« Week 5: Media Representations One: Obesity | Main | Week 6: Welcome to Weight Watchers »

Week 5: The Simpsons & American Journal of Public Health on Obesity

I decided to take a less traveled route on this post. I was inspired to go straight to the source of American stereotypes: The Simpsons. This animated show has made fun of every possible people group in America during its run, yet it remains as popular as ever. I visited its website and perused the character bios, reading only the obese or overweight characters’. Here’s the way Matt Groening and The Simpsons’ creators have chosen to represent obesity in America (quotes from The Simpsons website):
• Comic Book Guy: This obese character is single, sells comic books, and “has the emotional maturity of an 11 year old.? When I’ve seen him on the show, he is eating and harassing the kids in his store.
• Clancy Wiggum: This obese character is the chief of police and is described as “donut-scarfing.? When I’ve seen him on the show, he is portrayed as a dumb cop, constantly on the prowl for food, particularly donuts.
• Homer Simpson: This overweight character is the lovable, idiotic father of a dysfunctional family. He is described as occasionally being “frustrated at being fat and bald.? His character is more complex than the first two mentioned, so he does not ALWAYS talk about food, but he does manage to twist his conversations back to pizza, beer, donuts, and other unhealthy options.

Do these yellow men, who represent the American Caucasian population, as African American cartoon characters are brown on the show, care that they are overweight? In general, no. What could be the reason, other than they are fiction? (Or are they…..?)

The American Journal of Public Health, March 2008, explains in an article titled “Feeling fat may be worse for you than being fat.? In a study conducted by Dr. Muening of Columbia University in NYC, he explains that just FEELING fat puts a person at a higher risk of health problems. Those who are heavy according to BMI charts, but perceive themselves as healthy have fewer “unhealthy? days per month than those who feel that they are overweight. Huh? Let’s look at it through the eyes of The Simpsons characters:
• Comic Book Guy: his body is clearly large, yet he delights in his comic books and his “wheelbarrow full of tacos.? He perceives himself as a happy, healthy person; therefore, he’s fine.
• Clancy Wiggum: he also has a large body, but finds satisfaction in life through his Barney-Fife police work. He perceives himself as a good father and cop, therefore, he’s fine.
• Homer Simpson: his body is the smallest of the three men, yet he occasionally is “frustrated,? as he perceives himself as fat and bald. Therefore, he tries to diet yet ultimately fails at losing weight. He is one who perceives himself as fat, therefore has more unhealthy days, as suggested in the article.

So, according to American Journal of Public Health and The Simpsons, you’re only fat if you think you are!