It seems like a lot of Americans are missing their heads lately. I cannot go a day without seeing this phenomena occurring regularly. From newspapers to television we are surrounded by torsos walking among us. Nameless, faceless people who have attracted the attention of the media. Not for their character or spirit but for their bellies.
Who are these people, how did they lose their heads?
The obesity crisis has literally created an entire market around photographing overweight people somewhere around the gut. Any report dealing with the health crisis to fast food has the prerequisite belly shot. Often times, the footage includes the torso smoking a cigarette or eating. In this genre of photography it is referred to as the action shot. The money shot is a combination of action photography with a brand name involved. Coca-Cola and McDonald’s are highly sought after because the picture will quickly take the viewer to an association with obesity.
Who are the photographers? I imagine a busy newsroom with the cigar chewing editor banging on a desk; “Go out there and get me pictures of really fat people, now!” Then I imagine the photographer, grabbing his camera bag and rushing out the door. Thinking to themself, “where should I go for great footage… where can I find overweight people?” The same way a nature photographer pursues his prey. Then I see the photographer blending into the environment, waiting for the exact moment when the shot sets up, when the subject is in the perfect light, wait for it … click.
The successful shot is now in digital form to be shared with the world. The subject never has to know of the fame their belly might enjoy, the stardom of being attached to cutting edge news.
What about the shots that don’t go as well; when the photographer mistakenly reveals themselves hiding behind the golden arches. “Why are you taking pictures of me?” Does the photographer have a cover story to deal with instances like this?
I associate certain advertising with overweight people. Whenever I see a Walmart commercial I start looking for obese Americans. I googled “fat & walmart” and found thousands of grossly overweight people walking around their stores. It is not my fault. The associations are the casualty of years of marketing. With 1/3 of Americans in the obesity category, it’s hard not to take pictures of obese people.
“The fundamental message we’re putting into the world is that fat people deserve shame for their own health,” said Ms. Kirby, co-author of the book Lessons From the Fat-o-Sphere. “We’ve been pushing this message for a long time. I don’t think anyone is immune to it.”
Stephen McGarvey, a professor of community health at Brown University says; “A public health focus on ‘You can change,’ or ‘This is your fault,’ can be very counterproductive…Stigma is serious.”
At a time when global health officials are stepping up efforts to treat obesity as a worrisome public health threat, some researchers are warning of a troubling side effect: growing stigma against fat people.
Having been overweight myself several years ago it took a brush with death to stimulate my transformation. I can hardly look at old pictures of myself without wondering how I let it happen. At what point could I not see my feet in the shower anymore?
Growing up skinny and becoming overweight is a common process. I think it has a remarkable effect on our own self-image. The problem is you literally grow into your self-image. Like watching a time-lapse movie of a seed growing into a tree. We don’t often get to see the timeline frame by frame.
The pictures of overweight people are not going away any time soon. In fact, they will be with us for generations. As the population of obese Americans grows the stigmatization grows along with it. We can tell our grandkids; “I can remember when we used to take pictures of people’s faces, now a days just butts and bellies“.
I close with my favorite recent photograph.