular reality show dealing with weight issues is “The Biggest Loser.? The premise is this: several contestants are divided into two teams and whichever team loses the most weight by percentage wins at that week’s weigh-in. The show goes on for several weeks, with the “weakest? person getting “voted off? each episode and the winner receiving a cash prize. While I don’t agree with everything that happens, I do like to watch this from time to time, as it motivates me to keep up my new healthy habits. This is a show that is on a major network during prime time, so I think that several students watch it. I think it paints a very real picture of the health dangers of obesity for its audience as well as shows how effective healthy eating and exercising is. While it seems to imply that an extremely buff personal trainer is necessary to achieve weight loss, it does place people struggling with obesity as stars of the show, rather than in buffoon characters.

I’m encouraged to find that there are media out there sending student images of healthy sized adults, especially those that encourage people struggling with obesity to follow good health guidelines. I know that my students are bombarded by the media with messages that they should be thin and beautiful. They read it in magazines, watch it on TV, see it on the internet, in movies and clothing stores in the mall. However, research also tells us that the adults in students’ lives have the strongest influence on them.

I try to set a good example of what a healthy adult looks and acts like. When I have the opportunity, I encourage healthy habits like eating breakfast, exercising, and drinking water, by beginning conversations about it. Very often, I will say, “Turn your neighbor and ask him or her what he or she had for breakfast.? This is a “brain break? that works wonders in middle school because of the student’s short attention spans, and it also gives me an opportunity to gauge their healthy habits as well as model my own, by telling them what I ate, or what exercise I enjoy.