This was an interesting, albeit disturbing, show on several levels. We began by meeting two beautiful but ‘big’ young women, one of mixed race, Anne, the other white, Bex. I mention colour because it was relevant, as I’ll explain in a bit. The point of the show was to take ’big’ British people over to America to spend time with people who are obese. The idea, I suppose, is that they learn where their excessive size and unhealthy eating habits may be leading them.
The two women are different in several respects. Bex is blonde, Amazonian and gorgeous, and I longed for Gok Wan to come on the show and admire her fabulous bangers. But Bex binge-drinks and has rock bottom levels of self-esteem. She hung around with thin girls at school who bullied and teased her. Hearing about this made me want to whip out a taser and go get those mean girls. I’d then recharge my batteries for her ex-boyfriend who she overheard saying to his mates: “I told you fat women have good-looking friends”. We meet her mother who does not have a weight problem, but it seems her marital breakdown had a pretty damaging impact on Bex at a critical age: “she always was a daddy’s girl”.
Anne is also gorgeous, but different to Bex. She was never bullied, and no-one has ever criticised her for her weight. She has a weakness for eating bowls of cheesey pasta so vast it would feed a family.
The two are taken on a trip to the predominantly black state of Mississippi to spend a week enjoying Southern hospitality with Deloris (35 stone) and her daughter Diane. Both are addicted to vast amounts of their beloved soul food “I make love to food” says Diane, but it was interesting to note they ate from paper plates. It seemed, at times, more like an endurance test than a pleasurable experience. At one point Diane, a diabetic who often has to sleep on a chair because of breathing problems, mixes butter with maple syrup as a dip for her biscuits (scones to us). They also love salt to a degree that is frankly frightening. So are they fat because they are greedy and lazy? No. It must be said they are almost addictively greedy, but there is a shadow in their lives. We are told that the weight started piling on after the death of a grandchild. They now have serious health issues related to their size. Deloris cannot pick anything up she drops on the floor. She barely walks at all and has to have her shoes put on for her. Between them they have mobility issues, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart problems for which they take a ton of medication.
It quickly becomes clear that obesity is tied up with all sorts of things, including poverty, but also race. A nurse in the local church free clinic (we are told that many thousands in the South cannot afford health insurance) tells us that people of African origin are more prone to developing diabetes. But mostly there seems to be a huge connection (to me) between the spectre of slavery and racism and issues of self-esteem and self-worth. These black women (we see no men) are eating themselves to death.
Despite their unhealthy home eating habits, Bex and Diane are shocked at what they see. They are less keen than their hosts on eating vast platters of pigs’ ears and trotters and slabs of pork bellyfat. We learn that America subsidises intensive farming, so protein is cheap and plentiful, even if it is full of additives and chemicals. All-you-can-eat buffets that hardly cost more than a few pounds are hugely popular. Bex and Anne barely see a vegetable or piece of fruit the whole time they are there. And they are deeply, profoundly shocked to meet a woman on painful, tedious kidney dialysis (nearly five hours at a time, three times a week) because of her weight and hear, at their graves, the names of friends and family who have died of obesity-related complications, including, we hear in awful detail, gangrene.
When they get back to Britain, Anne, who likes herself more, starts jogging and loses several stone. She will survive the change, you feel. Bex, on the other hand, is really struggling to change. Her mum hopes it is just taking her longer to get her head around it. I hope she’s right. I hope she gets some therapy and learns to like herself enough to not to destroy herself.
I fear that this programme may be watched by some wanting to laugh at the fat side-show freaks. But shame on them if they do. There is so much more depth to be found here, about loss and sadness, self-loathing, racism, poverty, and slavery. You can exchange the fat for scars of self-harming, it’s the same thing. Not loving yourself enough and needing an outlet for unbearable emotional pain.
Posted by Inkface