The Sexist

More To Love: Sending the Wrong Message?

FOX aired its premier episode of More to Love last week, which one of my friends jokingly called The Fatchelor due to its blatant format-copying of The Bachelor.

The show's premise: Take a well-off big guy (330 pounds) and have him date 20 big gals (ranging from just under 200 pounds to just under 300), narrow them down to one, and propose to her at the show's end. The Bachelor/ette franchise revealed the full spectrum of thin contestants attracted to this kind of show–people who take their dignity lightly and "true love" way too seriously.

More to Love, which essentially pairs addicts with other addicts, presents a different kind of contestant participating in a very new and special kind of spectacle.

The women spend most of their confessional time crying or wiping at tears, not because of what's happening on the show, but because of what's happened to them prior to the show.  They all have similar stories about weight-related anxiety, depression, isolation, and rejection. Most of them have stories about "losing" a guy to a skinnier friend or adversary. An oft-repeated line is "Guys never give me a chance" or a variation thereof.

It's heart-rending stuff if you've ever been fat, because you know that underneath all the sad stories is the conviction that fatness is forever.

Whether or not that's actually the case–and yes, evidence suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to obesity or plain old chubbiness–More to Love says it is, and then says the only thing the contestants need to feel differently about being overweight is to have a lover, preferably one whose weight mirrors their own. The two overweight people paired, all their individual anxieties dissipate.

If feeling better about everything is that simple, why has no other reality show place such an insanely high value on romantic relationships? Even the shows after which More to Love is modeled frame marriage as the last piece of the puzzle, not a magical fix-all.

Because it's not that simple. And despite the show's many other flaws–the women don't have a lot of practice fighting over guys, and are thus really bad at being catty–More to Love works so hard to make it seem simple that it glorifies what the show's contestants don't like about themselves; in particular, the rationalized over-eating and sedentary lifestyles that got these gals and guy into a situation where they feel they can't find love without going on a reality TV show.

If the source of the contestants' hardships were something more openly maligned–anorexia, meth, furries–FOX wouldn't have touched the concept. But being heavyset resides in a strange cultural limbo. Public health advocates call obesity a "killer," but unlike tobacco, we're not supposed to comment on or disapprove of fatness.

Case in point: Bachelor Luke Conley,  "a 26-year-old former college football offensive lineman" and a "successful sub-contractor and real estate investor," repeats the phrase, "I love to eat" so many times in the premier episode, and the women coo so admiringly everytime he says it, that you'd think More to Love is a show about binge fetishes.

In short, the Biggest Loser has a much healthier premise, but More to Love is easier to swallow.

  • alix

    Yikes. How is fat-hate feminist? How much help is promoting the message that to fall in love, women need to change themselves as opposed to finding men who are attracted to them just as they are?

    Not that I'm defending the show- but to say that fat people should only be allowed on TV when they're trying to lose weight? Fuck you.

    Do you think that if there was less fixation on weight, and more fixation on health (how the FUCK do you know that these women overeat/ get no physical exercise?), we'd have a healthier society?

    I think you need to spend a bit of time at Shapely Prose (http://kateharding.net), and then report back.

  • http://washingtoncitypaper.com Mike Riggs

    Hey Alix, thanks for commenting today! (Before I get started, I'd like to point out that you're the second person to criticize this post without first watching the show. Would it help y'all to provide some Hulu links?)

    Re your points:

    How much help is promoting the message that to fall in love, women need to change themselves as opposed to finding men who are attracted to them just as they are?

    I didn't write that. In essence (that seems to be what you're referencing--the "essence" of my argument), I'm disappointed that the contestants, from what we've seen so far, think that exercise is exclusively for trying to get skinny; that a positive attitude about their body is a substitute for a realistic attitude about their health; and that there's a nostalgic treatment of over-eating. One woman even remarked (paraphrasing here) that she was tired of getting up in the morning to diet and be skinny. So, to you I say, How is promoting an addiction feminist?

    but to say that fat people should only be allowed on TV when they’re trying to lose weight? Fuck you.

    Didn't write that either. I made an offhand reference to the biggest weight-related reality TV show currently on the air in an effort to show that I THINK IT'S OK FOR A REALITY TV SHOW TO REVOLVE AROUND HEAVY PEOPLE. It's kind of stupid to hate on me when there aren't any other reality TV shows about heavy people (unless you want to count that brief series A&E did about morbidly obese people).

  • thedrymock

    It's great that you think it's okay for a reality show to revolve around heavy people, but I think you're missing Alix's point. Please do take a look around at Shapely Prose (www.kateharding.net). You might want to start with this post: http://kateharding.net/but-dont-you-realize-fat-is-unhealthy/

    Leaving aside the show itself for the moment, you're making a lot of basic assumptions in your post, including:
    1) Fat people are all fat because they overeat and don't exercise
    2) Being overweight or obese necessarily causes health problems
    3) Losing weight in and of itself (independent of the health benefits of exercising and eating healthy foods) improves health
    4) It is possible for most people to lose weight and keep it off

    Even if 1-3 were true (and please check out the post I linked for refutation of those), 4 clearly isn't -- as you sort of acknowledge when you admit that "evidence suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to obesity or plain old chubbiness." The fact is that 95% of people who lose weight regain it (and often some extra for good measure) within 5 years. If those women have "the conviction that fatness is forever," as you put it, it's because every single one of them has tried NOT to be fat, has probably spent a huge amount of time and energy on that effort, and it hasn't worked for them. (And in the process of trying to lose weight, they've quite possibly made themselves less healthy overall by losing and regaining weight multiple times.)

    But the most ridiculously wrong assertion you make is that "we’re not supposed to comment on or disapprove of fatness." I don't know if you are or have ever been fat, but I'll be shocked if you have been and can still make that assertion. Being fat is almost universally seen as a moral failure, and fat people -- especially women (and from what I've heard you can see that gender differential in the show) -- take all kinds of shit just for existing. Why do you think the women in this show have dealt with so much "weight-related anxiety, depression, isolation, and rejection"? You seem conscious that women especially do suffer from these things because of their weight, but somehow you haven't put two and two together there.

    Your point that it's ridiculous to think that finding a lover is a panacea for all ills is well taken, but I think you are underestimating how rare that is for fat women and how much better it can make you feel about yourself to be with someone who really doesn't think you need to spend the rest of your life eating 800 calories a day in order to be good enough for them. Clearly, going on a dating show like this is probably not the way to do that, but given that the Bachelor/ette and other similar dating shows have the exact same premise, I'm not sure why you're making that criticism of this show and not the others.

    Lastly, you keep talking about "addiction," and I cannot figure out what you're referring to. It sounds like you're saying that all fat people overeat and that overeating counts as an addiction. There is such a thing as compulsive overeating, but it's extremely unlikely that most of the contestants on this show suffer from that. It's an eating disorder, and it is a serious problem -- but the same goes for anorexia, which somehow I doubt you'd refer to as an addiction.

    I'm sorry if you feel "hated on," and I'm trying to be polite here, but you posted on a feminist site about how fat people (and fat women in particular, as there are 20x as many of them on this show as fat men) just need to be criticized more and then they'll lose weight. You're gonna get some backlash.

  • thedrymock

    Sorry, bad editing in my comment - when I say "I think you are underestimating how rare that is for fat women," I don't mean finding a lover at all (because that's really not rare), I mean finding one who doesn't criticize your weight.

  • brie

    Do you think you're being some badass rebel or something talking about this when "we’re not supposed to comment on or disapprove of fatness"? Do you think you're being transgressive or smarter than everyone else or something?

    Because you're not. Being fat isn't (like you say) something that's not "openly maligned." Have you ever been to celebrity gossip website? Or a girl's locker room? (Actually, I'm sure you haven't actually experienced the last one, which may explain why you're so insensitive about this.) I'd like you to name me a place where it's okay or not maligned to be fat (and NOT this show, which is just as manipulative and exploitative as the rest of the cesspool that is reality TV).

    But I've got to hand it to you: your reasoning is flawless. All fat people are "addicts"? Even if you're only talking about the people on the show, I think you'd be hard-pressed to prove that they're all compulsive over-eaters. But, no, don't worry about it, let's all lump them together. They're like cattle anyway, right? Size-wise? You're sooooo rebellious!

    I bet you write this stuff without thinking about, but you're what gives millions of girls (of all ages) across this country eating disorders. When you write off people like this or even comment on this exploitative trash, you're furthering a way of thought (whether you're doing it on purpose or not) that causes girls to think that stick-think is the only way to be attractive or even vaguely human.

    How can you feel good about doing that, just look like some smartass rebel or make some pointless point about a stupid show? How can you run such rancid anti-woman bile in a feminist column?

    It's not dumb, outwardly ignorant people who are the problem; it's people like you, loud white men who pretend like they can be sensitive and empathize women and gays and lesbians and different races all while spewing this same stupid shit. People like you who pretend they get it but don't have a clue.

  • Robert

    See, what everyone else seems to be complaining about in that blog post? I sure as hell don't see their points.

    Well, except the socially aligned part. I was The Fat Kid growing up, and I was constantly criticized over my weight, both by other kids and by my (equally fat) parents and extended family.

    But mainly it looks like people are just reading into your post more than they should.

  • Nikki

    I wanna see Luke take one of his bachelorettes' out for an eating contest date. All you can eat tacos baby, oink oink!

  • Megs

    I think being morbidly obese is a health problem and it's unnatural and a result of eating too large a quantity of unhealthy food. It stresses every system in your body and causes emotional imbalances. I think obese people should be treated with compassion and respect, but as a recovering addict myself...I recognize the delusion and rationalization in people who just can't stop eating. Why do you think most of in recovery for drugs and alcohol gain a lot of weight and/or fuck a lot when we first get sober? We are trying to fill the void within ourselves. I couldn't deal with cravings on my own, and it makes me feel weak, but with the tools I learned and the support of other addicts, I was able to overcome my obsession. (And bulemia/anorexia is an obsession as well)

  • http://dmlaenker.livejournal.com Daniel M. Laenker

    I made an offhand reference to the biggest weight-related reality TV show currently on the air in an effort to show that I THINK IT’S OK FOR A REALITY TV SHOW TO REVOLVE AROUND HEAVY PEOPLE.

    That's nice. Unfortunately, the one you highlight as "OK" is pretty damned exploitative by design, so unless you have a better idea of what's an acceptable paradigm for fatness in American media, I'm still going to have to question your judgment here.

    To be fair, I think that there are a number of structural issues that cause an alarming amount of obesity in America, from the systematic destruction of the neighborhood as a self-contained unit to the implementation of public agricultural policy and food subsidy. But even if we assume that most obesity comes from cultural or individual choices, shaming people into losing weight is not going to make people more healthy, it's just going to make them neurotic and miserable.

    It's like trying to teach people not to speak in a vernacular dialect not by highlighting the difference in a respectful way, but humiliating them for "talking funny". That doesn't teach people to speak standard English in all circumstances, it just teaches them to stutter.

  • Leslie

    I think the oddity is that you don't see people with a BMI over 25 on t.v. It's as if they are a part of the overlooked population, unrepresented by mass media, unless they are conforming to society's standard of beauty. We can find on t.v. representation of homosexuality, dwarfism, bigamy, polygamy, religion, race, transgenders, etc. What we don't find is a t.v. show that represents "fat" people as normal. Not saying that being "fat" is normal, but define fat? The average woman is a size 14-16, not a size 0-4. But for all intents and purpose we think of fatness as a disease. Young girls (and boys) for that matter grow up with complexes and eating disorders because they are so afraid of being fat; they are so afraid of not being reflected in their favorite pop star/ movie star.
    Granted, I'm not saying that 'More to Love' is a perfect premise to enlighten the world about the lives, difficulties, and loves of overweight people but maybe it's a start. As we all know, the first season of every show is a little hazy. It takes a few seasons to really perfect it. But it's the journey, the intricacies, that make a show worth watching. I think maybe if we can have more of a real world perspective in our reality t.v. we wouldn't need segregated shows such as 'More to Love'.

  • jules

    Putting overweight people on TV and making them process, out loud, on camera their insecurities just seems...mean. And exploitive.

  • Dave

    Why do all these commenters keep saying this a feminist blog? It's a sex blog.

    Great post Mike. I've actually seen the show in question, and it's not much more than "comfort food" for the heavy set single ladies out there. I'd love to see your angry readers explain to their doctors why it's not unhealthy to be fat.

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  • Jill

    Just because you are thin doesn't mean you are healthy. There are thin people (as well as not thin people) who are unhealthy in other areas of their lives (i.e., they may drink too much, do drugs, not eat enough, exercise compulsively, not get enough sleep, sleep around, stress issues, etc.). Being thin does not automatically mean "healthy" the same way NOT being thin does not automatically mean "unhealthy".

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