The Weight Loss Cul-De-Sac

I’m subscribed to a charity request service for journalists. They send a message to the list asking for case studies to be included in their articles and features. Sometimes its possible to get a plug for your charity if you help the writer.
The stories in question are mainly for ‘Women’s Glossies’. Here’s a request I just received from a freelancer that is typical:

I am pulling together a really positive feature for a monthly glossy magazine called ‘why thinner isn’t always better’ and I am looking for some very specific women to talk to.

  • a woman who lost weight but has been left with lots of excess skin which she dislikes as much as the weight. Maybe she is waiting for surgery or would like to have it removed but can’t afford to/is afraid of the procedure
  • a woman who says that after she lost weight friends were jealous of her and behaved differently towards her

The message goes on, but you get the gist. The journalist signs off with this:

In all cases I will need a picture of the lady before she lost weight, when she was at her smallest and now.

In many other cases, the request for case studies is accompanied by the promise of a tasteful makeover and photo-shoot, courtesy of the magazine.
On the face of it, this looks like a positive and feminist article. It’s part of a backlash against the propaganda of the beauty industry, a billion-dollar complex that trades on women’s insecurities about their body image.
But look again. Despite the fact that it does not urge women to be thinner, this article (when it is published) will nevertheless fuel the conversation about body image and keep its readers’ minds locked firmly on issues of appearance, beauty and dieting. Such ‘dissent’ is not radical and does nothing to challenge the societal and cultural assumptions that make us all a bit miserable.
I understand that some people want to read articles about cosmetics and dieting and others want to write such pieces and sell them. But its a shame when the pushback against all that crap slips into this intellectual cul-de-sac, where the assumptions and practices of the beauty media are tacitly accepted.
Why not just write about something else?




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